promoting national culture
at every stage it will be up to some bureaucrat in the Department of Culture to decide how British you really are...
How we laughed at these comic new regulations about films
With 15 new regulations coming out of Westminster every week it is no wonder that sometimes we in the Opposition give way to the sin of despair. Sometimes we just slump back on the green benches and watch as Labour blizzards the landscape with legislation, like some out-of-control alpine snow machine. Sometimes we shut our eyes, unable to do anything to stop the avalanche of paper; and sometimes we have a peek, and we actually read something that has just been adopted by our rulers, and we feel we are in danger of going mad.
It must have been about 10pm on Monday when I was waiting to vote and someone gave me a copy of a Labour-generated regulation only hours old. It described a new definition of a "British film", and I could feel I was about to slip the guy-ropes of reality. Take all the political correctness of the Government; add the pernicketiness of Gordon Brown; throw in the sheer lunacy of the European Commission - and you begin to understand.
You might have assumed that a "British film" was a relatively straightforward concept. A British car is, broadly speaking, a car made in Britain. A British cheese is a cheese made in a British dairy. A British film is therefore a film made in the UK; and by that definition the British film industry has been doing rather well lately. Eight of the top 20 UK box office releases last year were made in Britain, and a healthy total of £486 million was invested in production in the first half of this year, up on £276 million for the same period in the previous year. James Bond, Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, Wallace and Gromit: these are all big at the box office, and good old gloomadon-popping Lefty Ken Loach is keeping the end up for high culture with his Palme d'Or-winning celebration of Irish republicanism.
There may be some curmudgeons who note that this latest inflorescence of British film-making seems to have taken place after widespread allegations of fraud overwhelmed the last tax break, and it was withdrawn. There will be those who say that it is a bit odd to pour taxpayers' money into this industry, just because we are so richly endowed in film studies graduates. There will be some cynics who point out that Hollywood seems to rub along pretty well without money from the state, and that we don't think to subsidise other cutting-edge media industries in which this country is particularly well-furnished, such as newspaper column-writing. But never mind.
Let us leave all such carping on one side, and assume that Gordon Brown is right to want to subsidise British film, on the grounds that you have got to chuck a sprat to catch a minnow. Let us indulge his efforts to funnel £120 million down the gullet of our needy film industry. It is not so much the subsidy that is objectionable, as the bureaucratic hell he has created. As soon as the Brussels EU commission got word of the plan, they saw the problem. "What ees these?" said the competition directorate. "It is a state aid," they said. "It is forbidden." So the junior Arts minister Shaun Woodward went out to plead with the Commission. Oh please let us subsidise our film industry, he begged. It is very important. We have loads of brilliant film studies graduates, we have a great reservoir of talent, we have untold numbers of grips and gaffers and best boys and all they need is the vital lubricant of taxpayer's dosh and soon they will be producing another wonderful highbrow film like the one extolling Irish republicanism.
Mais non, said the commission. You cannot just give them the money like this. You can only do it if you say it is promoting your national culture. Hmm, said Shaun, wondering whether extolling Irish republicanism was the same thing as extolling British culture. You mean we can only bung this money to British film-makers if we can show that there is something really quintessentially British about these films?
That's right, said the Commission officials, who are ever suspicious of the influence of Hollywood on the European audio-visual sector. We don't want a load of American films masquerading as British films, said the commission. We will allow you to subsidise only genuinely British films! Vraiment Britannique! Echt Britischer! OK said Shaun Woodward, and the result is that we now have this demented points system.
In order to qualify as a British film, you have to show that your effort is in some way an emanation of our national culture, and you need to score 16 out of a possible 31 points for "Britishness". So you can get four points, for instance, if at least two of the three lead characters are "British characters", and only one point if one of the three lead characters is a "British character". You may ask yourself what the hell a "British character" may be. Is Dick van Dyke a "British character" in the Hollywood musical Mary Poppins, even though he speaks in an accent unknown to the rest of the human race? Then we are told that "one point will be awarded if the film includes a significant representation or reflection of British cultural heritage. Two points will be awarded if the film includes an outstanding representation or reflection of British cultural heritage". Che?
There is a big US box-office success involving a Daily Telegraph feature-writer played by Kate Winslet. Is she a "significant representation" of British culture, or is the Telegraph really "outstanding"? I know the answer - but opinions will differ. And so it goes on, in amazing detail.
You can get points depending on how much English is spoken, on what passport your film crews hold, and at every stage it will be up to some bureaucrat in the Department of Culture to decide how British you really are. You get extra points for using British locations, so that if you have a production of Shakespeare and you are only on 15 points you will be tempted to call it Othello the Moor of Little Venice or Hamlet Prince of Denmark Hill. The whole thing is a goldmine for lawyers. The least Shaun can do, having inflicted this madness upon us, is to minimise the new taxpayer-funded jobs and ask his butler to process the applications himself.