How Will Brexit Transform the UK Film Industry?

Based on UK filmmakers’ showing at TIFF, there’s hope for cultural export amid the economic uncertainty.

How To Build A Girl
Monumental Pictures

If there has been any lesson to learn from British politics in the past few years, it’s that nothing stays constant for long. The Brexit deadline — already extended from the original exit date of March 29th — is currently set for Halloween, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has prevented Parliament from convening and drafting new Brexit legislation for the next few weeks. Johnson, who recently compared himself to the Incredible Hulk to much trolling from the British press, has only amplified the level of political drama, disruption, and persistent uncertainty that has plagued the UK since the Brexit referendum result way back in 2016.

Leaving the European Union has economic consequences for every sector of British industry, including forecasted repercussions for film production. But based on work by UK directors just released at the Toronto International Film Festival and programmed for the British Film Institute’s (BFI) London Film Festival in October (with Brexit the massive elephant in the room), filmmakers seem ready to adapt to an uncertain landscape and attract international partnerships.

While Brexit has inspired much commentary and satire, including the dramatized TV movie aptly titled Brexit starring Benedict Cumberbatch, leaving the EU would cause a dramatic logistical shift for UK filmmakers and affect filmgoers as well. Restricting freedom of movement and work authorizations for EU citizens jeopardizes the potential ability to find labor and film crews for UK-based productions. Ireland could become the main destination for major big-budget developments instead, with a more favorable system of tax incentives, EU membership, and corresponding European film subsidies.

Even if Brexit’s political and legal intricacies resolve themselves in the coming weeks, it will be a long road to renegotiate international trade with the rest of Europe in the years to come. This uncertainty will most likely drive studio investments and long-term projects away from the UK. Unless there is an active effort to change that course.

In contrast to the political and economic doom and gloom rhetoric coming out of UK news, British filmmakers at TIFF have continued to shine through with work that emphasizes the best the UK has to offer in diverse storytelling and collaboration. From Armando Iannucci’s star-studded The Personal History of David Copperfield and Rupert Goold’s Judy to the more intimate Military Wives by Peter Cattaneo and Ordinary Love by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, there’s no shortage of talent coming from Britain’s cultural exports.

There are also positive prospects for woman-led projects and international partnerships, even in spite of fears about cultural isolation as a result of Brexit. A24 recently acquired North American distribution rights to the psychological horror film Saint Maud, which could promote British filmmaking and director Rose Glass to a wider indie audience.

How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc and adapted from the novel by Caitlin Moran, was also produced by the women-founded company Monumental Pictures. The movie stars Beanie Feldstein as a working-class English teen reinventing herself as a music critic, completing a fascinating trilogy of Feldstein’s crowd-pleasing coming-of-age roles spanning decades and continents that also includes Lady Bird and Booksmart.

Diversity and inclusion is part of a greater strategy to keep UK filmmaking on the map at film festivals, according to the BFI’s director of international affairs, and that strategy seems to have paid off at TIFF. This expansive vision for the future of the UK film industry directly contradicts Brexit’s inward-looking vision and indicates a transformation of the industry rather than full destruction. Directors and producers face the difficult balancing act of looser ties with Europe but potential avenues for growth in North America.

Looking forward, it could be an uphill battle to finance UK-based films in comparison to the EU due to the increased barriers and migration limitations. But filmmakers currently seem more willing to accept and adapt to long term changes in our interconnected global economy, to trailblaze a new path for British film rather than becoming restricted by short term politics.

Brexit has put the UK in the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons, but the value of UK writers, directors, and actors has not changed. For viewers, the rise of streaming in the digital landscape reduces cultural barriers and does not require a passport. British cultural exports are inseparable from the wider online culture, so do not worry about Black Mirror or The Great British Bake Off vanishing overnight because of what happens in the UK Parliament. Brexit is an example of how the political, economic, and cultural are intertwined, with political shocks reverberating and echoing into the realm of art.

(Intern)

Chicago native & semi-professional intern. Shares a birthday with Lucas Hedges.