No heir apparent in British film after Colin’s coronation

What does the success of The King’s Speech at the Oscars mean for the British film industry? Sheena Hastings reports.

EVEN avid film lovers rarely have the stamina to stay up half the night in the UK to watch the Academy Awards ceremony, as it is actually happening in the radiantly broad daylight of Los Angeles. Unless you’re an uber-fan or have some professional interest, the breakfast time news bulletin is soon enough to know whether our slumbers should have been disturbed by the distant gnashing of teeth as British hopes were dashed once again.

The 140 students who join different courses at the Northern Film School at Leeds Metropolitan University each year, and the staff who teach them, no doubt get together in argumentative clusters to watch the hours of gowns, gags and gongs, feeling a great vested interest in this paean to the high-rolling end of film-making.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

How satisfying then, for them – and for anyone interested in film – to see four of the most important awards going to The King’s Speech, which was made for a shoestring £10m, a fraction of the budget spent on other contenders for Best Film such as sci-fi thriller Inception and The Social Network, the story of the gestation of the Facebook phenomenon.

“Everyone gets caught up in the hype, and everyone has their predictions and probably there’s the odd sweepstake going on,” says senior lecturer Cheryl Grant. “We all expected Colin Firth to win, but there was a lot of debate about and support for Christian Bale (the Welsh-born actor won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in US-produced The Fighter), who was up against very strong competition in his category including Geoffrey Rush. After losing out to Jeff Bridges last year, when he (Firth) was so brilliant in A Single Man, it was good to see honour satisfied this year.

“He deserved it for his performance in The King’s Speech, but with the Academy there is always also an element of rewarding an actor who has proved their worth over many films.”

Ms Grant points out that members of the Academy, the great and good of the film industry including former winners and nominees, has a strong tendency towards traditionalism. The Oscars have never been about edginess.

“The Social Network, although brilliant, is full of young actors who have not yet proved their worth and its subject matter is something that elderly members of the Academy will not even understand.” Looking back at the statistics, makers of funny films generally haven’t a hope. “The history of film is littered with films in general that should have won Best Film, and among them are outstanding comedies made by Billy Wilder, including Some Like It Hot. Comedies are rarely even nominated.”

As one of the devotees who stayed up into the wee hours, albeit in pyjamas rather than Givenchy couture, Cheryl Grant says some repeatedly made reference to their feelings of disgust over the fact that London-born Christopher Nolan was not even nominated for Best Director for Inception.

Every awards night has to have its controversy – manufactured or otherwise. Nolan was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but lost out to David Seidler, who wrote The King’s Speech.

A frightening aspect of the Oscars is how many actors win then either never make another remarkable film or apparently disappear off the Hollywood scene – take Mira Sorvino (Best Supporting Actress, Mighty Aphrodite 1996), Robert Benigni (Best Actor, Life Is Beautiful, 1999), and even two-time winner Jodie Foster. The problem seems to be more of a danger for female actors, says Grant. “It doesn’t help that there are relatively few brilliant female roles. That’s why it’s a shame that in a really good year like this, the winner of Best Actress (Natalie Portman) is worthy but the wonderful Annette Bening (nominated for The Kids Are All Right) is passed over again.”

With the scrapping of the UK Film Council, whose role in financially supporting British film making will soon pass over to the British Film Institute, but with less Government money to hand out, the future of the industry is uncertain.

“There’s The King’s Speech, but what else is going on in terms of big British-produced films? Not much at all,” says Grant. “There are few courses like ours in the country, and our students do well at finding work in the creative industries because they learn entrepreneurial skills that can be used in advertising and corporate work.

“Things are tough if you want to make films, but Tom Hooper, now Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech, started out on TV’s Byker Grove and EastEnders.”