Britain’s film industry is celebrating a coming of age on after the British-made ‘Gravity’ and the British-directed “12 Years a Slave” dominated the Oscars.
Space drama ‘Gravity’ owed many of its seven Oscars to the stunning special effects produced by London-based company Framestore, and its US stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were strapped into harnesses to be filmed ‘in space’ at Shepperton Studios outside the British capital.
The searing brutality of “12 Years a Slave” — winner of three Oscars including the coveted Best Picture award — was masterminded by British filmmaker Steve McQueen and starred London-born Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The success did not stop there as two other films nominated for best picture had strong British roots.
“Philomena”, featuring Judi Dench as an Irish woman searching for her baby son who was given to an American family by nuns, is completely British-funded, while Somali pirates hijack drama “Captain Phillips” was directed by Britain’s Paul Greengrass.
But Sunday night’s big winner was “Gravity” and its Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron — a London resident himself — was quick to praise his adopted homeland.
“Definitely the amazing know-how, quality and sophistication of the British film industry made this film happen,” Cuaron said on the Oscars red carpet.
“I’m talking specifically about companies like Framestore or the amazing crew that I worked with.
“This is the third film that I have done in the UK. I have done more films in the UK than in any other country in the world.
“The great thing is that the British film culture is in as good shape as the American industry right now,” added Cuaron, who picked up the Best Director award.
There was more praise from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein ahead of the Oscars ceremony. While championing “Philomena”, which his company distributed, Weinstein said the British film industry as a whole had enjoyed “a hell of a year”.
“It’s the best period for British film I’ve seen,” he told The Observer newspaper on Sunday.
– Success ‘deep-rooted’ –
The British Film Institute (BFI), a charitable body set up to promote the industry, was popping the champagne corks on Monday.
“Our industry continues to punch above its weight,” said its chief executive Amanda Nevill.
The British film industry has had some false dawns in the past, but the BFI says its current success has deep roots, and is based on a range of factors.
Substantial investment through the National Lottery has funded training of technicians and screenwriting, while Film Four, the movie arm of the independent Channel Four broadcaster, and BBC Films have helped develop productions.
One of the biggest factors has been tax relief for productions based in Britain, which has helped attract productions from California. The government said in December it would make the terms even more advantageous.
The BFI also points to the studio facilities available at Shepperton — home of “Gravity” — and Pinewood, where the new “Star Wars” films are in production. The natural beauty of locations such as the Scottish Highlands is an obvious draw for filmmakers too.
That combination of factors helped to attract nearly £870 million ($1.45 billion, 1.05 billion euros) of foreign investment to productions that began principal filming in Britain in 2013, according to the BFI.
It argues that British taxpayers are ultimately getting a good deal, estimating that the British film industry is worth £4.6 billion a year to the economy.
A BFI spokeswoman told AFP: “We are now part of the international filmmaking industry, but with a British accent.
“Films like ‘Philomena’ and the ‘Invisible Woman’ (about Charles Dickens’ lover) are not British films trying to ape Hollywood.
“These are British stories being told with a very British sensibility and audiences around the world are responding to that.”
Sylvain Despretz, a French ‘storyboarder’ who has worked on blockbusters including “Gladiator” and “Alien”, told AFP that Britain’s success is due to “a combination of brainy decisions and some simple economics”.
“London is the right size, and works in the right language, and can sustain the right amount of great talent, so it finds itself at the crossroad of film, TV, commercial, and pop promo productions destined to be used all over the world.
“And London is always busy. There is no down time there,” he told AFP.