LONDON — Britain’s new Film Minister has raised eyebrows by criticizing the U.K. film industry for being too “arty farty,” in his first major interview since taking over the job.
Ken Howells called on British filmmakers to tackle “political issues in the widest sense,” such as the recent foot-and-mouth crisis, instead of wasting their time on “heritage” movies and praised Hollywood’s “factory” system for developing popular movies.
Yet he also claimed to dislike populist, Hollywood-financed Brit hits “The Full Monty” and “Notting Hill.”
Local filmmakers reacted with a mixture of outrage, disbelief and hilarity to Howells’ comments, made in an interview with The Sunday Times of London on Sunday.
Even the press office at the Department of Culture, where Howells is based, couldn’t muster much of a defense for his views. “He hasn’t been in the job for very long, and he hasn’t met many people yet,” said a spokesperson wearily. “Those are his initial thoughts, but this is not official policy.”
Simon Beaufoy, who wrote “The Full Monty,” described by Howells as “cliche-ridden,” said: “Everything he says is from the standpoint of someone who doesn’t know how the film industry works. If it wasn’t for films like ‘The Full Monty,’ we wouldn’t have a film industry at all.”
Ironically, and clearly unknown to the new minister, Beaufoy’s last film, “The Darkest Light,” was set against the backdrop of a foot-and-mouth outbreak. The pic even had public financing from lottery coin, but earned just $15,000 at the U.K. box office.
Beaufoy is currently shooting a digital video movie, “This Is Not a Love Song,” which is also set among the politics of a modern farming community, and also funded by lotto coin.
“Howells calls for more gritty films, yet he praises the Hollywood machine,” said Beaufoy.” I’d love to make gritty films, and I’m actually making one, and I don’t think it’s going to get released in the cinemas because it will be pushed out by the very Hollywood films he says he admires.”
Howells showed himself more politically astute in naming Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” as the last British movie he admired. Parker is chairman of the Film Council, and Howells is due to have his first official meeting with the director today.