This week Neil Calloway looks into claims that 2016 was a record year for the British film industry…
On Thursday the British Film Institute released their annual statistics, revealing that 2016 was yet another record-breaking year for British cinema. Last year saw £1.6 billion spent on film production in the UK, the highest ever amount. The vast majority (£1.35 billion) of that came from “inward investment”, meaning non-British films being shot here; largely big Hollywood movies (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Alien: Covenant) that utilise the large studio spaces on the outskirts of London and take advantage of our lucrative tax incentives. The drop in the value of sterling since the EU referendum also means it’s about a fifth cheaper for US companies to shoot here than it was before. Of course,“Inward investment” is just another way of saying “the profits don’t stay in the country”.
According to the statistics, it was also a good year for British cinema at the box office; the three highest grossing movies were all British. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the biggest film at the UK box office last year, quite a feat given that it was only released in December, and of course, because it was partly shot in the UK, it’s considered a British film. Of course, Gareth Edwards, the director, and Felicity Jones, the star, are Brits, but can it really be classed as a British film? Some of it was filmed in the Maldives, so are the Maldivians going to claim it as their own too? I loved Rogue One, but it’s not a British film; it’s not set here, it doesn’t tell a British story; Saw Garrera isn’t from Manchester, K2-SO wasn’t made on a production line in Sunderland.
Though two of the top three films at the UK box office can claim to be of British origin, even then they’re produced by Warner Bros. (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) and Universal (Bridget Jones’s Baby); being written by a Brit and being shot here doesn’t mean the money the movie makes stays here.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie was the top grossing independent British film, earning £16.1 million, a figure that means it doesn’t even make it into the top twenty films at the UK box office. It’s pretty laughable to label it as an indie film too; the director didn’t beg and scrape and subject themselves to medical trials to raise the money to make the film; it was produced by Fox and based on a successful BBC TV series; hardly a Sundance sleeper hit.
Buried in the stats, away from the plaudits from ministers and British film luminaries, is the news that cinema admissions were actually down on 2015, as well as this line about British films “There were 129 domestic UK films made in the UK in 2016, between them spending £206m, a drop of 8% on 2015’s total of £223m”. So yes, a record year by some counts but not by others, perhaps not by the most important measure of success; there were less genuinely British films made, arguably because studio space and technical crew time was taken up with huge Hollywood behemoths. The drop in the value of sterling since the EU referendum also means it’s about a fifth cheaper for US companies to shoot here than it was before, so Disney’s dominance of our studio space is likely to continue.
Every year is a record year for British cinema, in one way or another; it really is a meaningless boast, and all these statistics show is just how reliant we are on Hollywood.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.