Research: The stories we tell ourselves – The cultural impact of UK Film 1946-2006 (2009)

my way home

Taking 200 iconic films made over the last 60 years this report shows how important film has been in sustaining and developing the identity of the UK’s nations and regions, and in reflecting the changing face of Britain’s different communities. Drawing on real life examples, it charts the extraordinary power a successful British film can wield at home and abroad. For example, in 1960, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning fundamentally and rapidly changed perceptions of class and regional identity in England or in 2002, Bend it like Beckham was the catalyst that launched all-women football in India.


  • The findings confirm that film is a key arena in British cultural life, projecting and debating British values and identities, and remains potent despite the pervasive impact of television and US cinema.
  • The study offers a preliminary set of tools for assessing its cultural impact across four key areas - (i) Censorship and notoriety, (ii) Quotations and references in other media, (iii) Zeitgeist moments, (iv) Cumulative impact where films have defined shared cultural perceptions over time.
  • The cultural impact of British film can no longer be seen as the product of a single kind of consumption. In a fast-changing media landscape, theatrical exhibition does not have the monopoly on the extent of a film’s potential cultural impact. The internet for example, has proved to be a fertile public space for information and conversation about films, there are now highly democratic virtual communities of interlocutors, sharing information, recommendations and providing an alternative to top-down hierarchy of critical judgement,
  • In recent decades, European policy has enhanced the opportunities for distinctively British films to extend their cultural impact into Europe through co-production and distribution support. Many films by distinguished British filmmakers such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach have benefited from these developments, helping them reach audiences abroad and build the cultural impact of British cinema internationally.
  • Significant new opportunities exist for public policy to enhance the cultural impact of film by taking advantage of the multi-platform dissemination in the digital age, through investment in education, training, as well as support through the UK tax system for the production of distinctively British films.

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