Book Review: New British Cinema by Jason Wood and Ian Haydn Smith

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Jason Wood and Ian Haydn Smith analyse the resurgence of British film-making in new book New British Cinema from ‘Submarine’ to ’12 Years a Slave’

The golden age of British cinema is upon us. From The Kings Speech to 12 Years a Slave, British films have certainly been causing a stir at international film festivals over the past few years and rightly so. Since 2009, an unusual number of British debuts have graced our cinemas, winning a host of awards and redefining the boundaries of British film-making. No surprise then that Faber and Faber decided to collaborate with the film company Curzon to celebrate this new wave of British cinema with the release of new book.

Written by Jason Wood and Ian Haydn Smith, New British Cinema from ‘Submarine’ to ’12 Years a Slave’ is a 304 page book that explores what makes British cinema so special. The book delves into the incredible breadth and diversity in British cinema and features in-depth interviews with key figures in the industry including Richard Ayoade, Steve McQueen, Jonathan Glazer, Carol Morley, Peter Strickland and Ben Wheatley.

The book opens with a short introduction by Wood and Haydn Smith who start by analysing the state of contemporary British national cinema. A selection of extended interviews with key film-makers follows, all providing a valuable insight into their work and working methods. As a fan of British cinema, I was keen to get stuck into this book and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

New British CinemaWhat I particularly enjoyed about this book was the personal insight from the people at the heart of the filmmaking industry. It features a diverse range of contributors, all from different different backgrounds and all with differing career goals. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini on how he approached his adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January. The Q&As with Asif Kapadia, who won a BAFTA for Best Documentary Film for Senna, and Steve McQueen who directed 12 Years a Slave, were equally fascinating. The authors are clearly knowledgeable and ask intelligent questions including some on funding strategies and aesthetic approaches, and while I didn’t recongise all of the directors and films featured, I’ll certainly be checking them out reading the book.

Where New British Cinema does fall down however is in its weighting. Surprisingly, not all of the contributors get equal amount of coverage which makes the book feel a bit disjointed at times. For example, the two page Q&A with Ben Wheatley is exceptionally good but is unusually short, particularly when compared with the 18 page profile of Peter Strickland. The book also lacks insight from some of the bigger names in British cinema – notably Andrea Arnold (Wasp) and Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) – but the preface by the two authors explains that some of the film-makers were approached but politely declined “preferring to let their work speak for itself”.

Overall, New British Cinema does exactly what it promises to do – it demonstrates the incredible breadth and diversity to be found in British cinema today. A comprehensive analysis of the continuing evolution of cinema in Britain.

4 out of 5 stars

New British Cinema from ‘Submarine’ to ’12 Years a Slave’ is released on 20 Aug 2015 via Faber and Faber Ltd