The Long Good Friday as an introduction to British cinema

The Long Good Friday
Directed by John Mackenzie
Written by Barrie Keefe

Advertisements

Having introduced European cinema with Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, British cinema can be introduced with The Long Good Friday. Released in 1980, The Long Good Friday comes at the end of the 1970 – 1982 period in-which original British films had begun to lose their audience. The popularity of British films in Britain peaked between 1940 and 1949, and began to decline in 1950, eventually plateauing in 1970. The British films following this period were violent and sexual. But this raises the first question of studying British cinema: what determines a film’s nationality, and what makes a film British? Furthermore, following the decline of the popularity of British films in the period of The Long Good Friday being released, can a film be considered British, or representative of Britain, if only a minority of British people see it? British cinema is a matter of British identity, and if most British people do not identify with a “British” film, is that film really British at all? If a film produced, distributed and exhibited in Britain is not embraced into the current cultural identity of what “British” is, does the film release process matter to a film’s nationality? This was the case with British films from 1970 onward, and British cinemas reacted to this. Multiplexes were created by dividing large auditoriums into multiple, smaller auditoriums in order to sell more tickets. With films now being broadcast on television and being made available on home media for the first time, British films were not just suffering, but the British cinema industry as a whole was too. British cinema was in crisis. But British cinema is always in crisis. There had been articles declaring British cinema to be “in crisis” published as far back as the 1920s, and very little has changed. No British film studio has a monopoly, not enough profit is being generated by original British films, there is adequate funding from the government, and British cinema is perceived internationally as being the bridge between Hollywood movies and European art houses, without being able to find an identity of its own. The government set annual quotas on how many British films must be shown by British cinemas per year, which was not deregulated until 1985, after the release of The Long Good Friday, by which time the audience for British films had stabilised at a record-low level. For Britain in particular, this was the first real “crisis”; between 1940 and 1949, Britain had the largest cinema audience based on population density. These kind of numbers have never been reached again – especially with more media streams through which to consume entertainment from all over the world. The studio system of prior to 1950 had dissolved, and The Long Good Friday was, like every other British film of the time, produced by an independent studio that shopped for distributors. There was no industrialised relationship between artists and investors. Films could be made, but releasing required success in pitching. In the “golden age”, studios and distributors were conglomerated together in an ecosystem. That simply wasn’t the case following the 1950. Today, the average British cinema-goer sees two new films per year, and almost all of them are American imports. Between 1940 – 1949, 70% of British people went to the cinema regularly. Are the decline in success of British films and the diversification of Britain’s population mutually exclusive? As Britain’s population becomes more diverse, does making films that will appeal to them becomes more difficult? Is there no longer a “British identity”, but numerous identities co-existing in Britain alongside one-another? Until 1950, the majority of British cinema-goers were white and middle class and not interested in British films, and were likely to watch American imports. Hollywood does not sell films, it sells genres. Genres are easy to market. Genres have a built-in audience. If a film can easily fit into a genre, that film is considered by Hollywood to be more easily marketable. British films are less generic or compartmentalised. Britain does not have “the western”. British science fiction is mostly confined to television, and British fantasy is most commonly in the form of prose literature – and any film adaptation rights are almost always bought by Hollywood. The increasing success of American imports in Britain eventually pushed British films to the sidelines of niche, and British cinema from 1970 – 1982 has often been neglected academically due to the popular opinion that no British films released in that twelve-year time-frame are worth studying; unlike 1930 – 1939, when British cinema was dominated by low-budget B-movies. In 1978, the Evening Standard British Film Awards – which only nominate British films – awarded Best Film Drama to Star Wars, which qualified – despite being produced with American dollars – due to being shot mostly in Britain. In the same year, Britain’s highest-grossing films were mostly American. One such highly-grossing film was ᗅᗺᗷᗅ: The Movie, a co-production between Sweden and Australia.

Which brings us to The Long Good Friday; which tells a story defined by British political concerns of 1976 – 1979, such as police corruption, untrustworthy government, the Irish Republican Army, Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community, Britain’s industry being threatened by the property development boom and free-market capitalism. The British Film Institute voted The Long Good Friday as the 21st best British film of the 20th century. This is all because of the British values inherent to The Long Good Friday; protagonist Harold, an East London gangster, is attempting to boost Britain’s economy by transforming the disused dockyards into a centre of commerce, with investment from the American mob. Believing that Britain’s crime industry isn’t regarded very highly internationally, Harold feels as if he has something to prove to the Americans, in order to show that Britain is capable of functioning as a world player. This meta-commentary is inspired by the desire to make a crime film in the style of Hollywood, with British values. But Harold’s scheme is jeopardised by the interference of the Irish militia…

Author: alexsigsworth

Generic true believer Marvelite, etc.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s