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Sight and Sound (2009) - Brits Abroad: A Brief History of Brits Abroad




Wrathall provides a brief history of British directors who have chosen to work abroad, whether through choice or necessity. Among others, Peter Watkins during the 1960's had a hard time finding a niche in Britain for work that blurred the boundary between documentary and fiction. "The War Game", his 1965 depiction of a nuclear attack, was produced and shelved by the BBC, released in cinemas instead--and, though fictional, ended up winning an Oscar as Best Documentary. But since his 1967 feature "Privilege", Watkins has worked mainly in Scandinavia and his films grew progressively longer and less seen in the UK.


British directors have always been forced to find work abroad, and not just in Hollywood. By John Wrathall

Over the decades, Britain's cinema has been hugely enriched by foreign directors who, whether for financial, political or artistic reasons, have come here to make their films. In the 1930s, Alexander Korda led a wave of Hungarians, including his brother Zoltan and the screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, who between them revitalised the British industry. A generation later, the Poles Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski gave a surreal skew to the swinging 60s. This century, too, some of the most potent and poetic visions of Britain have come through the eyes of outsiders: another Pole, Pawel Pawlikowski, with The Last Resort' (2000) and 'My Summer of Love' (2004), or the Mexican Alfonso Cuarón turning Bexhill-on-Sea into a war zone in 'Children of Men' (2006).

The list could go on, but what concerns us here are the British directors who have likewise found themselves working away from home, whether through choice or necessity. Of course, it's a truism that talented British directors hop on the first plane to LA -a tradition that stretches from Joe Wright back to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s. What is less well remembered is that Hitchcock cut his teeth as a director at Emelka Studios in Munich, where he made his first two features, 1925's 'The Pleasure Garden' (much of it shot on location in Italy) and 'The Mountain Eagle' (1926). Before the arrival of sound, film-making could be truly international — cast members didn't need to speak the same language, and the re...

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