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History of cinema in the United Kingdom


Cinema in the UK before there was an Industry

Birt Acres (1854-1918), born in Richmond, Virginia, USA of English parents was the first person to build and run a working 35 mm camera in Britain. He made some very early silent films during the Victorian era including in 1895: a film of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, The Arrest of a Pickpocket , The Comic Shoeblack , The Boxing Kangaroo and Performing Bears .

The beginnings of a British film industry

In 1904 the Shakespearean actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree allowed the storm scene from his production of The Tempest to be filmed for Charles Urban . In 1911 Will Barker (1867-1951) filmed Tree's production of Henry VIII.

Charles Urban (1867-1942) was an Anglo-American producer and distributer who was one of the, if not the, most significant figures in UK filmmaking before the First World War. He filmed first in black and white and then in Kinemacolor between 1908 and 1914. Kinemacolor was a system of creating colour movies by an additive composite of primary colours. One of his films was a two and a half hour epic "With Our King and Queen Through India", depicting the December 1911/1912 Delhi Durbar which celebrated the coronation of George V. A good internet link for further information on Charles Urban and Kinemacolor is:

The history of the British film industry

The British film industry was subject to international influences right from the beginning. In the very early days when films were silent there was no language barrier and films from the European continent were able to screen in Britain without problems. When talkies began the links between Britain and other English language film making countries such as the USA became more important. The alliance between Britain and the USA in WW2 reinforced the cultural links.

For a while, British films had, to some extent, an easy audience in many Commonwealth countries. However attempts to keep British cinema British were counter-productive and the inherently international nature of cinema proved increasingly to be the way to succeed. In America, Hollywood studios were having great success by hiring talent from Britain, Germany, France, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Japan or anywhere. Hollywood consequently were able to assemble a line-up of great acting, directing and technical talent to beat any country's insular nationalistic cinema.

While British actors and directors were achieving great things in Hollywood, American financial investment in British cinema was dominating production and distribution.

In the 1960s British studios began to claw back some success by making striking genre films such as Hammer Horror, James Bond and Carry On comedies.

In the 1970s and 1980s British studios established a reputation for great special effects in films such as Superman and Star Wars. This reputation has continued through the 1990s and into the 21st century with films such as the James Bond series, Gladiator and Harry Potter.

In September 2003 a British film, "This is Not a Love Song", was the first to be streamed live on the internet simultaneously with its cinema premiere. The film, directed by Bille Eltringham , was "live" from the 5th-19th September 2003 at and stars Michael Colgan , Kenneth Glenaan , David Bradley and John Henshaw .

Black and Asian actors in British cinema

The shame of British cinema is that it has been impossible, until very recently, to produce a list of black actors who are successful in British films. There isn't any shortage of good black actors in Britain, and they're getting reasonably good parts on television, but not so many in movies.

There has, for instance, been serious criticism of the romantic comedy "Notting Hill" (1999) because the Notting Hill area of London has a very large black population who are invisible in the movie. There was criticism of Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi (1982) because the title role wasn't played by an Indian but, instead, went to Ben Kingsley (who is actually of Indian descent, so the criticism might be viewed as questionable).

In 1967 a British movie To Sir, with Love starred Afro-American actor Sidney Poitier and The 51st State (2001) starred Samuel L. Jackson, which perhaps suggests that the apparent racism isn't a straightforward colour bar but instead perhaps the result of ignorance among those in charge of casting.

This situation seems to be changing at last but there is still a long way to go before the British movie industry catches up with the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society which Britain has become. We can only hope that a new trend is about to begin. In the 21st century we've seen black British actors Robbie Gee and Naomi Harris take leading roles in Underworld and 28 Days Later respectively. Red Dwarf: The Movie (2004) [1] is in pre-production and due to begin filming in May 2004. This will be the movie of the BBC TV series with Craig Charles as David Lister and Danny John-Jules as Cat.

On television some of Britain's important black actors include: Paul Barber, Suzanne Packer , Kwame Kwei-Armah, Martina Laird , Angela Bruce , Adrian Lester , David Oyelowo, Lenny Henry, Richard Blackwood , Steven Cole , Louis Emerick , Trevor Laird , David Harewood , Lennie James, Diane Parish , Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules. There are lots more, and Asian actors too (who have had a few more leading roles in British movies).

Some of the Asian British actors in movies include:

Noted directors

A few important British directors: (for more directors of all nationalities, visit film directors.)

Noted actors

Some of the most famous British movie actors:


See also

External links

Last updated: 12-28-2004 19:21:51