Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

British Cinema

ENGL 2420.401
also offered as: ARTH 2930/CIMS 2420/COML 2420
TR 12-1:29pm


This is a wide-ranging introduction to the “other” major cinema in English: the films of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The British film industry has been thriving in the 21st century, but it remains the underdog in a global media environment dominated by Hollywood. We will consider some of the ways British filmmakers have positioned themselves in the space of world cinema and television as close rivals or radical alternatives to the American model. Our approach will be to study two films a week, mixing films from the 21st century with films from earlier moments in British cinema history from the 1930s through the 1990s. Our aim will be to discern some of the enduring cinematic modes and transatlantic strategies that contribute to the national “signature” of British film. Our screenings will run the gamut from the big-budget James Bond and Harry Potter franchise to mid-sized transnational productions such as Pride & Prejudice and Slumdog Millionaire, to more independent or artisanal work by such directors as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Sally Potter, Michael Winterbottom, Lynne Ramsay, and Andrea Arnold. A number of films we will study were made for British television, and we will devote some attention to the important and changing relationship between TV and cinema in contemporary screen culture.

Written work for the class will include four quizzes (no final), two 1-page research findings about the business side of the film industry, a 3-page formal analysis essay, and a research paper with various options, including a creative-writing option. Viewing every film at least once is required, but reading is light. There are no prerequisites and no expectation that you have any expertise in British cinema or culture. If you enjoy watching and talking about films and learning about how they were made and in what ways they succeeded or failed with audiences, you can do well in this class.


English Major Requirements
  • Sector 1 Theory and Poetics (AETP)
  • Sector 6 20th & 21st Centuries (AE20)
English Concentration Attributes
  • 20th-21st Century Concentration (AE21)
  • Theory & Cultural Studies Concentration (AETC)
College Attributes
  • Foundational Approach: Cross Cultural Analysis (AUCC)
Additional Attributes