Sunday, January 25, 2015

UK films in thrall to upper classes? Kingsman eg

In a colourful review, replete with some strong language, the central theme is:

The film gives international audiences what they expect from Britain – a nice bit of posh – while also titillating natives with convincing oik detail. 

The film is summed up thus:
In Kingsman: The Secret Service, out next month, a tasty little herbert called Eggsy from a London sink estate is recruited by the impeccably soigné, lah-di-dah spook Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth. Hart detects that Eggsy has the right stuff, the true Brit if you will, to transcend his oikish upbringing and become One Of Us. Now if Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, can survive the training course in which he is pitted against a bunch of stuckup, over-entitled Oxbridge ponces (plus the token bit of hottie posh whose snobby froideur melts at our hero’s bit-of-rough charms), then he can become a Kingsman.
Sounds rather like the M.O. of Working Title ... but is primarily a 20CFox produced and distributed film (with TSG and Marv).

WHY do film-makers keep insisting on this narrow, ultra-clichéd stereotypical representation of 'Britain'? Simple really: because it is so familiar, it is easier to market. Furthermore, whilst often used within US-set films as characteristics of a villain, the posh Southern English chap/dame is at the same time an aspirational (cf. the 'uses and gratifications theory', explained in this post; the aspirational point could be applied to the 'personal identity' category) figure for many ... not least many in the US audience who might condemn a class system in the USA but simultaneously perceive the same thing in a 'British' context as glamorous and appealing.

The major brands who have paid $100m+ for product placements in the most recent Bond movies clearly perceive this to be true! (See Telegraph gallery, Guardian analysisetc!)

Here's the bottom line: the Hugh Grant/Bond/Downton Abbey middle/upper-class representation, especially when combined with London/rural southern England settings (the 'heritage' approach of historical settings works too!), sells!
For all the explosions and three-figure body count, Kingsman is heritage drama: it knows the history of the Brit spy genre back to front; plus it knows how to deploy a version of the British class system with an eye to maximising foreign salesjust like Julian Fellowes did when concocting Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.
This film, like many other 'British' films that hope to crossover to a US audience and other foreign markets, also features an 'American Dream' narrative of upwards mobility, the little (wo)man rising through the ranks - or social classes.
In Kingsman, if not in real life, the sclerotic British class system can be transcended. Eggsy realises that for Firth – part toff Gok Wan, part 21st century Henry Higgins – he is Eliza Dolittle with better muscle tone, and succumbs to his makeover. The soundtrack accompanies him on his spiritual journey from geezer to gent: early on, he goes joyriding through rain-slicked mean streets in a nicked motor with Dizzee Rascal’s urban underclass groove importunately puffing and blowing in the audience’s collective earhole; later, to the dapper strains of Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love, he becomes the finished article, suited, booted and capable of ordering a proper gin martini.
Posh sells..
Posh sells abroad, in particular to Americans who can’t break out of their mindset of what Britain is; the headline on a recent New York Times non-analysis of the British class system went “British Noses, Firmly in the Air”. The French have wine, the Germans have cars, we have Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice breeches or knock-off Bond schmutter.

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