I don’t quite know how this works, but the Swedish film industry appears to be in far finer fettle than its British equivalent. I’ve just been watching the beautifully shot Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and even taking into account the fact that the original novel was Swedish and became an international mega-bestseller, the effort put into the film puts our own sorry efforts into sharp relief. Sure, we can production-line costume dramas and make silly Mockney gangster flicks, but if there is a modicum of originality out there, it’s being hidden behind a load of rubbish. What was the last massive British breakout hit that wasn’t formulaic? Where’s the creative risk-taking?
With films like Let The Right One In and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Sweden seems to have access to a surprisingly healthy supply of actors, directors, cinematographers, and something else: balls. While the British film industry is increasingly conservative with a small ‘c’ despite having a potential audience of over sixty million people who could go to the cinema, the Swedes have only a sixth of our population yet are willing to go for the jugular and be very ambitious both when it comes to the stories they tell and the way those stories are filmed. With a comparatively limited potential audience, they must be pretty reliant on foreign sales. Yet regardless of the economics, they’re taking more risks and are less beholden to playing it safe.
But is this a reflection of what is being filmed in the UK, or just what is actually being released? Is there an undercurrent of British brilliance that isn’t seeing the light of day? If so, why not? Those multiplexes so swamped with American fare would doubtless be full of people eager to see a good British film if it was properly marketed. I’m not talking about well trodden Hugh Grant fare here – I’m on about properly ambitious new stuff. Maybe there lies the rub – too many advertising dollars and too much screen space is going to the big US movies, not to potential left-field British indie hits. Get Richard Curtis or someone famous involved and maybe you’ll get a bit of press, but otherwise you’re up flop creek without a paddle given the lack of hard-nosed conviction when it comes to selling your wares. It’s about time the British authorities thought about what UK audiences might want to see, and how other countries are currently pushing well above their weight. Until then the Swedish film industry will continue to flourish, while Britain lies in the doldrums. And Five Weddings and A Funeral isn’t the answer.