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Sunday, March 14, 1999 Published at 10:25 GMT


British dreams of Hollywood stardom

Four Weddings and a Funeral: A record box office hit

As Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Brenda Blethyn prepare to hear whether they have won Oscars later this month, they know they carry the dreams of a nation with them.

It is a tribute to the British film industry, as well as the the stars of stage and screen themselves, that a host of British actors and artists have won Academy Award nominations in the past.

[ image: Dench: Award-winning actress]
Dench: Award-winning actress
British films seem to have gone from strength to strength in recent years.

Consider the enormous success of The Full Monty, which quickly earned the honour of being the highest-earning movie at the UK box office ever, soon after its release.

Four Weddings and A Funeral took the cinemas by storm and Shakespeare in Love has been tipped to beat US blockbuster Private Ryan at the Oscars after topping box office charts and winning a string of honours including 13 nominations.

British actors and directors account for almost one in three of all Oscar winners in the past 20 years.

Yet those in the film business have long complained of being considered the poor relation of their American counterparts, underfunded and under-appreciated.

A recent report by the Policy Studies Institute has served to reinforce fears that the industry is built on unsteady foundations.

A planned invasion

A year ago, the government decided to try to address the insecurities, announcing a series of initiatives to provide long-term support to British film-makers and entice more to work in this country.

[ image: The Full Monty has been nominated for four Oscars]
The Full Monty has been nominated for four Oscars
In a newspaper article called How I'm Going to Lead our Invasion of Hollywood, Culture Secretary Chris Smith trumpeted his plans to boost the industry.

Mr Smith wrote he was sending "a big message to Hollywood that we are not a quaint film suburb but a big block on High Street Tinseltown."

"So, by the time our nominees go to Los Angeles for next year's Oscar ceremony, the UK Film Office will no doubt be able to host the best victory party in Hollywood."

[ image: Brenda Blethyn: Nominated for an Oscar]
Brenda Blethyn: Nominated for an Oscar
Within days of Mr Smith's declaration, the results of the policy review, A Bigger Picture, were revealed. It recommended changing the industry structure, better film marketing and boosting audiences and maintaining the workforce of in film-making.

Then in October, a new body called Film Export UK was created to help promote exports of UK movies around the world. This was a key recommendation contained in the review.

No-one was available at the Culture Department to say how far these ideas have been taken forward.

Banking on new business

The LA Film Office was up and running four months after Mr Smith's announcement.

The office, based in the British Consulate, has a staff of only two. But director John Houlton says already they have made concrete contributions to the film business back home.

[ image: Sir Ian McKellen: Nominated as best actor]
Sir Ian McKellen: Nominated as best actor
"A lot of our efforts have been pitching for work to come to the UK," he says. "We have had interest from the seven major studios in LA.

"For example, Sleepy Hollow, a Paramount film shooting in the UK at the moment, has a budget of about $80m. We enabled the production to come to the the UK from the US. About 40% of a film's budget is spent on location, so that's a fair amount of inward investment."

Mr Houlton tells film-makers that the advantages of working in Britain include the best set of studios in Western Europe and the highest number of experienced crews.

The Culture Department is planning to set up yet another new body, called British Film, funded by National Lottery money.

With input from veteran director Lord Attenborough, its aim will be to develop a strategy for the film industry when it comes into being by April next year.

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