Studying the British Crime Film – Paul Elliott

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Ever since its inception, British cinema has been obsessed with crime and the criminal. Yet for a genre that is seemingly so important to the British cinematic character, there is little direct theoretical or historical work written upon it. Studying the British Crime Film makes the assumption that, in order to know how British cinema truly works, it is necessary to pull back the veneer of the costume piece, the historical drama or the rom-com and take a glimpse at what hides beneath.

Description

Ever since its inception, British cinema has been obsessed with crime and the criminal.
One of the first narrative films to be produced in Britain, the 1905 short Rescued by
Rover, was a fast paced tale of abduction and kidnap; the first British sound film, Alfred
Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), was concerned with murder and criminal guilt; and the first
ever BAFTA for Best British film was awarded to Carol Reed’s 1947 work Odd Man Out, a
narrative surrounding a failed robbery and prison escape.

Yet for a genre that is seemingly so important to the British cinematic character, there
is little direct theoretical or historical work written upon it. The Britain of British cinema
is often written about in terms of its national history, its ethnic diversity or its cultural
tradition but very rarely in terms of its criminal tendencies and its darker underbelly.
Studying the British Crime Film makes the assumption that, in order to know how British
cinema truly works, it is necessary to pull back the veneer of the costume piece, the
historical drama or the rom-com and take a glimpse at what hides beneath.

Studying the British Crime Film looks closely at a variety films relating to different
aspects of criminal behaviour, including gangland culture from Brighton Rock (1947)
to Essex Boys (2000), the heist film from The League of Gentlemen (1960) to Sexy Beast
(2000), from the post-war serial killer of 10 Rillington Place (1971) to the seedy underworld
of contemporary Britain in London to Brighton (2006). Each chapter not only offers an
in-depth reading of the films under discussion but also guides the reader through the
processes of studying British cinema in terms of both genre and nationality, giving
practical skills as well as theoretical knowledge.

Paul Elliott teaches Film and Film Theory at the University of Worcester. He has published on
Hitchcock, embodied film theory and the French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, as well as various
elements of British cinema.

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