Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Contemporary British Cinema

ENGL 261.401
TR 10:30-12

This class is a survey of some important British films of the last twenty years. Our particular points of emphasis will be as much political and sociological as aesthetic. The Thatcher years (1979-1990) represent a period of extreme political reaction, nationalistic jingoism, and drastic cuts in state sponsorship of the arts. And yet this is the very period of putative rebirth and rejuvenation of British cinema. We will attempt to understand the relationship between the significant social, economic, and political upheavals of this period and the emergence of new cinematic styles, projects, and systems of production. We will consider such topics as the role of television in funding much of the most respected work of the eighties; the rise of film and video collectives in the U.K.; the emergence of black and women filmmakers; and the changing relationship between the British film industry, American distributors, and international audiences. We will trace these developments onwards through the nineties, from the immediate aftermath of the Thatcher era to the hegemony of New Labour. And we will try to do some justice to the specificity of film as an art form and to the particular qualities of each of the works we view together. Each student will work on a single sustained piece of scholarly research throughout the semester, culminating in a 20-page essay. There will be five or six exams, covering not only the films that have been screened but also the reading assignments and lectures.