That ‘Brit’ Question Revisited

Media, The Arts

When I asked what it meant to be English, the question coincided with a patriotic piece in the Daily Telegraph talking about how a show like ‘Downton Abbey’ trounced ‘American rubbish’. Except that ‘Downton Abbey’ is largely financed by NBC, who according to today’s Variety balanced the deficit funding to the tune of around £7 million, so it’s effectively an American show made with British employees.

This is more often the case than we realise. A huge number of so-called original British TV shows are ripped from US formats. There has always been a back-and-forth aspect of TV and film development, and there are very few truly British films. For example, ‘The Full Monty’ is often cited as a British film – it’s not. The negative resides with Fox in the US, who declined to released the director’s cut in the UK for economic reasons.

So the next time the question about national identity and media comes up, it’s worth looking behind the headlines to see who’s really the employer.

(BTW, is this the worst comp of all time? What are they, bowling pins?)

6 comments on “That ‘Brit’ Question Revisited”

  1. Jon says:

    Didn’t know that about The Full Monty. Also if I recall correctly the stage version of that relocates it all to Buffalo anyway so the themes, as such, are pretty universal even if the setting isn’t.

    The Radio Times used to – it may still do but I’ve long since stopped buying it – give the nationality of the film alongside the year. European-funded films were particularly difficult for them to cover inside a one-line bracket.

  2. Mind you, THE FULL MONTY looked suspiciously like an Australian TV movie done a few years before that. As for the States, it’s OK, a lot of it is owned by the Chinese, anyway, so who owns what is pretty much a moot point. Or soon will be.

    I’m not convinced the origin of the money is such a deciding factor when trying to ascertain the “nationality” of a film. Years ago, there was quite a hullabaloo when Besson’s THE PROFESSIONAL was banned from the French Movie Awards ceremony, for having been shot in the States with mostly American actors. Yet the money was essentially Besson’s and he directed it and fully controlled it.

    So, go figure…

  3. Rick Drew says:

    It’s hard to pin down these things when it comes to where it is funded vs. how and why a work is created. For example, The Tudors series is a coproduction with the Canadian CBC network, and for tax credit purposes, as well as content, it is considered to be “Canadian content,” which is a thorny issue here in Canada. Not only is the CBC funded by tax payers, independent producers draw from tax resources to fund The Tudors – which ironically won ‘Best Canadian TV Drama’ at what laughingly passes for our awards presentation this year — more like the Special Olympics… So far as I know, none of the directors, writers or actors are Canadian and it is entirely filmed in Ireland. I guess they force the all to drink Maple Syrup…

    I have been involved as a writer in a number of international coproduction TV series, and the deal can quickly water down and dictate the content through forced casting choices and plot lines that shoehorn in elements that justify the money deals. Still, I am looking forward to seeing Downton Abby, given Julian Fellows is the creative force behind it. Though I will never forgive him for YOUNG VICTORIA, in which he had Prince Albert take a bullet for Queen Vicky in a desperate attempt to force a dramatic ending to a story that would not come to a natural dramatic end for another 20 years!

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Thank-you, Rick, for saying so pithily and authoritatively what I would have liked to say. We still do good satire, though, even if it doesn’t export well. The lighter comedies, ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ and ‘Corner Gas’, are good and I like ‘Being Erica’ even if it is weird and somewhat preachy. Those are all, I think, Canadian money as well as Canadian casts and direction.
    Years ago it was the Americans taking British sitcoms and recasting them as American: Three’s Company and Archie Bunker were all British so I figure turn about is fair play.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    By the way, those costumes above look terribly familiar – The Forsythe Saga or Upstairs, Downstairs? Especially the Queen Mary looking figure and that bit of dark ribbon trim on the second girl’s coat.

  6. Daniel says:

    I’ve always found the ‘nationality’ of a telly show or film to be of minor interest to me, at best. All I care about is whether something is well written, well acted and at least competently directed. I’m speaking solely as a viewer, of course, so have no vested interest in whether a production is in-country or not. Did the money to make it come from CBC, NBC, Canal+, ZDF or 100% from BBC funds or ITV/Channel 4 advertising revenue? I can’t say I’m particularly bothered either way. If it’s written and/or produced/directed by someone from this country (I’m speaking of the UK as a whole here, rather than England specifically), stars British actors and is filmed in the UK using British technicians and post-production facilities, then it’s a British production so far as I’m concerned, which is very little to be honest. I’m also quite happy to allow for one or more of the above elements to be missing from the equation, provided the others are in place.

    I’m not a fan of something being listed as a production of a given country purely for tax purposes, though, when the actual production has little or nothing to do with the country in question. This is more a matter of believing that local talent, wherever the ‘local’ in question happens to be, is important for any country. Calling Downton Abbey British is fine by me, but the example given above about The Tudors is saddening. If none of the creative input is Canadian, then it stretches things for the Canadian industry to slap itself on the back about its success, while underfunding local creativity. Money is finite, after all. For each thing that goes into production, something else fails to get started.

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