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MA3071 Contemporary British Cinema

Tutor: Prof John Hill

Teaching: 20 hours lecture, 20 hours seminar

Value: 1

Availability: Autumn and Spring


The course will critically examine key issues and themes in the study of contemporary British cinema.

The aims of the course are

to extend students’ knowledge of British cinema and explore key critical issues relevant to the study of contemporary British filmmaking

  • to familiarise students with the characteristics of the British film industry and  British film policy and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses
  • to acquaint students with the main forms of contemporary British film and critically assess the aesthetic, political and representational strategies adopted by British filmmakers
  • to encourage students to consolidate and extend their use of the concepts and critical methods involved in film studies in order to analyse and assess the main features of contemporary  British cinema.

Topics will Include

  • the changing structures of the British film industry
  • the relationship of British cinema to Hollywood and European cinema
  • the operation of film and video censorship in Britain
  • the characteristics of British film policy
  • British cinema as “national” and regional cinema
  • representations of the past and heritage cinema
  • representations  of race, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary British cinema
  • the realist tradition in contemporary British filmmaking
  • contemporary British “art cinema”
  • the “Celtic fringe” and regional films


This course is taught by weekly 2-hour seminars.  These seminars will consist of an interactive lecture and a seminar.  This will include assessed seminar presentations (see below).  You are expected to make a contribution to all seminars.  This is the time for you to try out ideas and to develop your skills of communication. In addition to formal classes, this course has a reading week which is intended to provide you with the opportunity to catch up with your reading and viewing and undertake your own independent research.


Attendance at seminars is compulsory. Attendance will be recorded each week, and failure to attend at least 70% without prior consultation or reasonable cause may result in your failing the course. Reasonable cause may include (but is not limited to): illness, family circumstances, transportation difficulties, acts of God, etc. Leave of absence on medical or other grounds can only be granted by the Head of Department and only on production of appropriate written explanation (doctor’s/therapist’s letter, etc.). If there is an ongoing problem which is persistently affecting your ability to do your work, you should let your personal advisor know as soon as you become aware of it, so that suitable provision may be made.

Reading and Viewing

Each week’s topic is accompanied by designated readings in the Course Pack and required viewing, which will form the basis for class discussion. This is supplemented by further reading relevant to the course. You are not expected to read everything on the list but should select from it according to your interests and in relation to your preparation for seminars and coursework. Purchase of the Course Pack is a prerequisite for enrolment on the course and weekly readings are compulsory. Copies of all the films to be discussed should be available for private viewing from Founders’ Library and you are expected to have viewed these prior to classes.


NB: Failure to view the designated film or read the week’s designated reading may lead to an unexcused absence recorded against your name for that session.

Seminar Presentations

10% of your overall mark for this course will be based on your seminar presentations.  You will be asked to give a pre-prepared formal presentation for one week of the course.  This will be agreed in Week 2 of Term 1. You will be assessed on the quality of the content of your presentation, the quality of your oral presentation skills and your success in stimulating discussion.  In terms of the style of your presentation, you may be as creative as possible, but the presentation should demonstrate an engagement with the reading(s) and screening for that week.


  • Seminar Presentations: 10%
  • Two 5,000 word essays: 90% (45% each)


Precise dates will be given at a later date.


  • Essay 1 is due in Week 5 of the Spring Term.
  • Essay 2 is due in Week 1 of the Summer Term

Each essay must be submitted to the Media Arts Department Office.


You may incorporate work from your seminar presentations in your essays.

Essays should be typed, double-spaced, and in all other regards conform to the style sheet included in the Students’ Handbook. Essays will be assessed in terms of your understanding of the topic, evidence of reading, clarity of argument, use of evidence, originality, capacity for constructive critical analysis and overall presentation.


Unless you have been granted an extension, an essay that is submitted late will automatically lose 5% of its possible mark for every day it is late. After 7 days, a piece of work will automatically be awarded a FAIL, unless you have provided medical or other evidence in your support.  Extensions can only be granted by the Head of Department and only on production of appropriate written explanation (doctor’s letter, etc.).


You should take careful note of the regulations regarding plagiarism included with each list of essay questions. As you ought to know, plagiarism is a serious offence which will not be treated lightly and which can seriously affect your marks and even delay the award of your degree. If we have any suspicion that work submitted to us is plagiarised, we will immediately refer the issue to the College authorities for further action. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism, err on the side of caution or (better still) ask. If you are caught plagiarising, this will be indicated in all future references provided by the University (e.g. for job applications).

Course Programme

Week 1- The UK Film Industry (1)

Reading: Hill, John (1999), “Cinema” in J. Stokes and A. Reading (eds.) The Media in Britain: Current Debates and Developments (Macmillan: Basingstoke), pp. 74-87. 

Week 2 - The UK Film Industry (2) [David Steele] 

Reading: UK Film Council, Film in the UK: A Briefing Paper (2007) 

Week 3 - The Heritage Film

Screening: A Room with a View (James Ivory, 1985) 

Reading: Higson, Andrew (1991), "Re-presenting the National Past : Nostalgia and Pastiche in the Heritage film", in Lester Friedman (ed.), British Cinema and Thatcherism, (London: UCL), pp.109-129.  Monk, Claire (1995), "Sexuality and the Heritage", Sight and Sound, vol.5, no.10, pp.32-4.

Week 4 - The Postmodern Heritage film?

Screening: Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998) 

Reading: Church Gibson, Pamela (2000), "Fewer Weddings and More Funerals: Changes in the Heritage Film" in Robert Murphy (ed.), British Cinema of the 90s (London: BFI), pp. 115-24.  Higson, Andrew (2003), English Heritage, English Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 210-31.

Week 5 - Class and Realism

Screening: Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach, 2002) 

Reading: Hill, John (1997), “Interview with Ken Loach” in George McKnight (ed.) Agent of Challenge and Defiance: The Films of Ken Loach (Trowbridge: Flicks Books), pp. 160-176.  Knight, Deborah (1997), “Naturalism, Narration and Critical Perspective: Ken Loach and the Experimental Method” in George McKnight (ed.) Agent of Challenge and Defiance, pp. 60-81.

Week 6 – Reading Week


Week 7 - Politics, History and Realism

Screening: Land and Freedom (Ken Loach, 1995) 

Reading: Christie, Ian (1995), “Film for a Spanish Republic”, Sight and Sound, October 1995, pp. 36-7.  Wayne, Mike (2002), The Politics of Contemporary European Cinema (Bristol: Intellect Books,), pp. 80-3.

Week 8 - British “Art” Cinema (1): Peter Greenaway

Screening: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989) 

Reading: Wollen, Peter (1993), "The Last New Wave: Modernism in the British Films of the Thatcher Era", in Friedman (ed.) British Cinema and Thatcherism, pp.35-51.  Van Wert, William F (1990/91), "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (Review Essay), Film Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 42-50.

Week 9 - British “Art” Cinema (2): Derek Jarman

Screening: Caravaggio  (Derek Jarman, 1986) 

Reading: O’Pray, Michael (1996), Derek Jarman: Dreams of England(London: BFI), pp. 144-53.  Hill, John (2000), "The Rise and Fall of British Art Cinema: A Short History of the 1980s and 1990s", Aura, vol. vi, no. 3, pp. 18-32.

Week 10 - British “Social Art” Cinema

Screening: The Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000) 

Reading: Monk, Claire (2001), “Projecting a New Britain”, Cineaste, vol. xxvi, no. 4, pp. 34-37, 42.  Williams, Christopher (1996), "The Social Art Cinema: a Moment in the History of British Film and Television Culture" in Christopher Williams (ed.) Cinema: the Beginnings and the Future (London: University of Westminster Press), pp.190-200.

Week 11 - Essay tutorials


Spring Term


Week 1 - British Cinema as National Cinemas

Screening: My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985) 

Reading: Hill, John (1997), "British Cinema as National Cinema: Production, Audience and Representation" in Robert Murphy (ed.) The British Cinema Book (London: BFI), pp. 235-254.  Hill, John (1999), British Cinema in the 1980s, pp. 205-18.

Week 2 - Filming London (1)

Screening: Notting Hill (1999) 

Reading:Brunsdon, Charlotte (2004),”London Films: From Private Gardens to Utopian Moments”, Cineaste, vol. xxvi, no. 4, pp.43-6.  Paul Dave, Visions of England (London: Berg, 2006), pp. 45-55.

Week 3 - Filming London (2)

Screening: Wonderland (Michael Winterbottom,1999) 

Reading: Brunsdon, Charlotte (2004), “The Poignancy of Place: London and the Cinema”, Visual Culture in Britain, vol. 5 no. 1, pp. 59-73.

Week 4 - Filming the North (of England) (1)

Screening: Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry, 2000) 


Reading: Marris, Paul (2001), “Northern Realism: An Exhausted Tradition?”, Cineaste, vol. xxvi,  no. 4, pp. 47-50.  Woolridge, Joyce (2003), “Living in the Past: The Imagined North of England in British Films of the 1990s”, Film and Film Culture, no. 2.

Week 5 - Filming the North (of England) (2) 

Screening: Yasmin (Kenneth Glenaan, 2004) 

Reading: Drummond, Philip (2007), “Intercultural Identities in British Film and Television: Shoot the Messenger and Yasmin”, Paper presented to The Realist Impulse: Contemporary Film-making in Britain conference, St. Anne’s College.  

Week 6 – Reading Week


Week 7 - The Trainspotting Effect: Film and Scotland

Screening: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) 

Reading: McLoone, Martin (2001), “Challenging Colonial Traditions: British Cinema in the Celtic Fringe”, Cineaste, vol. xxvi, no. 4, pp. 51-4.  Petrie, Duncan (2000), Screening Scotland (London: BFI), chap. 9.

Week 8 - Cinema and Wales

Screening: Twin Town (Kevin Allen, 1997)

Reading: Perrins, Darryl (2000), “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” in Steve Blandford (ed.), Wales on Screen (Bridgend: Seren, 2000), pp. 152-67.  Stanton, Gareth (2002), “New Welsh Cinema as Postcolonial Critique?”, Journal of Popular British Cinema, no. 5, pp. 77-89.

Week 9 - Film Censorship in the UK   [Jim Barratt]

Screening: This is England (Shane Meadows, 2007) 

Reading: Barratt, A.J.B. (2001), “Video: Video Classification, British Law and Practice” in Derek Jones (ed.) Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (London, Fitzroy Dearborn).  ‘British Film and Video Censorship and Classification’, http://www.terramedia.co.uk/law/british_film_censorship.htm

Week 10 - Government Policy and British Film

Screening: In This World (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

Reading: Margaret Dickinson and Sylvia Harvey, “Film Policy in the United Kingdom: New Labour at the Movies”, The Political Quarterly, vol. 76 no. 3, 2005.  Ryall, Tom (2002), “New Labour and the Cinema: culture, politics and economics”, Journal of Popular British Cinema, no. 5, pp. 5-20.

Week 11 - Essay tutorials 


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