Contemporary British Cinema

The present course is an exploration into the multiple facets of British identity through the main movements, tendencies and styles of UK’s contemporary cinematographic productions, from 1990 to present times. Although it seeks to construct a sense of Britishness through film and trace the peculiarities of national filmmaking, it starts from the premise that the cinematic projection of national identity is neither monolithic nor stable, but heterogeneous and fluid, constantly embracing new internal divisions and ideological perspectives. Each lecture covers case studies of key British feature films and considers the manners in which the cinematic medium adds contemporary touches to Britishness on screen.

The first half of the course tackles the most significant film genres that have resurfaced over the last three decades, acknowledging both their connection to British tradition and the manner in which they have been revised so as to suit contemporary audiences. In this sense, romantic-comedies have been shaped as urban fairytales in which the British are represented in idealized and stereotypical terms that cater to international audiences and historical films have been revived, thriving as royal biopics that re-envision the institution of British monarchy and challenge its representation. Heritage films that nostalgically dwelt on the greatness of the nation and longingly looked back at the aristocrats of the faithful adaptations of canonical novels have now made room for post-heritage dramas that distance themselves from aesthetic conservativism and focus instead on sexuality, gender and the interrogation of the past. In addition, while British cinema is internationally renowned for its gritty social realism, the trend has expanded in order to include a turn towards the humorous and the poetic that leaves didacticism behind and favors a softer, more intimate engagement with the characters. British humor is revealed through dark comedy and hybrid genres that embrace parody and reconsider the English canon in a self-conscious, postmodernist key. Most notably, this humour spills into a new wave of crime films, which, albeit experimental and decisively British, have reached international success. The tradition of the horror film is revived and reconfigured at the beginning of the millennium by fusing English iconography with sci-fi elements, acknowledging the influence of American cinematography, but also developing a new subgenre based on British social concerns and criticism.

The last few lectures reflect a more recent shift in British film studies that attests to the fact that UK cinematography has too readily been equated with English cinematography, ignoring or diminishing the separate filmmaking tendencies of the Celtic Fringe. This part of the course moves towards a more nuanced understanding of internal cultural diversity within the UK and thus, a growing sense of multiple national identities within the same area. In particular, it was the New Labour devolution of the late 1990s that gave a voice to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish film, offering them the opportunity to construct their own narratives and consequently reconfigure the notion of Britishness. Scottish cinematography has developed distinctive character that refuses to be contained within the confining borders of tartanry and Kailyardism, Welsh cinematography has started to explore Anglo-Welsh identity negotiations and Northern Irish cinematography has focused on political productions that envision the region before and after the peace process, but also on films that situate themselves in between the Troubles paradigm and the newer inclination towards openness and multiplicity. Last, but not least, the final lecture tackles the emergence of Asian-British cinematography which portrays the struggles of South-Asian immigrants to come to terms with their split identity, the cultural clashes they endure, as well as their contribution to the shaping of a multi-ethnic Britain.

Course instructor: Dr. Andreea Paris-Popa

SCHEDULE

Week 1: INTRODUCTION. THE CONCEPT OF NATIONAL CINEMA

Week 2: ROMANTIC COMEDIES AS CONTEMPORARY URBAN FAIRYTALES

FIlms: Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994), Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999), Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

Readings: from Murphy, Robert, ed. The British Cinema Book. 3rd ed. London: British Film Institute, 2009. Print.

Week 3: MARKETING MONARCHY IN HISTORICAL FILMS

FIlms: The Queen (Frears, 2006), The King’s Speech (Hooper, 2010)

Readings: from Merck, Mandy, ed. The British Monarchy on Screen. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016. Print.

Week 4: POST-HERITAGE DRAMAS

FIlms: Elizabeth I (Kapur, 1998), Stage Beauty (Richard Eyre, 2004), Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)

Readings: from Vincendeau, Ginette, ed. Film/Literature/Heritage: A Sight and Sound Reader. London: British Film Institute, 2001. Print.; from Murphy, Robert, ed. British Cinema of the ‘90s. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. Print.

Week 5: THE NEW REALISM

FIlms: The Full Monty (Cattaneo, 1997), Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999), Fish Tank (Arnold, 2009)

Readings: from Forrest, David. New Realism: Contemporary British Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2020. Print.

Week 6: A BRITISH SENSE OF HUMOUR

FIlms: Shaun on of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004), Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007), Four Lions (Morris, 2010)

Readings: from Hunter, I.Q and Laraine Porter, eds. British Comedy Cinema. London, New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Week 7: A POSTMODERNIST REVISITING OF ENGLISH ICONS

FIlms: Shakespeare in Love (John Madden, 1998), Johnny English (Peter Howitt, 2003), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie, 2011)

Readings: from Norman, Sibel Celik. “Postmodernist Film: A Cinematic Genre.” Sinecine 2.1 (2011): 65-70. Print.

Week 8: THE BRITISH CRIME WAVE

FIlms: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998), The Gentlemen (Guy Ritchie, 2019), Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)

Readings: from Chibnall, Steve and Robert Murphy, eds. British Crime Cinema. London, New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Week 9: THE RESURGENCE OF THE BRITISH HORROR GENRE

FIlms: 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002), The Descent (Marshall, 2005), Eden Lake (Watkins, 2008)

Readings: from Walker, Johnny. Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015. Print.

Week 10: SCOTTISH CINEMATOGRAPHY

FIlms: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996), Sweet Sixteen (Loach, 2002), Filth (Baird, 2003)

Readings: from Blandford, Steve. Film, Drama and the Break-Up of Britain. Bristol, Chicago: Intellect Books, 2007. Print.

Week 11: WELSH CINEMATOGRAPHY

FIlms: Hedd Wyn (Turner, 1992), Submarine (Ayoade, 2010), Pride (Warchus, 2014)

Readings: from Blandford, Steve. Film, Drama and the Break-Up of Britain. Bristol, Chicago: Intellect Books, 2007. Print.

Week 12: THE CINEMA OF NORTHERN IRELAND

FIlms: In the Name of the Father (Sheridan 1993), Belfast (Kenneth Branagh, 2021), Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Readings: from Hill, John. Cinema and Northern Ireland. Film, Culture and Politics. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. Print.

Week 13: ASIAN-BRITISH CINEMATOGRAPHY

FIlms: Bend it like Beckham (Chadha, 2002), East is East (O’Donnell, 1999), Yasmin (Glenaan, 2004)

Readings: from Berghahn, Daniela and Claudia Sternberg, eds. European Cinema in Motion. Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.

Week 14: CONCLUSIONS, REVISIONS AND FURTHER DISCUSSIONS

REQUIREMENTS AND EVALUATION

  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions and a presentation/3-page critical essay, counting for 50% of the final mark
  • An end-of-term written essay, counting for 50% of the final mark