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British Film History


England First in Film

*The very first motion picture camera patented in the WORLD.. was patented in England in 1888 (see below)
*The film produced in England were the first in the WORLD called Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge in 1888.
The first feature film over 1 hour was
Oliver Twist in 1912.
The first COLOR feature film over 1 hour was the World, the Flesh and the Devil in 1914

The first 'talkie' produced was Blackmail in 1929. The Terror was released earlier but wasn't produced in the UK.

The Mystery That Started It All

The very first motion picture camera patented in the WORLD.. was patented in England by French-born Louis Aime Augustin Le Prince in 1888.

The first films were made on a sensitised paper roll a little over 2 inches wide. In 1889, Prince was able to obtain celluloid roll film from Eastman when it was introduced in England.

Prince started commercial development of his motion picture camera in early 1890 with an updated version. He arranged for a demostration to M. Mobisson, the Secretary of the Paris Opera.

On September 16 1890, Prince boarded a train at Dijon bound for Paris with his motion picture camera and films. He never arrived in Paris. No trace of Prince OR his motion picture camera were EVER found. The mystery was never solved.

2 fragments of film is all that has survived from Prince and his camera. Both taken in 1888, one at 10 frames per second and one at 20 frames per second.

Everything basically stood still for the next 5 years......

In 1895, George Trajedis, a Greek showman, approached R. W. Paul who owned an optical instrument works in Saffron Hill, to manufacture some Edison Kinetoscope projectors. Edison had not patented them in the UK.

Once they were made... Edison refused to sell films for pirated machines, so Paul approached Birt Acres to help construct a camera to shoot their own films. They obtained film from the American Celluloid Co. of Newark, N.J. and started filming their own with Birt Acres as the cameraman.

Their first screening was at the London headquarters of the Royal Photographic Society, 14 Hanover Square on January 14, 1896.

On February 20, 1896, French magician Felicien Trewey had the first screening before a PAYING audience using a Lumiere Cinematopraphe at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. He had a 3 week engagement and charged 1s.

The first showing outside of London was by Birt Acres at Cardiff Town Hall on May 5, 1896. The first commercial showing of a film that they produced was the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race which was shown at Earl's Court on May 27, 1896.

Over the next few years, William Friese-Green, made excellent advancements toward the creation of the British cameras. Unfortunately his technology was not successfully incorporated into any practical application. G.A.Smith devised the first colour system, Kinemacolor, in 1908.

By 1909, Pathe and Gaumont began flooding the British market with films and the UK fell rapidly behind.

World War I brought the UK film industry almost to a halt. Immediately after the war, though efforts were made to resume production and pick up the industry, films remained very live theatre oriented, filming a play exactly as it had been performed on stage and with the same actors and sets. British film industry did not keep pace with the advances being made abroad and quickly became technically out of date. The British public wanted to see American films, and by 1918, there was no money left for home production.

This continued on a downward trend until production stopped in 1924. Finally the Parliment stepped in to help by passing the Cinematographers Trade Bill, which was designed to ensure there was a guaranteed home market for British made films. It limited the number of movies coming from other countries to give home studios a chance. The result was more British movies, but the majority of them were very poor quality.

The advent of sound offered more challenges to the British Film Industry's financial stability. In 1929 for example, 138 films were made and the growth looked promising. In 1933, J. Arthur Rank, who had started by making religious films, founded British National. In 1935, he went into partnership with C.M.Woolf to take over Pinewood Studios.

At the same time, Oscar Deutsch was building up the Odeon chain of cinemas. But by 1937, the boom turned into a slump. The year before, the British film industry had over produced, making 220 pictures. The result was poorly made, rushed films that were not worth watching and nobody wanted. This had a backlash effect and opened the door to the American industry, and American companies started buying the British Production companies so they would qualify under the home market quota.

Soon with the start of World War II, the industry took another turn. Many of the studio employees were engaged in the war, reducing available manpower. Half the studio space was requisitioned for military purposes, and only an average of 60 films were produced annually.

The British public demanded more realistic films, so British studios turned to documentaries and war related movies.

After the war, the Rank Organization became the dominant force in the industry. The shift was to make British films more acceptable to the audiences outside of the UK. In addition, television caused such a tremendous decline in attendance that British theaters were closing in record numbers. Studios switched to producing TV shows and TV movies to stay afloat. Even though there were a few bright spots over the next few decades like Hammer Films, the British production on its own was rather bleak.

In the late 50's, 60's and 70s, restrictions on the US studios soon had US studios looking at the UK as a production ground, almost like US studio outposts. There was such an influx of US production in the UK that American finances virtually took over the British industry. Some of this produced a large group of British actors that in the US were thought of as US actors instead of British... These included such fine actors as: Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Tom Courtney, Richard Harris, Julie Christie, Richard Todd, Laurence Harvey, Richard Burton, Peter Finch, Peter Sellers, Terrence Stamp, Donald Pleasance, Paul Scofield and directors such as Richard Attenborough, Brian Forbes and Ken Russell.

The late 70's and 80's saw British production turning to more television production and branching into more special effects studios for major US studios like Superman, Star Wars and the James Bond series. But by the late 80's, there seemed to be a major decline in US production in the UK.

With this vacuum being created, there seems to have started a renewal of independently made British movies. Through the 90's, British production has increased with such hits as Trainspotting, Brassed Off, Elizabeth, The Full Monty etc. Hopefully the trend will continue to stablize with more solid British production.

Here's a list of the British films in our database




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