Gilbey on Film: can Russell Brand save British cinema?

The UK Film Council wasn't perfect, but we need a high-profile campaign to support home-grown movies

What a rum time for British cinema. Recently it was announced that the latest James Bond film, which was to have been directed by Sam Mendes, has been moved to the back burner because of financial problems at MGM.

Daniel Craig, appearing at San Diego's Comic-Con on Saturday to promote Cowboys & Aliens in which he stars opposite Harrison Ford, would not delve into the matter when a question about the project's status was put to him by a member of the audience. "All I can say is that I want to get going on it as soon as possible," he replied.

Then it was announced yesterday that the UK Film Council was for the chop. The UKFC coughed up some of the money for Roger Michell's adaptation of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, in which Craig appeared. I wonder what the actor has to say about the decision to scrap a funding body on which so much of the country's film industry depends. It would be good for him and other actors to speak out about it.

So far, it has mostly been directors and producers voicing their objections. This could all go much wider if an A-lister were involved, someone like Craig who could get the story into the tabloids as well as the broadsheets, turning it into some kind of call to arms. Amazing the miracles that can be worked by a little magic dust from a celebrity.

Russell Brand must be busy preparing for his upcoming remake of Arthur, but imagine the attention he could bring to the story simply by mentioning it, let alone flying out to meet the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt ,and pointing out to him that without the UKFC's help, Brand's own film career might have stalled. (Perhaps it's best if Brand didn't mention that the film in question was St Trinian's. Leave Hunt to believe it was Get Him to the Greek or something.)

Some of the most original and challenging films of the past decade were given a helping hand, financially speaking, by the UKFC: Better Things, Bright Star, The Constant Gardener, Crack Willow, Fish Tank, Gosford Park, London to Brighton, Red Road. (They also put some money into Mike Leigh's forthcoming Another Year.) But as this magazine's Daniel Trilling has rightly pointed out, it would be unhelpful to look upon the UKFC as tireless promoters of experimental cinema when so many of the projects they funded or co-funded were evidently spawned or dogged by commercial second-guessing.

And Alex Cox made some trenchant observations about the fraudulence of this idea of Britishness which comes out in times like these. He called the UKFC's axeing "very good news for anyone involved in independent film. The Film Council became a means by which lottery money was transferred to the Hollywood studios. It pursued this phoney idea that James Bond and Harry Potter were British films. But, of course, those films were all American - and their profits were repatriated to the studios in Los Angeles."

If I were a politician, I might use that dreaded phrase I despise so much and say that we need to open a dialogue. The real brutality here is not that the UKFC is being axed -- perhaps the sums will be shown to make sense; who knows? It's that the death sentence has been passed with no apparent chance of a stay of execution.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Show Hide image

Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.