The lesson of 90s British cinema

The lesson of 90s British cinema

Who has never thought at least once "but it was not better before?" watching any movies or TV series today? With the release of Wedding Season on Disney Plus, there has been much reflection on how British cinema has changed over time, and not always in a positive way.

Click here to subscribe to Disney + for € 1.99 for a month. Only until 19/09 Sometimes there is a strange impression, as if the enormous filmography of that decade is a trend in itself, a parenthesis crystallized over time and an indissoluble watershed between the before and after. It often happens to say "it would have made sense only in the 90s" around works that, in an attempt to look back, betray a way of making cinema that is now almost impossible to propose, out of context, out of time. But does it make sense to talk about a real "past vs present"? And, above all, is this film bubble to be looked at negatively or with nostalgia for a great era?

Two strong films of the nineties

If you think of British cinema of the early years' 90, we do not always refer to a rosy period. While UK theaters are filling up again, there are few film products that reach significant market figures. James Ivory's What Remains of the Day (1993) is one of the biggest exceptions: with $ 21.9 million in the United States and countless nominations (Oscar, Golden Globe, David di Donatello, Nastro D'Argento and many others), it even wins a position on the BFI 100, the list of the 100 best British films of the 20th century. On the other hand, how could it not, thanks not only to the direction but also to the masterful interpretation of Anthony Hopkins, much appreciated by critics.| ); }
Four weddings and a funeral The second half of this controversial decade is instead baptized by what will soon become a great classic. This is Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), precisely the starting point chosen from the aforementioned Wedding Season series. Forerunner of later films that are soon destined to become cult stars even today, it sees actors and actresses such as Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in the prime of their years and their careers: a couple ready to become iconic. It too is included in the BFI 100 in 1999 and takes 23rd place.

The genres of British cinema

British cinema - and together with it the international one - associated with the nineties a vast set of cinematographic genres, among the most disparate and different from each other. From drama to science fiction, from new gangster to psychological thriller.

Shakespeare in Love

Different models of comedy

A sub-genre very dear to the British public is that of the so-called true comedy, with a frank and direct comedy. Films such as Peter Cattaneo's Full Monty - penniless organized (1997) or, in the same year, David Evans' Fever at 90 °, based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, starring a very young Colin Firth as the leading actor, are popular.

Again, why not mention director Guy Ritchie with his comedy thriller. He made his film debut in 1998 with Lock & Stock - Unleashed, combining subtle and brilliant humor with action, in a context that reflects life in the UK suburbs. He will return to the same line in 2000 with Snatch.

It is towards a similar direction that the British director Danny Boyle enters, with what will be destined to become a true cult: we are clearly talking about Trainspotting (1996 ), a film that combines that thin veil of humor with a dramatic reality, creating an almost grotesque product, which has always been appreciated by the public and critics. In fact, he wins a good position in the BFI 100.

Trainspotting Four weddings and a funeral, a true leader, lays the foundations for a trend that soon becomes the very essence of British production: the romantic comedy. One could speak of a real scheme; and if on the one hand it creates interweaving that are not too dissimilar - hence a series of clichés -, on the other hand it creates a vast filmography that soon leaves its mark. Just think of films like Notting Hill (1999), again with Hugh Grant and, this time, a very young Julia Roberts.

Reflections in the 2000s

These are certainly not too sophisticated stories , endowed with a simplicity that to a certain audience today would seem almost silly. Yet this recurring pattern found an excellent reception in the very first years of the 2000s. Only one title, The Diary of Bridget Jones (2001) by Sharon Maguire - a young Colin Firth returns with Renée Zellweger - manages to speak for itself. A modern reinterpretation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this sentimental comedy really manages to readjust the narrative of the past, cross the trends of the previous decade and bring them back to the public. Something new and original is born, still iconic. A light humor persists that never gets old; shrewd, never excessive or redundant, nor insane, still capable of eliciting more than a laugh.

The mistake of our days

But why, then, if you try to do such a experiment in 2022, this almost always turns out to be a total fiasco? In thirty years, whatever the cinematographic genre, the elements of film-making have varied exponentially. A more linear script is almost always replaced by a taste for intricacy and detail, often falling into a fatal error: sometimes the right answer is the simplest one. We get involved in complex plots, told in an even more complicated way. As long as it works, fine ... But if in the end it turns out to be an unnecessary and dysfunctional hyperbole?

The search for spectacularity is then reflected in the artistic component; for example, an even more sophisticated photograph, with increasingly sophisticated visual effects, sometimes even dominates the story that a film wants to tell. It is as if, from time to time, there was a kind of implicit battle to win the prize for the most surprising product of the year, with a mad desire to overdo it. The most original work becomes impenetrable, as if it were really possible to avoid mentioning the pre-existing cinematography. The most aesthetically pleasing one is a feast for the eyes, however it risks underestimating a good story. The most nostalgic could miss those simple, effective plots, narrated with good direction, as the 90s have always proposed to do, exploiting the means available.

The new comedy: a sore point

If it has been said that British cinema expresses itself with comedy, romantic or not, it must be admitted that, over time, the sense of humor undergoes an at times embarrassing decline. It will be the tendency to always do too much, it will be that certain jokes and puns do not make you laugh, but contemporary comedy suffers a meltdown, always due to the spasmodic desire to overdo it. In short, we are still talking about the United Kingdom which, in the nineties, based its comedy not only on works already mentioned, but also on iconic characters such as Mr. Bean, thus involving not only cinema but also television series. The latter offers the viewer a particular type of hilarity that is almost no longer found, even linked to the slapstick comedy of silent cinema, and is perhaps a good thing precisely for that sort of crystallization we have just talked about. So it's time to create a new, fresh comedy; it is necessary to update, to evolve, but this celebration of exaggeration cannot convince everyone.

And when today's comedy meets other genres and joins them, it is precisely at this moment that one senses how some of them find their own do not work. Costume films continue to be a strong passion for TV series (such as Downton Abbey: here the Complete Collection) and for British cinema. La Favorita (2018) by Yorgos Lanthimos, is a grotesque costumed opera, an emblem of the union between historical drama and that pinch of comedy: a now indissoluble formula. If on the one hand we have a valid product in a broad sense, positively received by critics, on the other hand it is difficult to deny the presence of a humor that betrays that vein so loved by the English public. And that ability to harmoniously enrich a historical film like Shakespeare in Love with that pleasant and light humor, now becomes an uncontrolled desire to arouse laughter, falling into an excess that is sometimes even unpleasant.

Seriality British television

Wanting to answer the very first question posed here, it is impossible to speak of "good" or "bad" compared to the past or the present. To be clear, it is certainly not all to be thrown away. In the last decade, cinema and especially British television series have given the public interesting projects: from a one-of-a-kind screenplay to a series of spectacular aesthetics. It would be crazy to name them all: Sherlock (2010), Fleabag in 2016 along with The Crown - the link with English history is always alive. Again Good Omens (2019), starring the beloved David Tennant, already in the heart of the English public thanks to Doctor Who in the early 2000s.

Another interesting work, recently completed, is the spy-thriller series Killing Eve, which belongs to another genre dear to the British tradition and which, with Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, combines tension with a light and sophisticated humor, certainly not like that of the 90s but not even similar to today's unsuccessful experiments. This is where the new English series on Disney Plus arises. Wedding Season takes Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral as its model. Indeed, it wants to copy that narrative scheme that worked at the time but which, now, loses its sense of existing, especially if applied to that desire to overdo it and to exaggerate and to that comedy so excessive as to be almost inopportune.

Weddinig Season To confirm what has been said about the cinema, even in the TV series there are jokes that often don't make you so funny, improbable and decontextualized situations, such as the desire to arouse the laughed even at a time when the more serious thriller character should be the real protagonist. A narrative so fluctuating and so full of flashbacks that one feels the lack of a simple, easy-to-read TV, devoid of those virtuosities through which you cannot juggle as you think or as you would like. And when it is no longer a feature film but many episodes lasting one hour each, what could have been a pleasant viewing turns into a tiring process of decoding and metabolization. Also this time, as in the cinema, while something evolves, something else risks devolution, as if in the eager attempt to aim ever further forward there was a neglect of aspects and fundamental elements that, instead, the nineties had in mind .

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