Of Science and Science Fictions: A Symbiotic Odyssey?


Why is it important, now as much as ever, to study the world in an inter-disciplinary way? Keele Film Studies lecturer Neil Archer goes in search of the links between science, film and television.


We live, to use the increasingly well-worn Chinese proverb, in interesting times. The headline on my preferred news site yesterday morning warned of the risk to human society through the damage to biodiversity. The Extinction Rebellion movement is currently gaining pace in its efforts to roll back the effects of our consumption and climate-ruining omissions. Schoolchildren are going on strike to protest against the environmental misdeeds of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, demanding a liveable future. At the same time, as all this is going on, Keele recently welcomed Sir David Attenborough, to inaugurate the new Life Sciences laboratories to which the great man has given his name. For the many who heard him speak on May 3rd, it was an opportunity to celebrate this special occasion, but also to hear him address the present-day and future concerns with which so much of his life’s work is intertwined.

This is also, of course, the 70th anniversary of Keele University: an institution with a rich tradition of inter-disciplinary thinking and study. As confirmed last week, this is also a university committed both to principles of sustainability, and to acknowledging the very real threat of climate change. In this spirit, then, I felt inspired by Sir David’s visit to comment on its particular relevance to my own field of enquiry: in this case, Film Studies. To borrow a term from the life sciences, I wanted to consider the symbiotic potential of thinking across the disciplines of the sciences and the humanities. What is my debt to science as a researcher into film – but also, how might the study of film and other screen media benefit our understanding of science? This is hardly a random question. Sir David, it hardly needs underlining, is the living embodiment of these so-called ‘two cultures’, to use C.P. Snow’s famous phrase, working in sync.

One of the pleasures of Sir David’s visit was to see the number of students thronging the Westminster Theatre auditorium, and the corridors of the Chancellor’s building, just to see or hear the man in the flesh.  This was no doubt a testament to the nonagenarian’s tireless activity in the promotion of natural history, and more recently, his energetic campaigning for environmental and climate action. But I suspect it owed mostly to the fact that, above all, Attenborough is a media superstar. For many, his is a voice and face synonymous across several generations with a certain kind of television: absorbing, ceaselessly curious, visually beguiling investigations into our planet, and the challenges faced by its flora and fauna. Indeed, Sir David’s work in this area across seven decades has helped shape the way many of us view the world.

As part of the talk given at the end of his visit, Sir David spoke of the transformations he has seen, and helped to promote, in his field of television: ‘Natural history broadcasting’, he said, ‘has changed beyond recognition in the last 50 years. We can film in the dark, high altitude, at the bottom of the sea. The world has never been shown in so much detail’. From my viewpoint as a researcher and lecturer in film and television, this was a reminder that our world, its diversity, and the increasing threats to it, are not simply things out there waiting to be recorded, ready to be viewed with the naked eye.

For example, one of the BBC’s most recent offerings, Earth from Space, continues the tradition initiated in the late 1960s by the Apollo lunar missions: hitherto ‘impossible’ photographs of the remote Earth, that compel the viewer to see our world in a wholly new way. As media history shows us, part of the work of nature documentary is to find ways of representing things to us that we wouldn’t or couldn’t see otherwise, often with huge implications. The process in Earth from Space, whereby various data from satellites and cameras is put together to create composite pictures seen from afar, enables us to identify and make sense of wider patterns, from which we can then make inferences and assessments. And it’s from this process, in conjunction with other approaches, that we can better analyse – amongst other things – how human action is impacting on the ecosystem.

One of my points here is that looking at the technologies through which we see always involves analysing and understanding the ways we mediate images, and why we do so. This is central to what many researchers into film and media do: exploring the significance and impact of different ways of seeing. The types of innovations to which Sir David refers, from one point of view, simply add to the spectacle of the shows on which he and others work. Developments in camera miniaturization and quality of recording mean that we can now see, in effect, from the visual point of view of animals themselves. We can swim with fish, crawl with turtles, and fly with flocks of birds. But such developments are also important, epistemologically, philosophically and ethically, because they deviate from the anthropocentric viewpoint that has for centuries dominated the way we see the world.

In the contexts of a climate change and challenge to biodiversity which is also anthropogenic, we can understand the significance of such technological shifts: to use the theoretical parlance, we can think of these approaches as ecocritical. And these aren’t limited to nature documentaries; they crossover into more mainstream fiction films. Animated family films such as Happy Feet and Peter Rabbit, both of which had CGI supplied by the Australian VFX company Animal Logic, make use of similar non-human viewpoints; whether it be the view penguins hiding from other avian predators in the ice, or rabbits escaping from homo sapien hunters down their burrows.

This latter point raises a question pertinent to my most immediate concerns as a researcher of – in my case – popular narrative cinema. We all know that, as a mass medium, television and film have the power to communicate messages about the environment and the climate on a bigger and, potentially, more dramatic scale. The high profile of documentaries like Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, or the Leonardo Di Caprio-produced The 11th Hour, have encouraged some commentators to talk about a ‘greening’ of Hollywood in recent years. But is it too fanciful to talk about the role played in the ongoing discussion around, and response to, our climate emergency, on the part of Hollywood blockbusters?

This is precisely the question I ask in an upcoming piece for the American Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.* As I ask in this particular essay, what role can mainstream science fiction cinema have in reflecting on and informing us about climate change and the politics around it? By the same token, to what extent do such films obscure these contexts, and to what effect? And what sort of fiction films, if we are to meaningfully and productively engage with the contemporary climate crisis, might we wish to make?

One of the key problems confronting filmmakers wanting to make dramatic fiction out of climate change is the issue of temporality. As plenty of commentators have noted, from a planetary or ‘deep time’ perspective, anthropogenic climate change is sudden and rapid; yet from from a human-centric perspective it is slow. And when changes are suddenly noticed – record summer temperatures, species loss, the fracture of the Antarctic ice shelf – these ‘overnight’ events betray many decades’ impact, and are by then irreparable. Hence the familiar adage that we will all agree on the need to respond to climate change only when the tipping point has already passed. From Hollywood’s perspective, though, slow process does not make for such great drama.

One approach then in cinematic fiction is to situate the effects of climate and environmental breakdown as having already happened. This is an approach taken by some ‘apocalyptic’ films such as Soylent Green (1973), the two Blade Runner films (1982, 2017) or, in a slightly subtler way, Children of Men (2006). Such films can shock, though by their own nature they often avoid narrating the process through which this point is reached. When films strive to narrate the process of climate change, though, it can be even trickier. Roland Emmerich’s 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow set a new precedent in terms of its willingness to identify and address the causes and impacts of anthropogenic climate change, and had climate scientist Michael Molitor working on the film as an advisor. But in condensing the accumulated effects of long-term climate change into something that happens almost instantaneously – as the USA is plunged into a new Ice Age, sending its residents heading to Mexico as refugees – the film also laid itself open to accusations of over-dramatization and exaggeration (conveniently so, perhaps, from the perspective of climate-change deniers).

In a slightly different way, other films have dealt with catastrophic climate change as something simply to be avoided or run away from. As I argue in my essay, an important task for ecocritical film scholars is to highlight the work these films do, why they do it, but also what is so potentially problematic about them – and in turn, how such narratives might be reconceptualised for the immediate contexts of ongoing climate disruption and, as is often the case, widespread political inaction.

Using popular film to dramatize leaving the Earth is, in fact, an idea almost as old as the medium itself, dating back at least as far as George Méliès’s 1902 film Le Voyage dans la lune. One of science fiction’s attractions is its capacity to imagine and realise the as-yet unseen. As noted above, this can be in the form of dramatically-realised disaster or other end-of-the-world scenarios. But science fiction has also, and I suspect more appealingly, encouraged a more utopian side; whether this be in the depiction of ‘strange new worlds’ (to quote Star Trek’s Captain Kirk), or the fabulous high-tech means of getting to them. More recently, this imagination has come closer to present-day contexts, and has turned to envisioning the steps we might take to leave our planet; more often than not, with anthropogenic climate change, or some vaguer allegory for it, lurking in the background.

This sets the stage then for films like The Martian (2015), with Matt Damon terraforming the Red Planet; or for recent TV series such as Hulu/Channel 4’s The First, about the first human mission to Mars, set in a speculative near future of over-population and resource scarcity. In another example, a film like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) sends its crew away from a blight-ridden and asphyxiating Earth, through wormholes and in search of new habitable planets, before settling in the type of centrifugal space habitat dreamed up by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, in his 1974 article The Colonisation of Space. Interstellar’s revolving cylinder-in-space, as it happens, is not too dissimilar to the silver ring orbiting the browned-out, overpopulated planet in Elysium (2013) – only in this case, less as a new frontier for its surviving (western) Earthlings, but rather an idyllic gated enclosure for the mega-rich.

Films like The Martian are made with technical advice from NASA, for which the films act as adverts for the agency, providing soft power potential and putting it in the window for greater Congressional funding. Colonization of the moon, with a long-term view to reaching Mars, is a stated aim of NASA in this century. NASA did not work with Nolan on Interstellar, but by making astronauts in the renascent space agency the film’s heroes, the film is in sync with NASA’s aims and investment in space colonization. Outer space really is the new frontier: indeed, it’s the only one left, given the crowded, used-up state of our Earth. But in the pursuit of such cinematic dreams – invariably, of course, those of First-World protagonists  – are such films taking the easiest course of action? As the environmentalist George Monbiot, another recent visitor to Keele, opined, Interstellar is at once one of the most inspiring, despairing and defeatist of recent films, in its tacit recognition that saving the planet we already have may be beyond hope.

Avoiding potentially irreversible climate change means living more sustainably, which means reducing our present levels of consumption: all this in the contexts of an expanding global population. This requires systematic change and effort, including a vast reduction in our personal carbon footprints. The oxymoronic term ‘sustainable development’ highlights the challenge of squaring our desire to consume with our obligation not to. This runs against millennia of human activity, and even (some have said) the universe’s inherent physical drive towards entropy (aka the second law of thermodynamics). The sci-fi satire Downsizing (2017) encapsulates this malaise, with its premise of humans reducing themselves to doll-like size, living in miniature communities with a fraction of environmental waste and omissions. But what starts as a utopian plan to save the planet takes a different shape, when people realise miniaturization means living like rock stars for a fraction of the costs. The dream of sustainability in turn becomes a nightmare of non-stop, pint-size consumption.

In Downsizing, then, miniaturization is highjacked by property dealers and, eventually, crooks looking to cash in and live the (six-inch) high life. Disturbingly, though, do these more overtly satirical films, like Downsizing or Elysium, offer a more likely vision of what we might call out ‘post-terrestrial’ future? Other environmentalist thinkers such as Martin Rees and Naomi Klein have highlighted both the potentials, but also the dangers, of geo-engineered ‘techno-fixes’ to the planet’s woes, such as seeding the atmosphere with clouds, or building reflective satellites to bounce back the heat of the sun. As both their opponents and their supporters point out, such ‘solutions’ to rising temperatures will be a challenge to control, to regulate fairly, and will most likely be exploited by the wealthiest nations – with possible disregard for any knock-on effects elsewhere in the world.

In terms of wanting to leave the Earth and try out other planets, though, or live ‘off-world’, nation states may have increasingly less say in the matter. This is especially so when vastly more wealth and power is consolidated in individuals than in governments; the latter already confronted, in a time of austerity, with the economic impacts of climate disruption. The world’s richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has been funding his own space exploration programme, Blue Origin, for several years now; as has Elon Musk with his SpaceX company (Musk recently carried out a successful test for carrying crew to the ISS, and hopes to send a mission to Mars). Richard Branson, alongside offering rewards for geoengineering technologies, has also nurtured long-term dreams of carrying people into space – albeit, in this instance, for no more than quick sub-orbital flights. Will extra-terrestrial environments become (to use Klein’s term) the privileged, and no doubt well-defended, ‘Green Zones’ of our future?

It’s not merely anecdotal to point out that, in terms of their space-faring dreams, both Bezos and Musk have a mutual point of inspiration: both men are huge fans of Star Trek. When real life starts to reflect the adventures of science fiction film and television, we need to pay close attention to the latter. One challenge for popular cinema, in fact, if it is not merely to throw fuel on the fire, is to make the adventure of climate-change deceleration as exciting as inter-planetary travel. This may be the greatest mission of all. Just hopefully not our last one.


*For further reading, see Neil Archer, ‘Transnational Science Fiction at the End of the World: Consensus, Conflict and the Politics of Climate Change’, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, 58.3 (Spring 2019)



Hooray for Hollywood?

Keele film lecturer Neil Archer talks about his new book, and other recent re-thinkings of Hollywood logic.

Talking about ‘Hollywood’ often seems straightforward enough. In truth, though, it’s not always obvious what this refers to. As a studio complex, Hollywood no longer figures as a production centre for feature-filmmaking. ‘Hollywood movies’ are these days just as likely to be shot in various international locations as they are in California, with ‘the studios’ – now integrated into conglomerates with multiple business interests – mainly acting as the providers of funding and distribution deals. What’s more, if this is the case, what are the stylistic implications for what we (used to) call Hollywood films? And why does it matter?


A key aim in my new book, Twenty-First-Century Hollywood: Rebooting the System, is to think about, and in some cases rethink, some of the more reductive and limiting ways in which we have sometimes considered Hollywood’s movies. The recent domination of ‘franchise’ films such as the Star Wars series and Marvel’s ‘Cinematic Universe’, both at the box office and in their wider cultural reach, evokes a Hollywood driven by homogenizing commercial imperatives. The mistake, as the book argues, is to assume that Hollywood’s need to balance its financial books means selling its audience short (or simply selling them merchandising opportunities). If anything, I suggest, the opposite is true: Hollywood’s commercial strategies in the new century centre, in fact, on creative diversity, and positioning a critical audience at the centre of its narrative and aesthetic approaches.

Black Panther’s recent critical and commercial success is a case in point here. The Academy’s mooted ‘popular film’ category, though eventually disbanded as an idea, can be understood in response to the cultural impact of Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film. As Daniel Herbert notes in his 2017 book Film Remakes and Franchises, series such as the MCU, Star Wars or the Furious films are rarely shaped by homogeneity and repetition. Even if informed by commercial interests, it is logical to the interests of a cinematic brand’s extension that it widens and diversifies its market. Even if coming late in the day, and not universally finding favour amongst its critics, Black Panther underlines how important addressing racial diversity, as well as racial politics, is to the success of contemporary franchises. We could say the same for DC’s Wonder Woman (2017) or Marvel’s latest offering, Captain Marvel (2019), which belatedly address the importance of female protagonists within series which, amongst other things, have for years had a significant female audience base.

The input, moreover, of specific filmmakers within these series – Coogler, the New Zealander Taika Waititi, Patty Jenkins, J.J. Abrams, to name but a few – offers its own evidence for creative independence within the modern ‘conglomerate’ system. As I discuss in my book, the free-agency of film directors within the new Hollywood system means they represent a talent pool of specific interest to big studio productions – with the films themselves, in turn, representing the biggest shop-window for a filmmaker’s talents. Erstwhile logic around the cinematic auteur held that she or he could exist within studio filmmaking only, somehow, under duress; their specific character and vision as a filmmaker emerging from their films in spite of their containment within the system. If differentiating franchise film product, as I argue, becomes a key strategy within the contemporary system – even differentiating within the franchise itself, thereby innovating within what is otherwise a narratively continuous framework – it is in the studios’ interest to incentivize diverse and idiosyncratic engagements with franchise properties.

Fig 10

Waititi’s hilarious work on 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok is a case in point here; as is the input of Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (the recent recipient of a second directing Oscar for his work on 2018’s Roma) in the third Harry Potter instalment, The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). The latter’s unexpected appointment (at British producer David Heyman’s suggestion) indicated that franchises wanted more than just a safe pair of hands – and Cuarón’s film, with its cheeky jokes, playful cinematic allusions and (occasional) signature long takes, arguably invigorated what had, up to then, been a fairly conservative set of adaptations. Peter Jackson’s work on his Lord of the Rings trilogy, meanwhile, made at this same time in his native New Zealand, gave encouragement to the idea that the blockbuster film could be the preserve of a particular artistic vision, as well as made outside Hollywood’s control, providing the conditions were right.

One legacy of Jackson’s trilogy, described by the director not entirely jokingly as a ‘home movie’, was that the major Hollywood movie could also be an ‘independent’ film of sorts – just on a bigger scale. As I argue, the assumption that filmmakers like Waititi, Cuarón, or his compatriot Guillermo del Toro make big-budget movies merely to get enough clout to make ‘personal’ films, is off the mark. Del Toro pushed to make Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), for instance, on the back of his art-house Spanish language hit Pan’s Labyrinth – not the other way around. Arguably, without the success of the latter, Hellboy II, which had been turned down by its original studio, would not have been made. You only need to look at the film’s attention to detail, exhaustively described in DVD extras and tie-in books, to see how this is as personal a film to its director as any other. Directors like Christopher Nolan, similarly, have hardly worked the system in order to concentrate solely on intimate, low-budget films. Yet Nolan’s work on Inception, Interstellar and (especially) Dunkirk – all of them, unusually for the time, standalone hits – betrays the hallmarks of an original and inventive filmmaker; just one who wields the power to make personal, experimental movies on a $100m budget.

The reasonable objection to all this, of course, is that Hollywood is more consolidated than ever in a few powerful conglomerates, making (in fact) fewer films, and most of them sequels, prequels, ‘side-quels’, remakes, or varied forms of reboots. This is a fair point; though as Derek Johnson shows in his innovative book Media Franchising, the assumption that Hollywood simply deploys its films in a top-down, totalizing fashion overlooks the complex and often contested field of creative work that, in fact, generates ‘franchises’ in the first place.

Henry Jenkins’ work on participatory and ‘convergence’ cultures within media, and the types of ‘transmedia’ storytelling approaches they help generate, is an important starting point in this discussion; above all, in terms of the way audiences struggle over the ownership of properties, make complex use of texts, and increasingly demand complexity in the kinds of franchise film properties they engage with. As Jenkins explores in his 2006 book Convergence Culture, these demands both have and continue to be internalized on the part of Hollywood producers and filmmakers. As I discuss, this mutual insistence on complexity – though frequently, within the overarching narrative continuity of popular film series – has shaped the narrative and aesthetic forms of contemporary Hollywood films, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe being a key case in point.

Johnson’s development of this (and you can read an interview between him and Jenkins here) is that the contest over ownership is not limited to a struggle between producers and consumers (or ‘prosumers’). Far from being a commercial strategy delivered from on high, Johnson shows, franchising is a practice driven by tensions and struggles between creative workers within and across fields of production. Giants like the MCU, from this argument, emerged partly out of a process through which competing ideas of the Marvel brand and its properties were spread across different media (films, comics, videogames), often in the hands of different companies with different creative ideas. For Johnson, then, sequels, remakes and so on are rarely just schemes dreamt up from one production source to increase profits. In much the same way that they need to speak to often highly discerning and critical audiences, they also manifest creative dialogues, and in some cases forms of contestation, between new filmmakers, game and toy designers, or showrunners, and the older producers and films or shows (Johnson’s analysis of the Battlestar Galactica reboot [2003-2008] is a brilliant illustration of this process at work).

As I argue in my book, we can view the emergence and development of (Disney-)Pixar in similar terms. While easily corralled within the Disney programme of franchise acquisition and deployment (alongside the company’s other treasure troves, the Star Wars and MCU series), Pixar’s history also narrates a contest for creative influence and market share in the field of animation. Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006 came at the end of a decade-long period in which the pioneering studio, which initially had a distribution deal with Disney, had usurped the latter’s place as the world’s premier animation brand. Pixar’s acquisition by its parent company might have been a way for Disney to regain market control; but it was also an acknowledgement and incorporation of Pixar’s successful production strategies. From this point on, indeed, the titles, animation style and narrative content of Disney animation would increasingly overlap with Pixar’s own output.

Fig 14

In choosing to focus on a film like The LEGO Movie (2014), finally, one of my aims was to highlight how an apparently flagrant piece of promotional media, in this case for the Danish construction toy company, could fulfil this role, while at the same time, contesting the LEGO company itself – as well as Warner Bros., whose Warner Animation Group (who produced the film) is a subsidiary. My analysis of The LEGO Movie therefore considers how a film designed (in principle) to help sell LEGO products can also engage, at a narrative level, with the idea of ‘misusing’ these same products; or at least, by refusing to ‘follow the instructions’, stress a creative resistance to more codified and determined uses of the toy.

But I was also interested in the way the film could play fast and free with so many of the film properties within the Warner Bros. catalogue and broader Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) conglomerate: DC superheroes, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and (implicitly) The Matrix. As I note, the paradoxes or apparent contradictions at the heart of The LEGO Movie exemplify the tensions and creative interventions inherent to making films from existing properties, inasmuch as the film represents the impulses for creative independence and authorship on the part of its makers. But it also epitomises the inevitable comic transformations of franchise properties, such as Batman, once they are relocated into a different medium (the LEGO minifigure itself, and a CGI approximation of the animated ‘brickfilm’ form). As I therefore conclude, The LEGO Movie ultimately fulfils its commercial brief, but only in the process of emphasizing creative interaction, independence and contestation as vital aspects of what LEGO is supposedly about. And as the book summarises, these are precisely the ideas vital to Hollywood’s self-promotion and self-preservation, as it looks both to engage with its audience, and maintain its cultural and commercial centrality, into the third decade of the new century.

Gender and Violent Extremism: Contemporary Debates

On May 14/15 2018, Dr. Maria Flood (Film Studies) was invited to participate in a cross-disciplinary conference on ‘Gender and Extremism’ at C-REX, the Centre for Research on Extremism in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Oslo. The centre was founded in 2016 as a collaborative, interdisciplinary research group to study right-wing extremism, hate crime and political violence.

The conference situated gender at the heart of extremist political movements, viewing ideas about masculinity and femininity not as tributary factors leading to violent ideologies, but as an inextricable element within radicalization and extremist politics. The conference touched on movements that ranged from the Far Right in Germany and neo-Nazism and the alt-right in the United States, to Islamist fundamentalism, as well as left-wing groups like the German Red Army faction.


Professor Kathleen Blee (University of Pittsburgh) and Professor Michael Kimmel (Stony Brook University, New York) were the keynote speakers at the conference, and their addresses can be viewed here. Professor Blee discussed the role of women in far-right movements in the US, noting that women are ‘operationally critical’ to the spread of far-right ideologies and that they also serve as ‘foils’ to the muscular, active, and violent masculinity of the men in these movements. She noted that right-wing extremism is part of a populist movement that had a ‘thin’ ideological barrier between left and right-wing political goals: in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan actually supported female suffrage in an effort to recruit more women to the movement.

Professor Kimmel, a world-renowned scholar of masculinity and extremism in the US context, offered an intersectional analysis of a number of far-right cartoons (see below). He discussed the affective power of narratives that evoke the retrieval of a lost masculinity and the ‘aggrieved entitlement’ among some working class men in the US. The effeminate white man, who has been beaten down by the state, liberals, Jews, homosexuals and feminism, is humiliated in front of a woman by a muscular black male. He builds up his physique and returns to fight the man who had previously shamed him, thus claiming dominance. Kimmel showed how these cartoons speak to a wider narrative of victimization in American politics, linking it to the normalization of far-right and the rise of Trump.


Professor Margaret Power (Illinois Institute of Technology) addressed how women position themselves within extremist politics, comparing two groups of right-wing women, pro-Pinochet supporters in Chile and the supporters of Trump in a Southwest Pennsylvania. Both groups were bourgeois women who saw themselves as apolitical, but who used their identities as mothers to oppose the governments of Allende and Obama respectively, citing the necessary protection of their children. Both groups looked to the figure of the ‘Strong Man’ leader to protect them and their children from the spectre of a frightful Other – African Americans or immigrants.

A number of papers addressed the role that emotion and representation can play in radicalization. Dr. Flood’s paper examined some recent examples from North African cinema to show how factors like youth vulnerability to the social and economic changes brought on by globalization can feed into extremist narratives of personal and political humiliation of the Muslim world by Western powers. She also argued that the medium of film, by offering person-centred narratives and a ‘safe space’ in which to explore difficult themes, can clarify the complex web of factors that lead to radicalization (see info graphic below). Dr. Shirin Deylami (Western Washington University) discussed the question of agency in relation to the rhetoric of empowerment that she has recently identified in English-language ISIS propaganda directed at women. She showed how ISIS literature that is targeted at women rejects Western feminism. Instead, these documents create an alternative language of empowerment, one that evokes the Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Hadija, a business owner and financially independent woman.


A number of papers discussed the British context. Dr. Narzanin Massoumi (University of Bath) discussed the gendered dynamics of the UK counter-terrorism programme ‘PREVENT’. She showed how many of the government’s strategies, including the setting up of the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group (NMWAG), ended up becoming ‘tick box exercises’ that relied on forms of social engineering and problematic assumptions about Muslim women’s lack of agency. Women, in their role as mothers, were assumed to be able to redirect ‘their’ men away from extremist ideologies. Many of the PREVENT programmes that were said to be grassroots, female-led initiatives were in fact government policies, such as the #MakingaStand Twitter hash tag. Dr. Naaz Rashid (University of Sussex) showed how Orientalist assumptions about the inferior position of women in Muslim communities informed much of the UK government’s rhetoric around anti-extremism measures in the UK. She argued that gender equality has been instrumentalized and weaponized in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, stating memorably that ‘everyone is a feminist when it comes to Muslim Women’.

Dr. Patricia Melzer (Temple University) offered a provocative exploration of the role of women in the left-wing anti-capitalist group the Red Army Faction, active in West Germany in the 1970s. She discussed how media representations of women in the movement, such as Ulrike Meinhof (pictured below), depicted them as having been transformed from good, educated girls into deranged and pathological activists, who abandoned their children to participate in acts of violence. She showed how these women insisted on violence as part of their activism against systems that they perceived as violent: capitalism and sexism. She asked whether feminist (out)rage and fury could be considered to be the emotional origin of feminist politics, arguing that some violent regimes (such as patriarchy) might only be overcome using violent means.


Can Brexit Be Funny?

Neil   By Neil Archer

On 29 March 2018 the UK was officially half way to Brexit. No one yet knows what Brexit actually means. A British Prime Minister who campaigned against Brexit exhorts her fractured nation to get behind Brexit. Is Brexit a joke, or a reality beyond laughter?

To mark this self-evidently momentous moment in our national history, a discussion on this subject took place at London’s Museum of Comedy. Entitled ‘Comedy, Populism and Brexit’, and co-ordinated by Brunel University’s Centre for Comedy Studies Research, the event drew on a series of talks by myself,  political commentator and stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazarika, Ellie Tomsett, co-founder of the comedy and gender research network Mixed Bill, and Simon Weaver, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Brunel.

Part-seminar, part stand-up, the discussion raised both some big laughs and some bigger questions about the role of comedy in the contexts of Brexit. How can the use of jokes and laughter challenge populist sentiment, or reinforce it? Is there a role for satire in taking on Brexit and its adherents? How might we understand pro-Brexit comedy? Does comedy bring us together, or divide us?

As Simon Weaver showed, the structure of Brexit is inherently a comic one. As a populist reaction it has been seen as a rejection of neoliberal globalisation, mobilised as such by right-wing proponents who see Brexit as an endorsement of neoliberal globalisation. Weaver’s call for more comic discourse in response to Brexit was an invitation to comedians and comic writers to disentangle the logical inconsistencies of EU withdrawal.

Weaver Simon Weaver

This exists in some sense, even if it is perhaps best exemplified by ex-pats such as John Oliver. Who is listening to such comedy though? One of the points made by Ayesha Hazarika, whose perspective comes from inside parliament and the UK news media, is that the respective sides of the Brexit debate are only listening to themselves. Comedy and political satire is in this respect a kind of ‘echo chamber’ which reassures affiliates of particular positions. The supposed ‘shock’ of Brexit was the response of an elite media and political class who could not understand the popular vote, because they had no idea who ‘the people’ were.

Hazarika responded in part to Ellie Tomsett’s argument for comedy as a type of affiliation, in which audiences, be they in live venues or across digital media communities, articulate their responses to Brexit in comic fashion. This is an important tool for popular dissent; though what, as was asked later, do we make of such humour generated for Brexit? And as highlighted by both Hazarika and myself, how wary should we be of affiliation if it separates as much as it unites?

As I suggested in my talk, focusing in this case on film and television comedy, all comedy is populist from one point of view; it’s just that Remainers assume theirs is the right point of view. Can anti-Brexit campaigning and comic discourses simply ignore the claims and circumstances underpinning the vote to Leave? Perhaps the troubling elephant in this particular room was that what makes us laugh is subjective rather than universal, and that confronting the divisive contexts of Brexit – rather than just shoring up the two opposing sides – is beyond the work of humour. Still, as I pointed out, the ability to laugh at yourself and your own viewpoints is sometimes the first step towards mutual understanding.

In any case, the discussion, like the Brexit negotiations, goes on. You can read the full text of my talk below. Thanks to all the panellists for providing me and everyone else such interesting food for comic thought, and thanks especially to Simon Weaver and Sharon Lockyer for inviting me along. And special thanks to Daniel Skentelbery and Dr Maria Flood for suggesting I look at This Country and Soft Border Patrol, respectively.


Not Walking, But Drowning (Is Brexit Comedy Possible?)

There’s a great moment in episode one of BBC3’s hit comedy This Country when Kurtan, one of our guides to this particular plot of British rural life, is extolling the benefits of the annual Scarecrow festival. It’s great for the village, he says. It’s the one time of year when everyone can get together and pretend they don’t hate each other.

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Speaking via the only semi-fictionalised contexts of socially disenfranchised middle-England, this opening salvo in one of the BBC’s post-referendum comedy series felt unnervingly to the point. While it might well be that there are as many grey as black-and-white areas in the Brexit landscape – and I’d like to think about these shortly – the EU referendum felt to some extent like a line drawn between ideological viewpoints and feelings that accept no mediation.

Kurtan’s straight-faced comment hits home in fact because pretending we don’t hate each other may be an apt evocation of a time before Brexit, but one no less illusionary than this village’s display of social cohesion. Living as I do on an international and predictably pro-Remain academic campus in the middle of the largely pro-Leave Staffordshire, not far from the briefly-dubbed ‘Brexit capital’ of Stoke-on-Trent, my own dismayed response to the EU referendum was compounded by a pervading sense that as a country we were irrevocably divided. And while I had recently completed a book looking at comedy and British national identity, I suddenly found myself without a clear idea of what comedy should do in response.

I was made aware of this recently when watching Aardman’s latest film Early Man in my local Vue cinema in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Nick Park’s film, somewhat inappropriately, has been discussed as a Brexit allegory. In the film, a tribe of lowly-but-honest Stone Age Brits resist a pointedly French Bronze Age invader, by challenging his team of narcissistic continental individualists to a game of football. From my own admitted perspective as a pro-European and generally cosmopolitan film scholar, I saw Early Man, like much of Aardman’s work, as incorporating all representation into its carnivalesque and parodic sensibilities. Yet at the same time, I could also see its inherent parochialism. Looking around the cinema, as Dug and his team showed the pampered pros of Real Bronzio how football ought to be played, I wondered how differently the film was possibly being read. I left the cinema feeling slightly depressed. Had I just sat through an inadvertent ninety-minute propaganda film for Brexit?

2 Early Man 

I have no desire, I should add, to wallow today in a pro-European pity that some might reasonably say is simply hard cheese, sour grapes, or maybe just desserts. I’ll come back to these culinary matters later. For now, I want to say my Early Man viewing experience – one I also have watching This Country, or the recent return to Royston Vasey on the part of the League of Gentlemen team – was an important one, in terms of what it reminded me regarding the connection between film and television comedy, production, and issues of power. Especially with popular film, which is most often the fruit of years of development, context is more immediately significant to interpretation than its production intentions. Early Man would still be with us if Leave had had 2% more of the vote and Brexit had never happened. In which case, would the film become something else? The sort of harmless fantasy of British underdog spirit that our cinema has been trading in for decades? Probably. But without Brexit I would have never entertained the idea that the film could be seen as anything else, even if, in all likelihood, potentially anti-European sentiments could be stirred by it. If ignorance is bliss, I would of course have been happy to have had it this way, by definition it would not have occurred to me that things could be any different. But it would still have been ignorance.

During the year or so following the referendum, then, the questions I asked myself changed. From the indignant and incredulous ‘How did this possibly happen?’, I started to ask myself ‘How did I not notice this happening?’ Did I prefer not to see it? Or was I just swept up in a general mood to the extent that I couldn’t possibly see it coming? Like anyone of course who thinks of themselves as both rational and reasonable I don’t like the idea of being ‘swept up’ by anything. I suggest though, and this is more than just some sort of middle-class Remainer’s guilty soul-searching, that I need to entertain the idea that I was. And most importantly for this event’s concerns, comedy had a role to play in this.

In particular, and for the sake of generating discussion, I’d like to raise some questions about how we understand comedy and populism. However we might define the latter term, it always seems to me largely coloured – like comic discourses themselves – by particular cultural, political and intellectual distinctions, and above all questions of power. Whatever different ways we might identify populism – as, say, a broader mobilisation against the forces of globalised neoliberalism, or alternatively, as a catalyst for ethnic or religious nationalisms – it often tends to imply a ‘people’ from whom the speaker (especially if they are an academic) is removed. ‘Did populism cause Brexit’? Maybe – though this willingness to position the Leave vote’s 52% majority as riding the wave of a ‘populist’ tide begs the question what the other 48% were doing. Were we walking on water? Or just looking on from the side of the boat (the Titanic in this case)?

There is I think a danger in assuming that, just because a certain comic discourse targets all that the liberal and cosmopolitan mind holds to be abhorrent, that it is therefore immune from the more populist connotations of other ‘incorrect’ practices. Looking at a range of English comic films and television shows since the start of this century has indicated how prevalent the image is of the demonic or deranged rural or provincial ‘other’ (forerunners, even, of This Country’s shambolic horde). Grotesque representations of village or other ‘local’ constituencies, drawn as much on the archetypes of British horror film, abound – Edward and Tubbs, of course, in The League of Gentlemen; the vegetable-protecting village mob in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; the satanic NWA in Hot Fuzz. All emerging during the New Labour era, from one view these exaggerated comic depictions inscribe a line between their notional viewers and the place they will not go. If we ‘get the joke’ here, by definition, we identify ourselves on the other side. We cannot be ‘them’; that is why ‘we’ laugh at them.

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While in fact researching an earlier book on Hot Fuzz, I came across what struck me as a hilariously literal review of the film by the Daily Mail’s Christopher Tookey. When the villains of the film are uncovered, Tookey complains, ‘there is no real attempt to make their motives or methods believable’. But what really riles the Daily Mail’s critic is that Hot Fuzz jettisons the possibility of real satire or perceptiveness in favour of ‘an attack on the much-maligned burghers of Middle England’. The film in turn becomes another example, for Tookey, of the British media’s obsession with exposing the ‘supposedly sleazy realities that lie behind respectable facades’.

Tookey’s swipe at Hot Fuzz in particular, and the targeting of Middle England more broadly, now seems significant, for the simple reason that there is no real mediation between his views and those of the film, along with its implied ideal viewer (which may be someone like me). These particular burghers within the terms of the film deserve to be maligned, but they are grotesques. And like any other comic form, as Tookey’s review shows, the film’s representations divide. Whatever we might think of his opinions, Tookey is correct to imply that a film like Hot Fuzz is limited in terms of its ability to speak either to or about its objects of comic derision.

This is an important reminder that comedy, in the more visible mainstream at least, is shaped by certain expectations of what is feasible or acceptable to engage with, or indeed deride. Yet these frameworks for what can be articulated are slippery, especially when the supposedly fictional subjects of comic derision, and the notional ‘universality’ of a certain comic perspective, disavow their very specific political and partisan viewpoints. Of course such viewpoints form a vital basis for the energy and acuity of satire, the right to mock. The issue though is where the lines are drawn. As Andy Medhurst has discussed in his work on the comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, his career of profane humour that frequently targets minority and marginalised constituencies, has strong appeals to its audience’s sense of place and shared culture. Medhurst no doubt challenges some readers’ limits of acceptability by asking us to engage empathetically with a comic whose act, at the stage show he recounts, involved telling any hypothetical asylum seekers in the audience to ‘fuck off home’. But so much humour, from whatever political position, is always implicitly telling someone else to fuck off, because it is established around a shared understanding of culture or belief. It never occurs to us, subsequently, that there is anything intrinsically violent in doing this. It is just ‘common sense’. But Medhurst’s comparative point about Chubby Brown’s fans is that they feel exactly the same.

Where the hell, then, do we go from here? Maybe the point is more where and how comic discourse is directed. Jonathan Swift famously remarked that satire ‘is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everyone’s face but their own’: one reason why it arguably changes very little. When the mirror is turned on the bearer, though, it might have an effect. Another quote, this one from the old working-class comic in Trevor Griffith’s 1975 play Comedians: ‘We’ve got to get deeper than hate’. The medicinal properties of comedy are frequently extolled, though I suspect too much comedy, at least in popular film and TV, is more like a headache pill than an inoculation or a vaccine. Blasting the spectre of ‘populism’ or decrying 17 million fellow Britons may only set up other spectres as its mirror-image. As I think a show like This Country does so assuredly, there is scope for comedy to target the troubling allusions of its troubled constituencies, while also compelling us to understand its disillusionments. But it is also crucial that those implied ‘others’ to This Country’s comic subjects – the entitled and altogether reasonable viewer, looking on like an anthropologist – also has the wicked comic gaze turned upon him or herself. If not, those of us who think we walk on water will, I suspect, find ourselves drowning in self-righteous hate. And that, frankly, will not get us anywhere.

As something of a late thought, but turning finally to one very direct attempt at Brexit comedy, could we learn something from a series like Soft Border Patrol, the Northern Irish mockumentary about a special trans-national guard, set up to monitor the new political but physically non-existent border between the EU on one side and post-Brexit UK on the other? What is so distinctive about Soft Border Patrol is its resistance to confronting Brexit or its causes, but rather its strategy of taking it as a given of the near future (the show in this respect is as much science fiction as faux-documentary). The targets of its gently absurdist comedy are, instead, the bureaucratic processes of trying to police a border that does not physically exist: as the show’s refrain has it, ‘We’re here to patrol the border, and then let you through’. As such, its approach is not to take sides, but to comically undermine the feasibility and practical logic of Brexit itself as a political and administrative process.

6 Soft Border Patrol

Admittedly, it is in part mainland Britain’s status as an island that has shaped its willingness to remove itself from continental Europe. In Brexit-majority England, the absence of these porous borders between us and the rest of the EU denies the regular everyday contact that might make such comedy of incongruity and collision possible. All the same, Soft Border Patrol throws up an interesting option for Remainers to explore Brexit through comedy: rather than constantly look back in bewildered anger, we should look forward to a possible and bewildering future – and then maybe some sense might start to prevail.

Fantastic Beasts, and How to Film Them

Neil Neil Archer

 Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them movie

2016 was a great year for British cinema. This is one message from the British Film Institute, the main promotional body for UK film. Pointing to a record-breaking expenditure of £1.6bn on film production in Britain, and box-office figures showing a 27.5% domestic share for ‘UK-made films’, the BFI’s recent report took pains to emphasize the continuing health of the industry.

Beyond the headline, the picture is complex. These ‘UK-made films’ are predominantly movies made in the UK with British crews and creative input, financed mainly by Hollywood conglomerates: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them being the main examples. The levels of investment relate, similarly, to franchise films in production last year, such as the eighth Star Wars instalment, shot in London.

Ever since the 1970s, in fact, when the first Star Wars film was shot at Elstree, but when the market for home-grown films declined, the robustness of the British film industry has often been measured by its ability to draw ‘inward investment’ from overseas producers, and not just its intermittent production of award-winning films like Chariots of Fire, The English Patient or The King’s Speech – all of which, we should add, benefited from wider international financing. ‘British’ cinema is mostly transnational cinema: movies like Bridget Jones’s Baby, for example, a prominent British film on 2016 list, is made by Working Title, the UK company whose output is largely synonymous with British cinema overseas – Love Actually, Atonement, Hot Fuzz – but which is supported by its Hollywood parent and distributor, Universal.

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This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Making and marketing films is expensive: usually, only significant levels of investment guarantee wide distribution, and the potential for critical and economic returns. The British Film Commission, the agency that supports filmmaking initiatives in the UK, incentivises inward investment in British production through tax-breaks. The UK Film Council, a New Labour initiative, took a mostly similar line until being dissolved by the coalition government in 2011; yet it remains a key policy of the BFI’s ‘Wide Angle’ international strategy.

Brexit has given new urgency to this question of film production. As discussed at this year’s Cannes festival, UK policy-makers need to face up to the withdrawal from EU film-funding schemes such as MEDIA. The message of the BFI report from numerous sources is in turn telling: the record-breaking statistics, they suggest, ‘demonstrate that the UK’s world-leading film sector continues to thrive and that Britain remains open for business’; ‘UK film is open for business’; ‘[we must] ensure the UK remains a competitive destination… for international production’.

Playing down the impact of Brexit, the language here seems directed more across the Atlantic than the Channel, and perhaps worryingly dependent on the continued support of jumpy Hollywood investors in a precarious production climate. Beyond the important economic questions, though, a broader cultural conversation centres on what this ‘business’ might mean for an idea of British cinema. Some of the opinion stateside just days after Brexit, alongside more optimistic UK voices, highlighted the enticements of a weak-currency and EU-deregulated Britain for US investment, as well as alternative channels of investment such as Netflix. Exactly how this helps British filmmakers, or potential films about British life, is not entirely clear, and may imply that UK film will increasingly be defined by its US-backed players.

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We should avoid though creating a binary between ‘real’ British films and Hollywood movies ‘Made in Britain’. Franchise movies like Fantastic Beasts are global exports of a recognised cultural character and value. Local revisionings of genre cinema, meanwhile – The World’s End, Attack the Block, Sightseers offer critical or political viewpoints though globally translatable forms. In light of Brexit, such films may assume a renewed cultural function. This was indicated by the reception at home and abroad of 2014’s Paddington, co-produced like the latter two films by StudioCanal (a UK company owned by the French conglomerate Vivendi): a wonderful example of how a British popular film could at once encompass its literary traditions and political topicality. I eagerly await its 2017 sequel.

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Nor should we assume that the global currency in so-called British ‘heritage’ cinema, which trades in revisiting archetypal emblems of the national past, simply means selling a touristic fantasy to international audiences. Exactly why British film-making seems especially preoccupied with a return to the second world war – this year alone, following Their Finest’s light-hearted take on wartime media, we have two (more!) films about Churchill, the Joe Wright-Gary Oldman team-up Darkest Hour being the more promising – probably tells us a lot about Britain’s national incapacity to leave its (finest hour of) history behind. But the lavish scale and backward-looking nature of such films can also embrace a reappraisal of its national subject. This month, director Christopher Nolan makes a homecoming of sorts with his IMAX-enabled vision of Dunkirk. Taking a leaf from Wright’s Atonement, which offered a revisionist perspective on the allied evacuation from France, Nolan’s film is the latest to deal with this often mythologised moment of British history. Having also just watched Peter Morgan’s sublime The Crown, produced for Netflix, my appetite is whetted for further big- (and smaller-) screen explorations of the national past that confront all its failings, fables, and cruelty. Fantastic beasts, indeed.


Film, Television and Brexit: What happens now?


Now that Article 50 has been triggered, and the clock is ticking down on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, what are the implications for Film and Television in Britain? This was the question informing FILM AND TELEVISION STUDIES AFTER BREXIT, a one-day workshop conducted at the Claus Moser Research Centre on April 4th. Convened by Neil Archer, Lecturer in Film Studies at Keele, the workshop drew on the expertise of a range of guest speakers, as well as the input of participants from both Keele and elsewhere. Building on the conversations and conclusions emerging from the workshop, and on the work concurrently undertaken by colleagues across the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the event forms part of a continuing and evolving discussion of Brexit and its implications for British life, culture and global standing.

Beth Johnson, former programme director of Film Studies at Keele, now Associate Professor of Film and Media at the University of Leeds, started the proceedings with a riveting and important look at the way recent reality television – ranging from shows like Kirstie’s Handmade Britain to Benefits Street – has played an active and often problematic role in the construction of a popular British imaginary during an era of austerity, and in the run-up to the EU referendum. Dr Johnson’s analysis of Channel 4’s controversial Benefits Street focused on the way the programme, taking up the viewpoint of its more long-term, natively British inhabitants, sets up an overarching point of view into which the street’s European immigrants – predominantly, an extended Romanian family not claiming benefits, but running an improvised scrap metal business – are both ostracised and rejected. As the paper concluded, given the power of such television to shape as much as represent reality, we need to be particularly attentive to the way such programmes can inform – or indeed exploit – public opinion.

In a companion piece, James Leggott, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Northumbria University, offered a detailed overview of some of the films made in the run-up to the EU referendum, asking whether or not a sense of Brexit can be detected in their narratives and representations. Dr Leggott identified the way that the figure of the European immigrant emerges more prominently in recent cinema, in films as wide-ranging as The Goob, London Road and (in a more dubious form) horror films like Mum and Dad. While acknowledging that it is difficult and perhaps problematic to ask if the ‘signs’ of Brexit were visible in these films, the paper raised a series of other, and in the interests of a post-Brexit British cinema, more pressing questions: Who are these films for, and who is seeing them? What sense do we make of the older concept of ‘social realist’ cinema, when such films – Dr Leggott’s main example being Ken Loach’s award-winning I, Daniel Blake – are only seen by middle-class audiences in art cinemas? Amongst the many questions generated by this paper, then, the question of how British cinema, especially at the lower end of the budgeting scale, needs to respond to the contexts of Brexit, but also how and by whom it will be seen, emerges as the most important one.

This was followed by two papers offering reflections, respectively, on the significance of Brexit for our conceptions of ‘English’ and ‘Scottish’ cinema. Julian Petley, Professor of Screen Media at Brunel University, sees Brexit as a significant moment in the emergence of Englishness as a mode of identification, over and above other associations of ‘Britishness’. Professor Petley’s rigorous overview of film scholarship in the UK showed how, all too frequently (as in Raymond Durgnat’s famous book, below), ideas around England and Englishness have been collapsed into Britishness in problematic ways, usually to the exclusion of the Kingdom’s other distinct countries and identities.


The paper also identified the ways in which an image of England has been specifically mobilised in recent years – and in particular, though under the misrepresentative guise of ‘the UK’, in the run-up to Brexit – as one that is victimised and put upon by the rest of the world (what Professor Petley describes as the ‘self-pitying mythology of Englishness’), despite the UK’s standing as one the world’s most powerful economies. While identifying some of the problematic notions of using Englishness as a defining concept, and some of the limiting ways ‘culturally English’ filmmaking has been defined (exclusively, for instance, around notions of ‘English heritage’ and literary adaptations), the paper astutely invited us to rethink ideas around ‘English cinema’ that emphasise diversity and inclusivity. As Professor Petley’s conclusion noted, multiculturalism and plurality are commonly associated with a Britain and a Britishness that may never have really existed, and if at all, may not for much longer; and that, consequently, if we are to challenge the most reductive assertions of the leave campaign, we should learn to talk in positive terms about an English cinema that encompasses these same ideas.

The follow-up paper by Jonny Murray, Senior Lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art, was a fascinating and thought-provoking look at the perspectives of Scottish film production on the Brexit vote. Dr Murray provided a detailed view of the way recent Scottish films have forged previously unfamiliar links with filmmaking tendencies and film practitioners – producers, directors, actors – from mainland Europe, and especially Scandinavia, in films as diverse as Aberdeen, The Last Great Wilderness and Red Road.

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Chiming with Professor Petley’s comments, the discourses around the endurance of British film post-Brexit may emerge mostly from an English perspective that takes the largest country in the UK as synonymous for the UK as a whole – and thereby crowding out the specific interests of a Scotland that, unlike its southern neighbour, voted significantly against Brexit in the 2016 referendum. As Dr Murray argued, then, while a particularly European and trans-national type of filmmaking has emerged in Scotland over recent years, this is jeopardized by Brexit, if it means that vital sources of European co-production finances are cut off. If this is the case, as Dr Murray concluded, and if Scotland perhaps inevitably devolves from the UK, then the new game may be one of pursuing ‘inward investment’ – Hollywood money, invested in foreign countries to produce film and television there – in aggressive competition with its nearest neighbours.

This final thought was an arresting one ahead of the fifth paper, which focused largely on the significance of inward investment for the (so-called) UK film industry, but also how this partly England-centric conception may one day face competition from within the British Isles. Discussing the links between British cinema culture and Britain’s uses of ‘soft power’, Neil Archer looked at the way certain tendencies in film production – the James Bond series, Working Title rom-coms or the Mr Bean films, the Harry Potter franchise – have been mobilised as indicators of the country’s global standing. Identifying the links between such films’ references at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and the strategic promotional aims of government and initiatives like the GREAT Britain campaign, Dr Archer argued that a particular image of ‘Britishness’ has successfully established the UK’s global cultural influence; though at the expense of a more nuanced view of modern Britain and the everyday realities of lower-scale British film production.

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Adding that the post-Brexit mood for the UK film industry appears reliant on a boom in inward investment, Dr Archer raised the question whether the representations of Britishness around the 2012 ceremony were themselves symptomatic of a tension already existing between Britain’s international self-image, and a resistance to this image at a popular level, ignored in this case by dominant cultural taste-makers. At the same time, the paper concluded that in a post-Brexit climate and economy, commercial and transnational film production like Working Title films, or – in the preferred example – films like Paddington, produced by the French-owned UK company Studio Canal, could play an increasingly important role in the cultural representation of Britain abroad; evidence suggesting that it is British-based family films like Paddington or the Harry Potter series that have a more meaningful impact on the perception of the UK overseas, conveying as they do messages frequently out of sync with official government policy.

This idea that cinema could take on an increasingly ambassadorial role for Britain in light of Brexit was picked up in the final paper. Entitled ‘Who Will Listen to Britain Now?’, Owen Evans, Professor of Film at Edge Hill University, offered an engaging account of the Brexit contexts from his own position as a Germanist working intellectually and geographically between the UK and mainland Europe. Professor Evans’ talk highlighted the dispiriting sense of disillusion felt by the many Germans based in the UK and working in the creative industries (such as illustrator Axel Schaefer, whose take on the Brexit rhetoric can be seen below); as well as noting the extent to which so-called ‘British’ films, drawing on European funding and exhibition initiatives, are often more broadly European in their reception and profile: a key instance being (again) the films of Ken Loach, whose audience (and a point echoing James Leggott’s earlier observations around I, Daniel Blake) is mostly on the continental mainland, not in the UK. There was an optimistic note in Professor Evans’ talk, though, both in its suggestion that Britain could take a leaf from Germany’s regional filmmaking policies, but also in its insistence that at the cultural level – and as indicated by the prevalence of artists and creative leaders working between London and Berlin – the UK is far from closed for business to European partners. Highlighting, then, that the channels of cultural communication are not so easily limited by government policies, Professor Evans stressed that Britain’s leaving the European Union was not necessarily a departure from Europe; and that the affinities linking a devolving UK and a previously divided Germany could form the basis for what he called a Kultur Europa uniting the two countries. A similar suggestion, in fact, to that made by the Guardian’s associate editor a full three days after the event!


It is hoped that this is only the start of a much broader national – and European – discussion, with Keele University as one of its key centres. While the full impact of Brexit remains unknown at present, film and television studies have an important part to play in investigating and commenting on the potential implications and possibilities; as well as identifying some of the ways film and television production has both informed the contexts of Brexit, but also might potentially mitigate its most corrosive effects. FILM KEELE would like to thank all the contributors who offered the foundation for discussion, as well as the various participants who provided the key questions and diverse responses throughout the day: in particular, David Forrest from the University of Sheffield, and Clive Nwonka, from Greenwich University; in addition to the various colleagues and students from Keele – Joe Andrew, Nick Bentley, David McWilliam, Helen Parr, Nick Seager, Wallis Seaton, Laura Minor, and Daniel Skentelbery.

To be continued…

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017. Here’s Hoping…

carrieNeil Neil Archer

Such is the enduring capacity for drama in Hollywood – the place, as much as its films – that it is able to deliver things no screenwriter would have the nerve to dream up. I was musing over the content of this piece a couple of Thursdays ago when I checked the morning news, only to find that Debbie Reynolds had died. Cue the ensuing mental double-take: I was still processing the news that her daughter, Carrie Fisher, had died the day before following a heart-attack suffered over Christmas. Like E.M. Forster’s exemplary Queen, her mother had died, according to the headlines, of grief. Heaven knows what Carrie – a sharp comic writer and novelist and, less well known, a courted Hollywood script doctor – would have made of it.

Ms Reynold’s uncanny sense of Hollywood timing (with all the appropriate respect to a great lady and her doubly-bereaved family, this was some way to bow out) pulled some of the rug from my own musings on the serendipities and poignant coincidences between Hollywood’s real and imaginary worlds. It was her daughter I was thinking about that Thursday morning, realising as I just had that her face – more precisely, a convincing-enough digital reworking of its younger form – was the last face I would see on the big screen in 2016, appearing as it had at the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But also, that she had delivered in that now fateful final appearance, an important concluding word: ‘Hope’.

Okay, okay. I know this final word was there to create an associative link between the end of Rogue One and the full, re-branded title of the film that chronologically follows it (and it’s one of the marvels of Gareth Edwards’ film that it is so painstaking in its efforts to fill every narrative gap between it and Episode IV’s in media res opening: I’ve no doubt overlooked several decades of fan speculation here, but I was never much concerned where the ‘stolen data tapes’ of A New Hope had come from). But it also seemed more than apt at the conclusion to a year in which hope felt to many in such scarce supply, for both opponents and proponents of the Trump-Brexit axis, to take just the Anglo-American example, which – we ought to recall – profited from a wider disenfranchisement from the political and economic status quo.

But the ideology of this triumphant (Trumpant?) politics by its own nature undermines hope, based as it is on isolationism and the imposition of figurative and literal barriers. As the now outgoing US president identified in the title of his second book, hope is audacious: to be hopeful in contemporary times, and not merely to retrench in fear, requires boldness and courage, in order to face what is difficult, and indeed, fearful. With the modern world starting to feel unnervingly close to the imagined 2027 of Children of Men, rather than the 2019 of Blade Runner (choose your dystopia!), the sort of hope called for by the young Princess Leia, in the context of Rogue One’s showing, hardly feels like the airy Hollywood sentiment it might otherwise have evoked.

Like most dystopian cinema, Children of Men, which celebrated (if that’s the right word) its tenth birthday at the end of last year, exacerbates the most negative aspects of contemporary society as its own call to hope, showing a refracted image of our own present in the potential future. Not for nothing was the documentary that accompanied Cuarón’s film called The Possibility of Hope, in which various environmentalists and/or stars of the intellectual left (James Lovelock, Slavoj Žižek, Naomi Klein) dissect the contemporary world’s ills and suggest some potential remedies. It’s telling that in the film, loosely adapted from P.D. James’s novel, the world’s apparently chronic demise stems, in a Gaia-style form of earthly recalibration, to a global lack of fertility that has left the planet entirely childless, until a young pregnant woman is found. This is a bit of a ruse, of course; the film isn’t remotely concerned with why this happened, or whether there’s some scientific fix. It’s rather what happens, emotionally, socially and environmentally, once you remove the young from the equation, with which the film is concerned; the abrupt answer being that everything goes to shit. A similar thing, it’s worth pointing out, seems to have happened in Blade Runner, the all-permeating jadedness of which owes a lot to the lack of children in its rain-lashed urban sprawl (and it’s here left to the ‘infant’ replicants to re-imagine childhood for everyone else’s benefit).

The absence of children, then, is literally the absence of a future, but it is also symbolic of the absence of hope; and conversely hope, even in the face of an uncertain future, still exists in the presence of a child. Children of Men, a modern-day secular nativity (it was released in the US on Christmas Day: some festive outing, that one), consequently saves its most potentially mawkish but actually quite moving sequence for the moment when the newly-born baby, guarded by its mother and Clive Owen’s faded activist, is carried out to safety through a militarised zone of armed confrontation – and the clusters of brutalised squaddies stop, dumbstruck and goggle-eyed at the sight.

It’s for similar reasons that we invest so much in the young in films, for the simple reason that a) they’re trying to find out who and what they can be, b) they’re finding their way in a cynical and destructive adult world, and c) they offer the fragile possibility that they won’t fuck it up (the possibility of hope, in other words). The appeal of The Hunger Games and its many imitators is not merely the dramatic context of the games/trials etc. as events, but the fact that the competitors are just kids, for God’s sake. Not that they need to be pitched against each other in a literal arena of death: teen(age) films like The Breakfast Club or Entre les murs or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seem more potent the further away I get from them in age, not through nostalgia (I love John Hughes movies, but never really watched them at the ‘appropriate’ age), but rather because, as Catherine Driscoll writes in her book Teen Films, such films enable a viewer like myself to ‘restag[e] and recross… the fantastic line between childhood and adulthood’, allowing one to (re)invest in the emotional and existential dilemmas of youth from the reflective vantage point of adulthood (or in my case middle age, to be more specific).

All of which brings me back round to Debbie and Carrie, both of them, remarkably, enjoying their defining moment of screen success at the age of nineteen, in Singin’ in the Rain and then Star Wars. As children nurtured by and within Hollywood, needless to say, the pair were only ‘normal’ nineteen-year olds in the same sense that, say, Andy Murray or Lionel Messi were ever normal teenage boys. But what verve, what lack of fear! Anyone who knows the history of Star Wars’ production, or who has sat through any of the prequel trilogy, will know that humour was never George Lucas’s gift to the world; and in turn, that much of the screwball banter that leaves the 1977 film still so vigorous owes most to the old-school class and wit of Fisher and Harrison Ford. And if you ever needed an object lesson in the grace of filmmaking and of the human body, or how song and dance might seem enough on which to build hope, look no further than Singin’ in the Rain: it’s all there! May their Force be with us in 2017.

Re:Bourne (Notes on Sequelitis)

Neil Neil Archer


It’s the name, I guess, and its evident capacity for lame puns (see above), that has made the Bourne series something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we’ve found out over the course of three films, Bourne is less an actual name, and more a description of the way Matt Damon’s soldier, David Webb, is re-created as the series’ amnesiac automaton. The Bourne Ultimatum, back in 2007, saw Bourne processing this discovery before hurling himself into New York’s East River, just as his CIA protector Pam Landy exposed the files on the agency’s assassin programme. Leaving Bourne’s body unfound, and hinting in the final frames to another re-birth of sorts – a silhouetted figure, floating in the river’s amniotic fluid, jerking into action and swimming away – director Paul Greengrass drew a line under the series he had helped define since helming The Bourne Supremacy in 2004. For Greengrass, as indeed for Damon, there was nowhere else to go. A return film, Greengrass quipped at the time, might as well be called The Bourne Redundancy.


Back they are, though, after nine years, and four years after the curious footnote of The Bourne Legacy; an odd (if not redundant) ‘side-quel’ which interwove another agent’s story around the events and timeline of the previous film. The fairly self-explanatory Jason Bourne picks up some time after the New York dunking, and pieces together more of the titular character’s enigmatic history. Despite having intimated they were never going to make another Bourne film, there are plenty of good reasons why Damon and Greengrass should return to the franchise. Neither of them has been exactly struggling since The Bourne Ultimatum, but the opportunities to work again on the biggest canvas (Ultimatum was produced for Universal at $100m, and took in half a billion at the global box office) are obvious. The cynical view would see this return for the most part in financial terms. Isn’t this after all the primary reason sequels get made? Perhaps: but this would overlook what the sequel actually represents in contemporary cinema. As much as the logic of the Hollywood franchise dies hard (as it were), we need to think about what sequels or serial filmmaking actually do; and how, in fact, they are transforming our understanding and experience of the movies in various, often unexpected ways.
The 2012 side-quel was evidence of the fact that ‘properties’ such as Bourne belong, finally, to the studios that own them. If anything, the historical significance of The Bourne Legacy may lie in its inadvertently postmodern title, which describes the film’s own logic and process of franchise maintenance, as much as it identifies anything to do with the film’s plot. If cold business logic is at the heart of this, it’s worth noting how the ‘sequelitis’ currently manifest in Hollywood is symptomatic not so much of opportunism, but the more anxious manoeuvres of an American cinema coming to terms with significant cultural and economic shifts. Hollywood’s largely self-propelled movement over the last four decades towards the blockbuster or ‘tent-pole’ film – large-budget movies released simultaneously across thousands of screens, with the opening week, or even weekend, determining the movie’s success – has proved a profitable model, though with related financial and artistic costs. The digitization of film projection means that studios no longer need to produce thousands of individual prints, yet the marketing budgets for these films, as studios clamour for the attention of first-weekend audiences in a competitive field, is often comparable to the production costs of the (already very expensive) movies themselves. In the era, then, of the billion-dollar movie – the Avatars, Avengers Assembles and Skyfalls of our time – the framework for what constitutes a film’s box-office success has shifted upwards. The expectations for a film like Jason Bourne will consequently be enormously high: such films are not produced with a view to anything less.
In a decade, then, in which the holiday tent-pole film is the default form, but in which $200m franchise start-ups can rise and fall with barely a mention – The Lone Ranger, John Carter, Tomorrowland – Hollywood has balanced extravagance with conservatism, relying on the road-tested formulae of its established properties, with their built-in familiarity and all-important ‘pre-awareness’ factor. All franchises, of course, had to start somewhere; but a main difference now, as Lynda Obst shows in her book Sleepless in Hollywood, is that the West-Coast studios increasingly have eyes on the Chinese market; now officially the biggest captive audience for Hollywood film in the world. Even a cursory glance at the Chinese box office over the last few years reveals just why established film series, and what’s more, a certain type of series – preferably one that is either modern or futuristic, global in its settings and casting, mythic rather than culturally specific in its storytelling (hence the prevalence of expensive science-fiction and/or superhero franchises) – are the obsession of Hollywood producers. Within this context, sequelitis is a symptom of risk aversion, not necessarily a lack of imagination.
If sequel dependency is the new abnormal, though, to borrow Obst’s phrase, film production has evolved accordingly, in an often friutful way. By its own nature, a successful sequel could never really be a rehash: in order for it to work, degrees of innovation and variation need to operate alongside reiteration and familiarity. What’s more, once the series logic is structured into a film’s rationale, the expectations and ambitions are re-calibrated. As I wrote a few years ago, series like the Bourne films take their cue as much from long-form television as from cinema, in their capacity to combine self-contained episode narratives with overarching storylines across the various movies. The individual films, in turn, can function discretely, but are in fact amplified and enriched by their positioning within a wider series. In the process, the series creates breadth within its world, and encourages the greater investment of viewers. This is by now such an assumption in contemporary Hollywood that my original argument already sounds like a quaint statement of the obvious. Today’s multi-film narratives, with Marvel’s and DC/Warner Bros.’ endlessly proliferating series being the models, can move in any temporal direction while developing a linear narrative line, while also overlapping and interweaving, hinting at other films to come, or leaving clues and cues to be picked up across the series as a whole.
Of course, the movies are only here following the lead already established by audiences, or more specifically fans, in insisting that a film is no longer a prescribed and finite two-hour experience. As both generators and consumers of what is variously called dispersed narrative, ‘transmedia’ storytelling or the media of ‘convergence’ – wherein stories are disaggregated and pieced together from across different media platforms and content – fans have come to play a significant role in shaping and maintaining the form of modern popular cinema. Fans, or modern audiences more broadly, demand that the show goes on, both in the afterlives they create for films, and increasingly, in their expectation of narrative returns. A narrative implication of this state of affairs is that a film series, in fact, cannot really end. In this respect, franchises start not so much to resemble long-form television series (which, after all, do eventually end), but rather soap opera. In Spanish, the colloquial term for the latter is culebrón – literally, ‘big snake’ – a word which aptly evokes such television’s remarkable capacity to go on and on with no apparent end in sight; to the almost mystical point, in fact, when the snake runs into its own tail, and beginning becomes end becomes beginning ad infinitum: a slightly pretentious way, perhaps, of saying that the soap opera replicates the varied rhythms and open-endedness of everyday life.
Applied to movies, though, as Nicholas Barber has recently mused, what does this mean for our traditional conceptions of ‘the end’? If movies are never really finished, how can we make sense of any narrative claims to resolve and restore, the dominant popular function of the cinematic ending for over a hundred years? What, moreover, does the endless dispersal and proliferation of narrative mean retrospectively for the films as we once experienced them? As Barber notes, the harmonious happy ending of Return of the Jedi now feels like a bit of a ruse. If it’s all going to go belly-up again in a few years time – new Empire wannabees, planet-destroying weapons, more running, hiding, pain and loss – what was all that hand-clapping for? What, in fact, is the point of carrying on at all? More problematically for Barber, if the narrative arcs and resolutions of individual films ultimately defer to an endless bigger picture, why bother watching any one of them, when you can simply catch up on a later episode?
Barber has a good point, though maybe in his haste to defend the virtues of classical Hollywood endings, he misses the comic and satisfyingly pessimistic possibilities of the unfinished story. I’ve always been wary of the neat-and-tidy conclusion, which after all is what many find so sentimental and grating in the Hollywood ‘happy ending’. Openness and uncertainty are in many respects desirable and effective qualities in a conclusion. The Empire Strikes Back is a wonderful film in many ways, but its stand-out quality in the Star Wars series relates to its bitter-sweet and unambiguously unresolved ending. Isn’t it one of the ironies of the contemporary franchise movie, in fact, that at its most synergistically business-oriented moment, and its maximization of commercial possibilities, it starts to elide into the non-conclusive, non-resolving domains of the art or auteur film – where rejecting neat narrative resolutions and happy endings was always de rigueur – against which it supposedly stands in eternal opposition?
And on this point, let’s not forget that so-called ‘independent’ or ‘world’ cinema is hardly immune to the power of the sequel. After making ten television films based around the ten commandments, the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski made a trilogy of inter-weaving films based on the French tricolor (Blue [1993], White [1994] and Red [1994]); one in which the main characters pop in and out of each other’s films, before finding themselves together at the end on a sinking ferry. Julie Delpy, meanwhile, Kieslowski’s star in White, is perhaps best known as one half (with Ethan Hawke) of Richard Linklater’s ‘Jesse and Céline’ trilogy (Before Sunrise [1995], Before Sunset [2004] and Before Midnight [2013]): a seemingly ongoing


before sunset



series of improvised films, about a transatlantic couple who meet on a train and fall in love (Sunrise), finally see each other again after nine years (Sunset), and then actually have a relationship (Midnight). The before-midnight-580narrative beauty of these films, which feel like semi-fictional counterparts to the lives of the actors that star in and co-write them, is the way they offer ambiguity and hesitation in place of clear resolutions. Life is after all rarely in a finished state, defined largely by uncertainty about the future (what’s going to happen?) and speculation about the past (what might have happened?). Consequently, Linklater’s films leave us with a set of possible ‘happy’ outcomes counterbalanced by their potential for failure: will Jesse and Céline meet up a year later, as they promise each other (they won’t); will they resist getting together again after nine years (they don’t); and can their relationship survive in the real grown-up world (it can’t). Given Linklater’s fondness for taking film-making conceits to extremes (as per his real-time coming-of-age movie Boyhood [2014]), I wouldn’t be too surprised if we follow Jesse and Céline’s on-off romance until one or both of them is dead – if even that is enough.
Will the Bourne series follow suit? I personally like the idea of following Bourne into aging retirement, perhaps settling down by the beach with Pam, reflecting on his past as a semi-automated death machine as he walks his dog. Inevitably, another team of buff, hollow-eyed assassins will at this moment come out of the trees. At which point, Damon’s famously taciturn agent will probably not sigh, raise an eyebrow, and growl: ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’. Cue the ensuing carnage, with added aches and strains.

Brief Thoughts on Br(ex)itish Cinema


Let’s be honest: the clue is in the title. Amongst many other things it represents – most of them, I would add, much more important than this one – Brexit potentially, perhaps irrevocably, is a cut-off point in our understanding of what ‘British cinema’ means. Not just in the sense that many films to come will inevitably deal with, and be affected by, the outcome of the EU referendum (not to mention the very possible likelihood of Scottish independence); but also inasmuch as writers on British cinema (I am one of them) will have to reflect wholesale on the histories and narratives we have constructed for it. The rules even of the very recent past will no longer apply: the last decade, even last year, will start to feel strangely distant. A slight readjustment of letters and semantics and Br(ex)itish cinema becomes Ex-British cinema. ‘This cinema’, as John Cleese might have said, ‘is not pining. It has ceased to be’.

While I can’t call this good news, it isn’t necessarily terrible: it’s just something we’ll have to deal with and make sense of in the coming years. We have no idea what this cinema will be like (as the screenwriter William Goldman famously remarked, if there’s one thing the history of the movies tells us, Nobody Knows Anything). I’m speculating here, though, on what I’ve specifically called Br(ex)itish cinema: one which will not exactly reflect Brexit itself, but mostly reflect on it, adapting itself to these new circumstances. What largely defines many people’s (and much of mainland Europe’s) idea of British cinema, for instance, is its legacy of social realism: witness for example the recent Palme d’Or win for Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016) amongst the yachts and seafront glamour of Cannes. Cinema such as this will want to get to grips with the causes and consequences of Brexit for many of those who, after all, voted for it, and will probably be most affected by it. Not a ‘Brexit cinema’ as such (what exactly would that look like?) but a Brexit-ish cinema. Given his own very ambivalent relationship to Europe, I wonder if Loach can put off his oft-discussed retirement to contend with these critical times. If not, the baton is incontestably there to pick up.

How would Loach, though, or anyone else for that matter, get it done? When Loach came out at Cannes in favour of the EU, but which he also criticized as a ‘a neo-liberal project’, he ultimately emphasized its cultural importance for filmmakers and other artists. The infrastructure of European co-production has nurtured art-house and festival favourites such as Loach across the continent: I, Daniel Blake, for example, was an Anglo-French-German production. Britain leaving the EU might mean that, without the European subsidies that sustain the distribution of critically-acclaimed but often non-commercial films (such as the multiple prize-winning Hungarian film Son of Saul [2015]), fewer European films will be exhibited in the UK than is already the case; just as it will also make it harder for British films to be made and distributed throughout Europe. Industry insiders reacting immediately to the results of 23 June were fairly unanimous in their assessment that Brexit would prove a testing, even ‘devastating’ moment for the UK film (and television) industry, reliant as so much of it is on EU funding commissions such as MEDIA and Eurimages, as well as on the free movement of film casts and crews across borders. Perhaps Loach should make his next film for Netflix.

A sneaky (if slightly tangential) thought came to me, though, as the news unfolded over the last weekend, and the value of sterling plummeted. As many commentators have stressed over the years, in hard-nosed economic and employment terms ‘British cinema’ is understood mainly in terms of what Britain does most of, and very well: acting as a studio site for large-scale movie production.Since the end of World War Two, Hollywood has always sought newer, less expensive places to shoot its films, frequently drawing on the expertise of film-making crews in once thriving, now declined international studios (such as Rome’s Cinecittà in the 1950s). Twentieth Century Fox packaged George Lucas and Star Wars off to Elstree in London because it was cost-effective, not because they were anglophiles (and with occasional departures, the franchise’s principal studio location has remained in England). Likewise, what we might call ‘British-ish’ films such as the Harry Potter series (produced by Warner Bros. and David Heyman’s London-based Heyday films) were not made in the UK (entirely) out of loyalty to Harry’s creative origins. I was worried that my salvage plan for Br(ex)itish cinema in the form of massive US investment was, to put it succinctly, bonkers, until I read a Guardian blog the other morning by a Hollywood-based British producer advocating this very thing. While I regret the circumstances, I certainly embrace this idea; even if it’s not clear what such films would be saying about Br(ex)itain.

This leads me to a final question (and – spoiler alert! – a rather flippant but well-intentioned answer): with the inevitable drop in Br(ex)itain’s cultural credit rating, and in light of Brexit’s damaging impact on the coherence of the EU more generally, what kind of films could a Hollywood-bolstered Br(ex)itish film industry sell back to Europe? Both Harry Potter and James Bond, it should be noted, endured Britain’s diminished international lustre on the back of the 2003 Iraq war: the latter, partly by reinventing himself in Casino Royale (2006) almost self-reflexively as a public-school thug; the former, well, because it’s Harry Potter, and they’re all such moppets. The Potter series was in any case, like most mythic sagas, sublimely adaptable to whatever social context you saw in it (in a way, isn’t its whole narrative of beleaguered, multi-ethnic mudbloods battling against the pureblood establishment an apt, politically-charged one for these times?). I’d personally welcome a grown-up sequel to the series, preferably one emphasizing its Scottish roots; maybe one in which Minerva McGonagall comes out of retirement to lead a secessionist Hogwarts, broken free from the Ministry, while Harry and co, Victor Krum and Fleur Delacour team up in a sexy pan-European mash-up.

This probably won’t happen (alas), but meanwhile, the case for James Bond’s persistence remains very much up in the air. This is nothing new: as much as the quality of the Bond series over the last five decades has been (to say the least) variable, it’s bloody-minded resilience in the face of historical and cultural change deserves some respect. Perhaps, as one German commentator suggested last week, this is down to the traditional British ability to bluster through with empty-yet-charming pomp. As much was emphasized in  Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, which pitted Bond and Her Majesty together in a grand, but also highly parodic, opening entrance. Is such a move, even as light-hearted a one as this, conceivable now? Beyond the potential economic impact on film productions like the 007 series, my suspicion is that Bond, like Br(ex)itain more generally, needs to engage in some pretty serious cultural work if it is to maintain status on the European, even international, stage. For a whole bundle of historical and political reasons, and not only with regard to the UK, casting Idris Elba would be a serious and long-overdue move in a challenging direction. And if he’s not available, why not go for broke and – in the true spirit of cross-channel bilateralism, and if Eon productions can still swing a visa – cast the wonderful French actor Jean Dujardin, who has after all had plenty of practice. I’d be interested to see how the hardline Leave camp reacted to that one.


Welcome to FILM KEELE, the official blog for the Film Studies programme at Keele University. As well as informing about current and forthcoming events relating to the programme, the blog will be a platform for both staff and students to discuss and express their experience of Film, as a medium and an academic discipline. As a programme engaged with the aesthetic possibilities of Film, and its evolving role in various aspects of social and political life, FILM KEELE will offer a vital space for voicing questions, debates, and enthusiasms.

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