British Films


promoting national culture

at every stage it will be up to some bureaucrat in the Department of Culture to decide how British you really are…

How we laughed at these comic new regulations about films

With 15 new regulations coming out of Westminster every week it is no wonder that sometimes we in the Opposition give way to the sin of despair. Sometimes we just slump back on the green benches and watch as Labour blizzards the landscape with legislation, like some out-of-control alpine snow machine. Sometimes we shut our eyes, unable to do anything to stop the avalanche of paper; and sometimes we have a peek, and we actually read something that has just been adopted by our rulers, and we feel we are in danger of going mad.

It must have been about 10pm on Monday when I was waiting to vote and someone gave me a copy of a Labour-generated regulation only hours old. It described a new definition of a “British film”, and I could feel I was about to slip the guy-ropes of reality. Take all the political correctness of the Government; add the pernicketiness of Gordon Brown; throw in the sheer lunacy of the European Commission – and you begin to understand.

You might have assumed that a “British film” was a relatively straightforward concept. A British car is, broadly speaking, a car made in Britain. A British cheese is a cheese made in a British dairy. A British film is therefore a film made in the UK; and by that definition the British film industry has been doing rather well lately. Eight of the top 20 UK box office releases last year were made in Britain, and a healthy total of £486 million was invested in production in the first half of this year, up on £276 million for the same period in the previous year. James Bond, Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, Wallace and Gromit: these are all big at the box office, and good old gloomadon-popping Lefty Ken Loach is keeping the end up for high culture with his Palme d’Or-winning celebration of Irish republicanism.

There may be some curmudgeons who note that this latest inflorescence of British film-making seems to have taken place after widespread allegations of fraud overwhelmed the last tax break, and it was withdrawn. There will be those who say that it is a bit odd to pour taxpayers’ money into this industry, just because we are so richly endowed in film studies graduates. There will be some cynics who point out that Hollywood seems to rub along pretty well without money from the state, and that we don’t think to subsidise other cutting-edge media industries in which this country is particularly well-furnished, such as newspaper column-writing. But never mind.

Let us leave all such carping on one side, and assume that Gordon Brown is right to want to subsidise British film, on the grounds that you have got to chuck a sprat to catch a minnow. Let us indulge his efforts to funnel £120 million down the gullet of our needy film industry. It is not so much the subsidy that is objectionable, as the bureaucratic hell he has created. As soon as the Brussels EU commission got word of the plan, they saw the problem. “What ees these?” said the competition directorate. “It is a state aid,” they said. “It is forbidden.” So the junior Arts minister Shaun Woodward went out to plead with the Commission. Oh please let us subsidise our film industry, he begged. It is very important. We have loads of brilliant film studies graduates, we have a great reservoir of talent, we have untold numbers of grips and gaffers and best boys and all they need is the vital lubricant of taxpayer’s dosh and soon they will be producing another wonderful highbrow film like the one extolling Irish republicanism.

Mais non, said the commission. You cannot just give them the money like this. You can only do it if you say it is promoting your national culture. Hmm, said Shaun, wondering whether extolling Irish republicanism was the same thing as extolling British culture. You mean we can only bung this money to British film-makers if we can show that there is something really quintessentially British about these films?

That’s right, said the Commission officials, who are ever suspicious of the influence of Hollywood on the European audio-visual sector. We don’t want a load of American films masquerading as British films, said the commission. We will allow you to subsidise only genuinely British films! Vraiment Britannique! Echt Britischer! OK said Shaun Woodward, and the result is that we now have this demented points system.

In order to qualify as a British film, you have to show that your effort is in some way an emanation of our national culture, and you need to score 16 out of a possible 31 points for “Britishness”. So you can get four points, for instance, if at least two of the three lead characters are “British characters”, and only one point if one of the three lead characters is a “British character”. You may ask yourself what the hell a “British character” may be. Is Dick van Dyke a “British character” in the Hollywood musical Mary Poppins, even though he speaks in an accent unknown to the rest of the human race? Then we are told that “one point will be awarded if the film includes a significant representation or reflection of British cultural heritage. Two points will be awarded if the film includes an outstanding representation or reflection of British cultural heritage”. Che?

There is a big US box-office success involving a Daily Telegraph feature-writer played by Kate Winslet. Is she a “significant representation” of British culture, or is the Telegraph really “outstanding”? I know the answer – but opinions will differ. And so it goes on, in amazing detail.

You can get points depending on how much English is spoken, on what passport your film crews hold, and at every stage it will be up to some bureaucrat in the Department of Culture to decide how British you really are. You get extra points for using British locations, so that if you have a production of Shakespeare and you are only on 15 points you will be tempted to call it Othello the Moor of Little Venice or Hamlet Prince of Denmark Hill. The whole thing is a goldmine for lawyers. The least Shaun can do, having inflicted this madness upon us, is to minimise the new taxpayer-funded jobs and ask his butler to process the applications himself.

46 thoughts on “British Films”

  1. BRILLIANT ! There you go Boris you sly old dog. Just when I think you have sold your soul you go and totally redeem your self .

    Pull up your enormous pantaloons and face the world with pride today. One of your very best

    Ha ha ha ,”Better of Out” in code …not a word to the boss. Wink wink

  2. You go Boris!

    This is another example of European interference costing us more money and you present your points and you present yourself with the viewpoints of a person who has lived, not a Politician who has existed.

    We need you to lead us to victory!

  3. Very good Boris, but you’re a bit amiss with your understanding of what constitutes a British film. It’s not subject matter, it’s funding. If an American studio made a version of Hamlet, filmed in Prague with a British cast, it wouldn’t be a Czech, English or Danish film; it would be American because they paid for it and produced it. Just because a film is made in Britain with a predominantly homegrown cast and crew, it doesn’t mean they are British. Otherwise March of the Penguins would be considered a product of the Antarctic film industry. And I hate to say it, but Bond is American. The production company and studio behind it are resolutely Yank.

    I am involved with the film industry and I can tell you that the business of raising money is tricky nowadays for British films. Investors are looking for a good return, so they go with safe ideas, which is why so much cinema is formulaic. Get too far from the formula or fail to get a star name interested in the script and you’ll struggle to find funding.

    To get films into cinemas here and abroad, film makers have to convince distribution companies – of which the biggest are all controlled by US studios – that their films are worth showing. With a limited number of screens to work with, it’s no surprise that half of all British films are never released at the cinema. However, since few of them are big budget extravaganzas that demand a big screen, this is not necessary a guarantee of abject failure. Some films become a hit on DVD/video. Look at Withnail and I.

  4. Brilliant, Boris!

    The many millions of us who work for the 4 million SMEs – those companies comprising 99.97% of UK’s businesses and employing almost 60% of UK’s workforce – send our deepest sympathy to you, to our film industry and to all our opposition MPs.

    We too are paralysed by the the rigor mortis of EU red tape and stressed to blood clotting levels by the irrational fury of the relentless EU gravy train as it daily, chaotically, crashes through our professional and personal lives.

    Derail it, Boris and we’ll support you 110%, every man and woman Jack of us!

  5. Very funny, thank you.

    What to do? What do the Tories suggest?

    Do you object to the subsidy to British Film (you imply it is not it SO MUCH that you object to). If not, how then to avoid the bureaucratic hell?

    Can’t we just have stood up to the EU Commission, reminding it that its our country, our money and our film industry..or would that push the meaning of ‘subsidiarity’ too far?

    Would you rather the subsidy to film have been less? What might you suggest? Isn’t 120 million quid a year a piddling amount to spend on the most innovative, influential art form since the novel?

    An please let us spare our films being dictated to and moulded by the American commercial behemoths.

  6. Jonathan you are a prat .Why the hell should tax payers prop up the “British Fim Industry”
    You are aware that such is the awfulness of its product that film goers actively avoid it until American Audiences have approved.
    Where is your silly parochial pride in the artistic deadweight of our turgid output then? Nowhere.
    Let me remind you of the horror of “Brassed Off” as symbolic of all the inward looking special pleading fetid offall our “creative” class dump on us . Consider “The Matrix ” as an exemplar of the muscular invention of the US based world of ideas.

    We sit around wondering why the media is so religiously attached to a statist agenda , It isn’t hard is it ,that’s who pays them which goes most of all for the BBC which should be burnt to the ground tomorrow . This is all comes form the French and their Language need for a domestic Film Industry. Also their constant wish to subvert the EU to their own utterly selfish and entirely nationalist ends.

    Boris`s position is compromised but he is doing his best in the world of current Conservative Politics all the more credit to him!!!!!!! . At least Cameron is committed to a Euro sceptic agenda well ahead of the Broon so Brian ….what exactly do you want ?

  7. The underlying motive in writing all of this is that Bozza is feeling hurt that he was not selected as the new James Bond.
    I was equally disappointed. I saw Dave as Blofeld and Melissa, of course, as the new Bond girl. It will have to remain in my fantasies now.

  8. Dave? Mr. Vicus (strokes white cat thoughtfully)I have plans of my own for him

    ..No Mr. Cameron …I expect you to die !!!1HA ha ha ha aaaaa …..

  9. hmmm…havent been called a prat for awhile, but nice to know its still possible, newmania.

    Well, just because, in your opinion, Britain makes bad films, doesn’t mean Britain necessarily has to (that is, if it does).

    As a proprotion of Government spending what the arts receives is very small, in any case. I used to have access to statistics in this regard (in 1999) but no longer, but I can’t imagine its changed that much.

    You get me wrong if you think I am opposed to Boris. I want him to be Prime Minister, after all.

  10. The next James Bond Film will not be made at Pinewoood by the way due to the costs the damn Socilaist have added on to doing anything . Saw it in the DT and others a couple of weeks ago


  11. hmmm…havent been called a prat for awhile, but nice to know its still possible, newmania……

    Smooth and classy Jonathan !Enjoyed that…

  12. Newmania, just the man, how would you like to star in my new movie?

    I was thinking a contempory, arty-farty re-make of the pantomime Dick Whittington, filmed in the style of a fly-on-the-wall documentry. It follows the day-to-day exploits of a Conservative mayoral hopeful.

    I’m going to replace the actors-come-road-workers with traffic wardens-come-wannabe-reality TV stars. They also substitute for the pirates and you get to save some politicans press secretary from getting a parking ticket.

    That’s as far as I’ve got so far, you interested?

  13. I have sort of done Dick Wittington who is an Islington obsession at the moment . this was the lead letter in the local rag last month: I ,however , would like to Know why two posts expressing discontent at the Conservative position of Europe have been edited . IS IT CAMEROONS ONLY HERE!!!IF SO……………………..

    I RATHER like the idea of a Dick Whittington theme to the Archway development (Gazette, November 2). The consultative schemes I have seen are resolutely ugly and modernist, as you would expect – and this would be a welcome relief. Thanks for your efforts, Councillor Stefan Kasprzyk.

    I wonder what Richard Whittington (1350-1423) would make of Islington today. His tale is one of inspiring independent business enterprise. He arrived at Highgate Hill with nothing but a cat, as many still do, made a fortune and became three times Lord Mayor of London. Like most celebrities, he ended up in panto, for what feels like centuries.
    I’m not sure he would like the anti-business dispensation of modern Islington. His licence to catch rats would be denied on “elfansafety” grounds. His shop could not survive Islington’s draconian parking policy.
    Between completing endless council forms and paying flabbergasting local taxes, it is likely his domestic arrangements would suffer. Before long the social services would come to take Tiddles.
    Richard Whittington was a real and generous man. His philanthropic will still benefits disadvantaged Londoners today.
    By contrastThe “Whittington” Hospital, with other London hospitals, profits to the tune of £12million per year, by taxing illness, through its extortionate parking charges.
    You can still make a fortune though. Bob Kiley, the notably unsuccessful London transport commissioner, was paid £1million in his year’s tenure. Perhaps Dick would have followed suit, become a government “rat commissioner”, sat on his hands, and taken the money.
    Don`t be such a killjoy Kate Calvert of Archway Forum – let us have our statue of Dick. Councillor Kasprzyk might like to consider why, today – ghostly imprecations to “turn again” not withstanding – our hero would have trudged straight back home to Gloucestershire. –


    More Europe bashing needed but as I am handsome charismatic I would be good in a film.No question of it

    (Nice to see you S)

  14. I think you are absolutely stupid and fighting for the Conservatives need I say anymore. When you appear on shows like Have I got News For You, you just can’t even string a proper sentence together. You said some nasty things about Liverpool when Bigley was put to death in Iraq. So no, I won’t be supporting you at the next election or your party come to that.

  15. What? Melissa isn’t a Bond girl?

    Vicus – I feel so cheated. I somehow assumed that any glamorous young thing running around Westminster was in the pay of MI5 and spent her entire life sipping vodka martinis and disappearing off on mysterious trips to the Cote D’Azur.

    Meanwhile, if half of what Boris wrote is true, I hope he’s satisfied because I’m going to have to go and put my head in a gas oven.

    Fortunately, I think he might have got this one a teensy weensy leedle iddybit wrong. I suspect the whole thing was composed just so he could take an underhand swipe at Ken Loach.

  16. Wow, so much hot air goes here. Get your facts on the matter people.

    Recent expose of Hollywood by a well respected economist Edward Jay Epstein explains how the studios get around various foreign governments rules to make big bucks at the expense of the local tax payers. Apparently, the main victims are Germans. Here is why:

    “The beauty of the German tax code, as far as Hollywood is concerned, is that unlike tax laws in other countries, it does not require films to be shot locally or to employ local actors or personnel. It simply requires that the film be produced by a German company that owns its copyright and shares in its future profits.”

    And how it works is shown on a recent example of a film that made lots of money but did not earn German Exchequer much:
    “Consider the case of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. A Munich-based tax-shelter fund, Hannover Leasing, had a corporate shell pay $150 million to New Line Cinemas for the movie’s copyright, which it simultaneously leased back to a New Line affiliate. It also entered into agreements for New Line to produce and distribute the movie. At the end of filming, New Line Cinemas paid the German company the agreed-upon minimum advance (which approximately equaled the interest on the initial investment) to honor the pretense that the Germans had participated in the profits. For engaging in these strictly paper transactions, New Line “earned” $16 million, a tidy “money-for-nothing” sum.

    The studios have good reason not to talk about the skim they take from German tax shelters. If anyone were to look behind the curtain and see that the wizard is really just a bunch of American studios taking money from German tax shelters, the German treasury, which is the only real loser in this game, might well change the rules and take back the very real German money that makes the American illusion possible.”

    So, our DEpartment of Culture are cleverer than Germans and Boris, you should do your homework next time!

  17. Far be it from me to defend European Commission officials – but why are you complaining? They seem to be doing their best to disuade Gordon from this wasteful subsidy and thus does the EU help the UK’s competitiveness.

    Also, Boris, you seem to undermine your own argument somewhat by asking ‘what is a British character?’ and then bringing up Mary Poppins…

    …it seems to suggest that your opening gambit – that it is easy to say what a ‘British film’ is – is wrong…

    …Mary Poppins is set in London, full of English characters and with an English lead, but even if it had been filmed in London it still wouldn’t be a ‘British film’… it’s by Disney!

    …Furthermore, in these days of globalisation it is not even easy to say what a ‘British car’ is… is it British owned? British branded? Or made in Britain (for a South Korean manufacturer)?

    So a points system starts to look like a rather rational response – I’d be interested to know what you think…

  18. Flo – chide not the newcomer in this season of goodwill. Not least because the fellow obviously hasn’t your skill in constructing an argument based on fact and must resort to ‘allegedly’.

    Incidentally – someone alleged this about me:

    “she has horrible personal habits such as picking her nose wart on the tube and stroking her luxuriant grey moustache. Can`t a malodorous old refugee be left to her rat broth and beetroot .I have taken upon myself the painful duty of taking her soup and peeling her garments off once a month. She will be upset and confused by further assistance wishing only to write poisonous bile to local villagers , acquire bed sores and cough up phlegm.

    I mean this kindly”

    There are times when you just have to roll with the facts!

  19. Newmania – my lips are sealed… and slightly crusty.

    Flo – you’re a star, Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas y’all!


  21. We’re here, as ever, Newmania…

    Everyone is probably too wrapped with the rush of Christmas and parties

  22. Dear Boris,

    I am intrigued by your views on the concept of a “British Film.” While I agree with you on a good many points about the mountain of legislature created by Westminster these days, or of the problems with the Brussels bureaucracy, there were still a number of points in your article which I feel need to be addressed.

    It’s not clear to me from your article as to whether or not are in favour of the British Film Industry having access to tax breaks, or if this was an opportunity to highlight a number of the problems that exist with the EU. On that second point I would probably be mostly in agreement with you, but being a humble foot soldier in the increasingly threatened British Film Industry (twenty-five years in the camera department and proud of it) I would like to take this opportunity to expand on the few of the points that you raise.

    Firstly, you mention that the Government injects £120 million into the British Film Industry. Assuming that figure is correct — and I have little reason to doubt what you say — surely the fact that as a result it has attracted (according to your own article) something in the region of £486 million of investment in the first six months of this year alone must be seen as a positive effect?

    Your reference to the £120 million sprat to catch a minnow seems apt, and I do understand why people should be so concerned about money being frittered away by various branches of the Exchequer these days, but (with apologies to Oscar Wilde) while an analysis of the figures alone might tell us the cost of everything, it doesn’t really teach us the value of anything. A nice healthy percentage of that £120 million probably goes straight back to the British Treasury, in the form of taxes paid by numerous film facility companies or technicians who might otherwise be gainfully unemployed or claiming benefit.

    In addition, we should stop to think that without this particular sprat, much of that £486 million might even have gone elsewhere. In spite of the fact that the figures for this year are so much better than last year, this didn’t stop the Bond producers, a US company with a long track record of support to the British Film Industry, from taking the latest James Bond film to Prague, where the costs and incentives are even greater and that much more attractive to filmmakers. How many millions has that cost us? Admittedly Harry Potter is still filming in the UK at Leavesden, but few people have any idea how close we also came to losing the latest film to Australia this year. The result would have been over £100 million US filmmaking dollars being spent outside of the UK — and that’s just for one picture alone!

    The film producers in the States already knows how high the standard of filmmaking is in the UK, and it’s no accident that the first three Star Wars films were made on these shores, as were the Superman films and Indiana Jones to name but a few. That we still have the infrastructure to make such films at all when the poor Dollar exchange rate and the attractions of the cheaper eastern European countries sometimes amazes me, but the fact that eight of the twenty top grossing films in the UK were actually made here in the UK surely speaks for itself? In which case, the question should not so much be one of why the British Government should support its Film Industry, but how can it further gain financially from supporting it. Re-establishing a wholly British distribution network comes to mind, so that much of a film’s financial success is reflected in this country’s overall balance sheet comes to mind…

    Finally, you also mentioned the “fraud” when the last round of tax breaks were suddenly closed. I do recall this event very well but one thing we ought to keep in mind is that the tax loophole which existed, before being so effectively plugged by the Chancellor, was not specifically a film industry tax concession. The loophole was exploited by people from a good many other industries and while it may also have been used by some film producers, there were a good many who didn’t.

    As to the points system to which you refer, the concept of “Britishness” in a country that is increasingly open to foreign labour is one that I suspect people will debate forever and a day.


  23. £150 million is also the sum needed to keep rural post offices open, which they’re shutting like hatches in a storm.

    Newmania, the poor response to that article – which was indeed a superb example of the madness around us – has more to do with the thread being buried by another, I suspect.

  24. £150 million is also the sum needed to keep rural post offices open, which they’re shutting like hatches in a storm.

    Tony Blair says thats your fault.The he also says the perrages were “Party Peerages”

    Bye bye pro American Guy
    Had a Bevy with Lord Levy when the coffers were dry


    £120 million into the British Film Industry. …. has attracted (according to your own article) something in the region of £486 mio

    No that is a pathetic return. £120,000,000 cold hard cash and you get only thw or three times the amount “invested”.
    You could make exactly the same argument about any industry with far far bettre figures to show for it .

  25. FAO: Newmania:

    I’ve been following this discussion for several years now, through certain professional organisations that monitor the Film & Television Industry. People can make all sorts of arguments for cultural reasons, etc. and some may or may not be valid, but if you also stop to consider the potentially huge inward investment from abroad that certain productions can generate (even for “British movies”), it can also have an extremely beneficial effect on the overall balance of payments. By any yardstick a £120 million investment generating over £400 million of additional inward investment (in only six months?) looks like a pretty pretty good return for your money. It certainly beats my current city portfolio…

    Happy Christmas!

  26. newmania said:


    As Melissa says, we’re still here, sort of. Am I the only one who’s started a few postings recently, then deleted them, thinking, nope, I’d better not post that?
    …[Ed: Flo’ it must be this invasive time of year that is derailing so many of us…mel]

  27. Flo – you’re right, I think there’s pressure to feel ‘jolly’ rather than slightly frazzled in that oh my God I’ve forgotton the turkey kinda way.

    note to self: get turkey.

    Jack Ramsey – Merry Christmas honey to you and your mem-sahib x

  28. I would rather no tax payers money was used to fund the British film industry if they are pouring thousands of pounds into films like “The Great Ecstacy of Robert Carmichael”.
    This was the British entry at Cannes in 2005 and has graced some of the other European Festivals.
    The film maker, Thomas Clay aged 26, has posted comments on his forum about how Britain is a philistine isle; if he was given money by the BFC to make this trash then I guess he is right.
    I will not upset your Christmas with spoilers about the film, except to say, if this is this is supposed to be a representation of British film making at its best then may the industry rot in hell.

  29. My daughter and I have to cook two christmas lunches, Jaq, one for vegetarians, the other for carnivores. I’m panicking about both at present.

  30. Simon , of course talking a load of hard earned tax payers money and handing over to a whining herd of bed wetting film students trained at the taxpayers expense will appear to have beneficial effect on the BOP, so would any government grant . I have already made my point that the corrosive effect of state funding has reduced the British Film Industry to an international embarrassment . As a place to outsource Hollywood product it works well enough.

    . To understand why this is economically bad for the country you would have to understand something about why free trade is a good thing ; the rationale, if there is any behind the EU and behind the problem of funding films .In reality the EU is a protectionist organisation operated for and on behalf of the French and Germans but leaving that aside….

    State funding of products allows them to undercut other fairly produced products. While this will clearly seem to suck foreign currency in equally clearly it is diverting resources from efficient areas of production into inefficient ones. It will also have that effect in the country being cheated and operates precisely like a trade barrier. Both countries forfeit comparative advantage and are therefore poorer. Standard stuff I know .

    To be honest my main objection is to the flabby self regarding quagmire of determinedly parochial cures for insomnia that is the output of the “British Film Industry”. The English Patient …..what a good reason to bang a nail slowly and deliberately into your left temple .

    FLO Perhaps I can help . Simply tell the vegetarian to stop being such a ridiculous posturing pain in the arse and shove a large greasy leg of Turkey in his/her gob .!! I cannot abide these aetiolated wraiths that spoil the good cheer by sucking beans and water. A good slap works wonders.

    (Er……. present company excepted and anyone else I happen to like but is misguided on this matter)

  31. FLO Perhaps I can help . Simply tell the vegetarian to stop being such a ridiculous posturing pain in the arse and shove a large greasy leg of Turkey in his/her gob .!! I cannot abide these aetiolated wraiths that spoil the good cheer by sucking beans and water. A good slap works wonders…(Er……. present company excepted and anyone else I happen to like but is misguided on this matter) (newmania)

    Thank you, newmania, however, the vegetarian turkey is for my daughter and myself. I know you won’t believe this, but Christmas lunch with vegetarian turkey or vegetarian beef and all the trimmings tastes just as good as your carnivore version.

  32. Newmania:

    Regarding the “…bed wetting film students” I would probably agree with you, but don’t be tempted to include all British filmmakers among their number.

    You mention that free trade is a good thing. Well yes it is, but if you look at the level of support than many other countries give to their own indigenous film industries (particularly in Europe), the state funding of their industries is clearly having a detrimental effect on Britain’s ability to compete in this field. Believe it or not British filmmakers don’t like having to ask for support to help keep our film (and television) industry alive. What they really want is a level playing field, but until that playing field is truly level (which it ain’t) then tax incentives to encourage film production (indigenous and foreign) in the UK can only be a good thing.

    As to your idea of the “flabby self regarding quagmire of determinedly parochial cures for insomnia that is the output of the British Film Industry…” I’m surprised to see you singling out the English Patient which has resulted in a large degree of critical acclaim and financial success for the producers. Perhaps there is somewhere else that we should bang that proverbial nail…

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