Sunday, 30 May 2010

Working on the Title

Roger Michell's trailer for MORNING GLORY hit the internet this week. The trailer strikes me as a fairly run-of-the-mill comedy about broadcasting that will most likely skew towards a white middle-class female demographic. Michell is best known for directing another white female skewing middle-class comedy called NOTTING HILL. NOTTING HILL firmly reinforced WORKING TITLE FILMS as the UK's powerhouse production company. Working Title's success initially came in 1994 when they released FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL to serious international acclaim and monstrous box-office coin. FOUR WEDDINGS was directed by Mike Newell, who like Michell, is an Oxbridge educated director who started in theatre and television before being elevated to the next level by Working Title Films.

Working Title Films is the closest you'll get to a US-type film production outfit existing in Britain. It has plush offices in the heart of London, attractive receptionists manning the phones and a development slate that is geared to finding a balance between commerciality and exportability. Yet, for its entire success one cannot help but feel their post-1994 films reflect an exclusive feeling about Britain and its people. Their movies by default seem effeminate, twee and horrendously posh. There isn't a Working Title film that echoes the lives of middle-England, or even the middle-class experience of living in middle-England. Working Title Films' recent output is unashamedly white in its casting choices and notably bereft of cross-social characterisations. They've channelled an almost unreal image of British life that may have proved exportable but further manifests a reluctance to produce progressive movies that depict an ever-changing image of Britain. Working Title Films have suffered a hammering over the last 12 months with some high-profile pictures like STATE OF PLAY and GREEN ZONE proving to be amazingly costly failures; so much so parent company Universal Picture pulled the plug on Joe Wright's (a regular Working Title Films director who surprisingly didn't even go to university, let alone an Oxbridge one) adaptation of Alex von Tunzelmann's INDIAN SUMMER- which concerned the alleged affair between Jawaharlal Nehru and the wife of the last viceroy of the British Indian Empire Lord Mountbatten set against the backdrop of the Indian Partition- because of a lack in confidence in the film's rumored $40 million budget recouping its costs in a fragile box-office that is largely shunning lavish prestige pictures... the very pictures Working Title Films are known for. Working Title seem to be reigning in their risk taking ambitions further by announcing they're looking to produce another BRIDGET JONES film and some other lightweight pedestrian projects. Nevertheless, credit should be given to the company for having produced the majority of Coen Bros. movies and co-producing 1990s African American genre movies like POSSE and PANTHER (films that were the antithesis of white and middle-class). They also brought Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur to the international forefront by letting him direct ELIZABETH and its follow up THE GOLDEN AGE. It seems a shame their home-grown British produce no longer transmits the edgy and atypical choices their earlier films conveyed before they realised a banal formula for what seemed to be, for a time, guaranteed international commercial success. I think a regime change is essential to help Working Title Films get back to being the breath of fresh it once was before boredom and greed took over.


  1. Point taken about the 'middle classness' of WT films. But isn't this what the Yanks want? I would argue that these types of films have contributed greatly to bringing the Yankee tourist dollar into the UK. Working Title are also responsible for Billy Elliot. This former was nominated for 3 academy awards - surely a success and very definitlely not in the Notting Hill/ 4 Weddings mould...

  2. Yes, but BILLY ELLIOT was produced by WT2 which is Working Title's sister arm that was set up to make more left-field films that included SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I agree with your view of Working Title making movies that prove attractive to the Yakee Dollar, but what a shite image of UK people and culture they present. I would like to see more range in their big releases... don't you?