Britain has produced some of the most illustrious talents in the history of film. Early efforts (c.1929) by the producer J. Arthur Rank to achieve a world market for British films were realized with the work of such postwar directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, David Lean, and the Hungarian-born Alexander Korda. Their films were literate and often suspenseful and brought international fame to such actors as Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Paul Scofield, Merle Oberon, and Michael Redgrave. Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers, and Terry Thomas created comedies that are sophisticated and singularly British in their sense of humor.
Major British directors of the 1960s include the American-born Joseph Losey, Tony Richardson, Sidney Furie, and John Schlesinger. Among the great number of notable British actors of recent years are Dirk Bogarde, Peter Finch, Michael Caine, Vanessa Redgrave, Stanley Baker, Glenda Jackson, Richard Burton, Julie Christie, Peter O'Toole, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Albert Finney, Kenneth More, Michael York, Tom Courtenay, and Robert Shaw.
After a long dry spell in the 1970s, the British film industry returned to life with the formation of several new production companies such as Enigma, Working Title, Handmade Films, and Palace. A new television outlet, Channel 4, also produced many movies for theatrical release. Directors whose careers were stalled by the doldrums of the previous period now produced mature works: Stephen Frears ( My Beautiful Laundrette ), Mike Leigh ( High Hopes, Life Is Sweet ), and Mike Newell ( Dance with a Stranger, The Good Father ) among them. A new crop of actors came to the public's attention, including Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Natasha Richardson, Rupert Everett, Helen Mirren, Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, Bob Hoskins, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson.
See R. Low, The History of the British Film (4 vol., 1973); C. Barr, ed., All Our Yesterdays (1990); J. Caughie and K. Rocket, ed., The Companion to British and Irish Cinema (1996).; S. Street, British National Cinema (1997); A. Aldgate and J. Richards, Best of British (new ed. 1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.