TYPICALLY BRITISH: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BRITISH CINEMA BY STEPHEN FREARS

U.K.

1995

 

Directors: Stephen Frears & Michael Dibb

Production Co.: BFI TV / Channel 4

Producer: Colin MacCabe

Screenplay: Charles Barr & Stephen Frears

Cinematography: Alistair Cameron, Bill Megalos, Chris Sugden Smith & Mark Trottenberg

Editor: Nigel Barker

Sound: Neil Brown, Jeff Edrich, Trevor Holtz & Chris Atkinson

 

Stephen Frears

Alan Parker

Michael Apted

Alexander Mackendrick

Gavin Lambert

 

73 minutes

 

Betacam and VHS video

Colour and Black & White

English

No Certificate (exempt)

 

 

This series is the best thing to happen to film history in years.

- New York Times

 

 

Frears' idiosyncratic trawl through British cinema touches on the usual bugbears - class-consciousness, sexual repression, an inferiority complex in the face of Hollywood, dotty character actors and too much tea-drinking.  Even if Frears didn't set out to make a comprehensive history, some of his oversights are still surprising.  He skips over the silent era and does not pay much attention to the avant-garde.  But in its own bluff, typically British way, this is informative and entertaining, with contributions from Alexander Mackendrick, Gavin Lambert (who memorably describes Diana Dors as "the only genuine primitive in British cinema"), Michael Apted and Alan Parker.

 

- Sight & Sound, 2/97

 

 

To look at British cinema is to celebrate the success of many talented filmmakers against daunting odds.  Every effort to establish a stable and economically viable film industry in Britain has foundered, often ignominiously.  In consequence, many British directors since James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock have seen emigration to Hollywood as a natural career move.  Now, because the only significant financial investment comes from TV stations the once-clear line between film and television has become blurred.  This makes the revival of the film industry as such even less likely, but it also produces backing for a wide range of creative filmmaking.  Working with co-director Mike Dibb, Stephen Frears interweaves a subjective account of his own experiences and feelings with an objective analysis of the highs and lows of British cinema.  He starts where he himself started: in an English boarding school, watching British movies about boarding schools.  Then, with the help of two British emigrés in Hollywood, critic / screenwriter Gavin Lambert and the late director Alexander Mackendrick, he looks back over the 1930s and 1940s; at the overwhelming middle-class bias of British movies, the preponderence of caricatures rather than 'real' people, and the reluctance to deal with sex.  Against this catalogue of failings is set a gallery of spectacular achievements, from the early work of Hitchcock and Humphrey Jennings to the Ealing classics and David Lean's adaptations from Dickens.  Frears tackles the post-war period with help from his contemporaries Alan Parker and Michael Apted.  They look at the rise of 'working class' cinema in the 1960s, the appeal of the television industry as a testing-ground for new ideas and forms, the dearth of competent British producers, the collapse of Goldcrest and the success of 'small' films like Frears' own My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).  Again, the emphasis is on great (but isolated) achievements, from Ken Loach's Kes (1969) to Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982), by way of Ken Russell, Nic Roeg and the ever-controversial Peter Greenaway.

 

- Sydney Film Festival Programme 1995

 

 

The screenplay of Typically British is credited to Frears and Charles Barr.  Barr is an important British film academic who has lectured at the University of East Anglia, is the author of an authoritative study of Ealing Studios and is the editor of a comprehensive volume of essays on British cinema history, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema...

 

Barr's strong knowledge of the changing production contexts of Britain's efforts to maintain a continuity of film production in the face of Hollywood hegemony... ensures that we leave the film feeling that we have learnt something specific about the history and nature of cinema in Britain...

 

[The film] constructs multiple viewpoints on its object of analysis by calling upon the comments of other directors and critics.  Frears sets up two very interesting discussions: the first with expatriate critic and screenwriter Gavin Lambert and former Ealing then Hollywood director Alexander Mackendrick opens up a lengthy time frame on the situation of post-war British film; the second is a lively three-way dialogue with Michael Apted and Alan Parker who, like Frears, Lambert and Mackendrick, have both moved between Britain and Hollywood to work.

 

- Lawrence McDonald, 'A Road to Erewhon', Illusions 25, Winter 1996