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Channel 4 and British Film Culture

Journal of British Cinema and Television Volume 11, Issue 4

Edited by Paul McDonald, Justin Smith


Considers aspects of the legacy that makes Film4 synonymous with a rejuvenated national cinema

When Channel 4 was launched in 1982 its policy of commissioning new feature films for television broadcast and selective cinema release marked a shift in British film culture. Widely credited with revitalising a moribund UK film industry, the initiative represented a new intervention on the part of a public service broadcaster and, in turn, redefined the place of film on television with landmark strands from Film on Four to The Eleventh Hour. Channel 4 withstood early criticism from some industry voices and controversy aroused by its broadcast film provision; in 1987 its contribution to European cinema was recognised in the accolade of the Roberto Rosselini award at the Cannes film festival. Since then the international box office successes of many Film4 titles (from My Beautiful Laundrette and The Crying Game to Four Weddings and Funeral and Slumdog Millionaire), have made Film4 synonymous with a rejuvenated national cinema and established television as a vital cornerstone of government film policy. This special issue will investigate aspects of that legacy, casting a critical eye upon received wisdom, and drawing on new archival and interview material to offer a revisionist history of the broadcaster’s rich and diverse contributions to British film culture. Indispensible to anyone with an interest in British film over the past thirty years.

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Justin Smith and Paul McDonald

Britain’s Channel 4: A TV Provider Caught Between Private Sector Funding and Its Cultural Mission
Gabriele Bock and Siegfried Zielinski

Roadblocks and Roads Not Taken: Fords on Water (1983), Coast to Coast (1987) and the British Bi-racial Buddy-Road Movie
Ieuan Franklin

Assessing Cultural Impact: Film4, Canon Formation and Forgotten Films
Laura Mayne

Channel 4 and the Red Triangle: A Case Study in Film Curation and Censorship on Television
Justin Smith

Film4, Freeview and Public Service Broadcasting: Screening Films on British Television in the Multi-channel Era
Rachael Keene

Interview Dossier
The Four Heads of Film4
Justin Smith and Laura Mayne

Book Reviews

About the Author

Paul McDonald is Professor of Cinema and Media Industries at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Hollywood Stardom (Wiley, 2013), Video and DVD Industries (BFI, 2007) and The Star System: Hollywood’s Production of Popular Identities (Wallflower, 2000), and co-editor of The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry (Blackwell, 2008). Since 2002 he has jointly edited the International Screen Industries series from the British Film Institute. Currently he is Co-investigator for the project Channel 4 Television and British Film Culture (

Justin Smith is Reader in British Film Culture at the University of Portsmouth where he is also Post-Graduate Tutor in the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media. He is the author of Withnail and Us: Cult Films and Film Cults in British Cinema (I. B. Tauris, 2010) and, with Sue Harper, British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure (Edinburgh University Press, 2011). He was a Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project 1970s British Cinema, Film and Video: Mainstream and Counter-Culture (2006-2009), ; he is currently Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project ‘Channel 4 Television and British Film Culture’ (2010-2014), . A cultural historian with a special interest in British cinema, his research interests embrace production, reception and exhibition practices, film fandom, and issues of cultural identity and popular memory.

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