The value of film production in the U.K. climbed 7% to £1.96 billion ($2.42 billion) last year, the second-highest level on record. The vast majority of that was generated by Hollywood movies, but although the British independent sector is overshadowed commercially, it is holding its own creatively.
Despite the pain and disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis, Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission, is confident that the production boom that the U.K. was enjoying pre-lockdown will resume. Underpinning that is the 25% tax rebate for production, a strong and growing studio infrastructure, a thriving VFX sector, and a rich vein of talent behind and in front of the camera, Wootton says.
Apart from COVID-19, another cloud looming is Brexit, the full effect of which will only be felt at the end of the year. The VFX sector is particularly vulnerable, as a third of its workforce is from European Union countries. However, the government’s proposals for a points-based visa system for E.U. citizens post-Brexit has answered most concerns.
“I don’t think it is going to inhibit us that much from getting European talent into the U.K.,” says Neil Hatton, chief executive of U.K. Screen Alliance, which reps the VFX sector. “We have also been investing a lot in developing our home-grown workforce.”
One asset for the U.K. is its deep well of writing talent, says Daniel Battsek, director of Film4. “The writers in the U.K. are at the top of any list that is ever done by any studio,” he says.
“We have some incredibly profound storytellers,” says Lizzie Francke, senior development and production executive, BFI Film Fund, citing James Graham, who wrote miniseries “Quiz,” and is now adapting his play “Ink” as a film.
There are also many British writer-directors producing great work, such as Rose Glass, who had a critical hit with “Saint Maud,” and Francis Lee, who is in post with “Ammonite.” Battsek also lauds Glass, citing her as an example of an exciting emerging talent with a “tremendous cinematic eye and understanding of how to make a feature film.”
Francke highlights, as well, the work of Clio Barnard, who has “Ali & Ava,” and Joanna Hogg, who has “The Souvenir: Part II,” both in post. They represent “a kind of storytelling that is not afraid of dealing with tough subject-matter but finding some transcendent joy and hope,” she says.
Lee, Barnard and Hogg’s films all received support from BBC Films, whose director, Rose Garnett, says they harmonize with its role in “supporting great voices to tell important stories that tell us about how we live and who we want to be.”
The films are “complex, thoughtful but infused with a fundamental optimism,” she says. “You enjoy their company and come out feeling more enlivened, more invigorated after having seen them.”
Another strength of the U.K. business is its ability to harness local talent with U.S. showbiz muscle. Musical “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is directed by newcomer Jonathan Butterell, who is from Sheffield, as is the film’s production company Warp Films. They have linked up with U.S. heavyweight New Regency, and Walt Disney Studios distributes worldwide.
“We were able, with our partners New Regency, to give them a bigger canvas to work on, but the bones of the story are very specific, and regional and authentic,” says Ollie Madden, Film4’s head of creative.
U.K. indie producers are delivering films that are popular with audiences both at home and abroad, says Zygi Kamasa, Lionsgate U.K. CEO. These films are “elevated above the norm” by strong storytelling, filmmaking prowess and stellar cast. “You just have got to find things that have a very clear audience that also have elements to them that make them feel like events.”
Lionsgate U.K.’s upcoming slate of British films includes spy thriller “Ironbark,” with Benedict Cumberbatch, “Ammonite,” with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, and “The Father,” with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.
Key Brit pics in the pipeline include:
Director: Chris Smith
Key cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Sean Harris
A young reverend, his wife and daughter move into an old house with a horrifying secret.
Sales: Westend Films
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Key cast: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley
Enid, a film censor, spends her days watching horror films. When a person from her past appears in a sinister tape, she is shaken to her core.
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
Director: Roger Michell
Key cast: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren
An elderly taxi driver steals Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington, and sends ransom notes saying he will return it on condition the government invests more in care for old people.
Director: Stacey Gregg
Key cast: Andrea Riseborough
Laura’s life is turned upside down when a new family moves in next door. Their daughter, Megan, reminds Laura of her own daughter who died. Laura’s increasing obsession with Megan begins to take its toll on her own family.
Sales: Bankside Films
Director: Corinna Faith
Key cast: Rose Williams
During rolling blackouts, a nurse is forced to work the night shift in a near empty hospital, where she must confront her own traumatic past to fight a malevolent force.
Director: Julien Temple
Feature documentary about singer-songwriter Shane MacGowan. Includes animated sequences by Jonny Halifax based on the work of illustrator Ralph Steadman.
Sales: HanWay Films
Director: Gabriel Range
Key cast: Johnny Flynn, Marc Maron, Jena Malone
In 1971, a 24-year-old David Bowie embarks on his first trip to America, only to be met with a world not yet ready for him. The drama reveals the inspirations that gave birth to Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
Sales: Film Constellation