In films we are another country;Opinion

19th March 1999 at 00:00
IF Shakespeare in Love wins all the Oscars this weekend it's going to be even more difficult to keep our children away. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the film's naive assumption that all art is really autobiography, I don't mind the coy flashes of nudity and Simon Callow pretending to be a heterosexual Lord Chamberlain is quite amusing. Callow is better cast - and much more convincing - in Four Weddings and a Funeral, another fine British film but both bother me with their craven massaging of the American ego.

The plot of Four Weddings is nonsensical because Andie MacDowell, an exotic American stranger at the beginning of the film, keeps getting invited to all the weddings of Hugh Grant's English friends. Similarly Shakespeare in Love feels the need to have its Elizabethan heroine, Gwyneth Paltrow, striding off heroically into the brave new world of Virginia at the end, leaving the Brits behind in scruffy, stuffy, squabbling London town.

Here, in what's left of the United Kingdom, we suffer a relentless cultural imperialism as Hollywood plunders our past for heroic roles. Films like A Bridge too Far have to be rewritten so that Robert Redford can play the one plucky (and wholly fictional) US officer who could have saved Arnhem, had not the scruffy, stuffy English Tank Corps been sticklers for protocol. And now we learn that a new film about the cracking of Enigma is going to ascribe this crucial achievement of World War II to some plucky (and equally fictional) Yanks, yet again.

I don't blame the Americans for omitting the British contribution to D-Day in films like Saving Private Ryan (although I did have to explain to my son that we were there.) Patriotism never deals even-handedly with the past and we all know that Americans suffer from acute Indiana Jones Syndrome - believing one man can defeat an entire Reich providing he's 100 per cent Uncle Sam. What galls me is directors like Richard Attenborough (A Bridge too Far) Mike Newell (Four Weddings) and John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) keeping Hollywood's money men happy by denigrating their country.

There is a distinction to be drawn between crude xenophobia and simple self-respect, and too many of our British films are costing us the latter.

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