UK press over here are gushing that The King’s Speech quadruple Oscar major wins – Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay – will be a boost for the British film industry. But I would say it’s all downhill from here. Consider the evidence. Beginning next April, there will be no UK Film Council coordinating British Film plc. Tanya Seghatchian, head of the UK Film Council film fund — which invested just over £1 million in The King’s Speech — says the pic’s success is a “magnificent final chapter for the UK Film Council”. Of course, Seghatchian and her team will move across to new film body the British Film Institute, but people I’ve spoken to are afraid there will be no encouragement to invest in commercial British films such as The King’s Speech or Streetdance 3D. Instead, the impetus will be in to back arthouse movies, which is what the BFI has always done going back to the 1950s. Even speaking to reporters backstage at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, Firth called the decision to scrap the UKFC “short-sighted”. His sentiments were echoed by his producer Iain Canning, who said “it wouldn’t have been made without the UK Film Council”. The UKFC’s equity slug meant “they occupied a place within the finance plan that nobody wanted to inhabit,” he said.
Interestingly, the UK government’s culture department has been absolutely silent about last night’s British Oscar success. That’s because its boss, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, abolished the very organisation which provided its cornerstone funding. There’s now more reliance in Britain on borrowing money from a handful of private boutique lenders such as Aegis/Prescience (The King’s Speech), Silver Reel (Ironclad), and Ingenious through its new Fox Searchlight deal although that has to come on line yet.
There was $1.5 billion of Hollywood investment in British Film plc last year. But the rising value of sterling could choke off U.S. investment in 2012. Now is the time decisions are being made in Burbank as to where to site next year’s blockbuster shoots. Meanwhile, the European Union wants to clamp down on the local 20% tax break designed to tempt Hollywood to UK shores. It’s all part of the EU’s drive to stamp out competition between European countries in favour of the single market.
Duncan Heath, chairman of Independent Talent, which represents Firth as well as King’s Speech director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler, tells me: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as British Film plc. What we’re really good at doing is exporting British film talent.”