It's a curious ritual: the British media complaining about British films, not because they lack quality or ideas, but because of misconstrued box office figuresby Mark Cousins / October 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
It looks like self-hatred, but when the press performs its ritual denunciation of British cinema, it is more like self-love thwarted. The reporting of unanalysed but apparently disastrous box office figures is a seasonal event. The revival of British cinema is once again declared a sad joke. Lessons, we are told, have not been learned.
The latest omen of doom is Peter Cattaneo’s Lucky Break, his follow-up to The Full Monty, which has shown tiny returns for its sizeable advertising budget (otherwise known as “hype”). Never mind that a surprise hit has merely been succeeded by a not-so-surprising disappointment. Other flops must be lined up, whatever their target audience or marketing budgets were, and shown to represent the demise of British film. The Independent recently exposed a movie called Another Life for taking only ?11,300 at the British box office and Steve Coogan’s The Parole Officer for taking a “mere” ?2.6m by the end of August. The term “flop” clearly covers a great deal of territory-from genuine dud to “might have done a bit better.”
You have to be blinded by Hollywood financial ratios to imagine that an initial ?2.6m (now risen to well over ?3m) at the British box office is a disaster. The Parole Officer might not have won the ?18m jackpot of last year’s Billy Elliot, but the latter was a runaway hit. If it is box office that ultimately counts, then Kevin and Perry Go Large, which took ?10m, or Chicken Run (?30m) should be paragons of British cinema.
How many times since the mid-1980s, when British cinema rose like Lazarus, has newsprint tolled its grave bell? Of course, the same papers, even the same journalists, will happily stretch a point in the opposite direction every time a Full Monty or a Trainspotting captures a slice of the international imagination. But that’s the love-hate pathology. They imagine British cinema has turned a corner. They want it to be so. They look for trends in an industry they don…