A quick word on ‘British success’ during movie awards season

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In our national press’s hurry to lavish praise on a very specific subset of award winners, Guy suggests they overlook the real success of British moviemaking.

The Golden Globes have well and truly kicked off movie awards season, and with it that peculiarity of the UK media to turn the winning of trophies for artistic merit into a bizarre sort of Olympic sport where the nationality of the winners – specifically those who identify as British – becomes bafflingly relevant.

British Stars Enjoy Golden Night at Golden Globes…”

“Homegrown Stars Sweep Aside Hollywood Royalty…”

Gongs for British Thesps Proves We’re Much Better at Acting…”

Okay, I might be exaggerating with that last one, but ‘Brits done good’ is a near universal angle for the media to take on this side of the pond, and it causes me to cringe into a pretzel-shaped contortion whenever and wherever I see it.

There are conflicting reasons why.

Firstly, it’s that strange mix of exceptionalism and ‘punching above our weight’ jingoism that underlies so much of the tabloid discourse these days. Look at us Brits? Aren’t we great, going over there and winning all those awards off the Americans? Olivia Colman used to be a sitcom actress, don’t you know? And now look at her!

Arguably it’s all Colin Welland’s fault. In 1982 the late great screenwriter won an Oscar for his Chariots of Fire screenplay, and in acknowledging the good night for this quintessentially English biopic declared “The British are Coming” during his famous acceptance speech. It was something the press over here really latched on to, and every year since it seems as if a side-competition is going on – how many we got – that no one else aside from excitable UK entertainment editors could give two hoots about.

But the irony is that the British were not coming. They were already there. And British talent has only asserted itself further into the Hollywood infrastructure, becoming an integral part of its success – of its very fabric. Our actors are ubiquitous, even if they hide their regional dialects behind American accents. Directors, producers, cinematographers, props, make-up, costume design… the amount of British expertise on display that contributes to Hollywood’s output is considerable.

And so, the press reaction to awards success for the British contingent is both embarrassingly self-important whilst simultaneously underselling our overall contribution to the movie-making business.

My irritation to the former may appear to be undermined by my annoyance of the latter, but it’s that inherent contradiction that bristles so.

Because on the one hand our press is fawningly in awe of the glitz and glamour that Hollywood provides, yet at the same time it goes to great lengths to portray it as something quite separate to our acting and film-making traditions – a party we’ve crashed; awards that we’ve “stolen” from under Hollywood’s noses.

Interestingly, the moment attention turns to our own awards ceremony – one that skews very much towards British talent – it’s the American stars winning a BAFTA that get the media attention. Look! That iconic Hollywood idol turned up to accept our little award! They didn’t even pre-record an acceptance from their Beverly Hills home – they were actually there! How wonderful!

It’s that characteristic British trait of superiority, undermined immediately by a potent inferiority complex, that seems to be at the heart of awards reportage on our fair isle. Our press seems to see us as both better than Hollywood – the long tradition of theatre, small independent movies about social issues, proper acting – whilst simultaneously revelling in the occasional accolades it bestows upon us.

But while The British Film IndustryTM and Hollywood used to seem like two entities that were a million miles apart, it might be time for the British press to recognise the unprecedented merging of talent that has occurred since Colin Welland lifted his Oscar all those decades ago. British talent, expertise and experience is so now so embedded within the Hollywood machinery that were it somehow extricated, the entire enterprise would fall apart and cease to exist. Once the purveyors of small, niche, prestige ‘little films that could’, our fingerprints are now all over blockbuster entertainment such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic juggernaut.

In other words, this whole ‘them and us’ approach to awards coverage belies a failure to acknowledge something genuinely worthy of celebration: “Hollywood” – to use the word in its business, rather than place-name sense – is now as much a British enterprise as it is American.

So, moving forward, let’s try to celebrate the genuine watershed moments during awards season. Let’s save column inches for Awkwafina being the first Asian person to get a major acting gong. Let’s feel proud when more female directors get silverware. Let’s wax lyrical about Hollywood rewarding people who look like its audience instead of its financiers.

With respect to headline writers around the country, a RADA alumnus getting praise for playing make-believe should no longer be cause for national jubilation. But what we can take pride in is our nation’s continued influence within a business we once felt may be beyond us – and which some therefore unfairly deigned to be beneath us.

Images: BigStock

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