BAFTAs 2014: Why is Gravity a 'British film'?

Awards show criticised for naming Hollywood productions ‘best of British’, but it actually makes sense.

Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. A Sunday Roast this ain't... (Credit: Rex)

'Gravity' caused quite a stir when it won the Oustanding British Film at the 2014 Baftas and even when the nominations were announced back in January.

“In what way is Gravity a British film?” asks David Baddiel (@baddiel). “Who decides a film is British?” wonders critic Matt Mueller (@mattjmueller) “Is it up to the studio that funds film, i.e. WB in case of Gravity and Disney for Saving Mr Banks?”
The nominees this year were a melting pot, and no mistake. There’s the American-funded, Mexican-directed, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock-starring ‘Gravity’. And the Disney-funded story about Disney (as played by Tom Hanks) – ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ - that was also shot at Disney.
There’s also the racing-rivalries movie ‘Rush’, set in the international world of Formula One, starring an Australian and a German and directed by one of the cast of ‘Happy Days’. And ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’, which rather does what it says on the tin, telling the story of a recently-deceased South-African revolutionary you might have heard of.

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There are, to be fair, a couple of much more definitively British films on the list: there’s ‘Philomena’, about a British journalist’s encounter with a woman searching for a son stolen from her fifty years previous (she’s Irish, for the record). And then there’s ‘The Selfish Giant’, Clio Barnard’s touching drama set squarely in Bradford. Not much doubt about that one.
But, the truth is, each and every one of the six nominations in this category has earned its place as a British film. In fact, it’s testament to the health of our local industry that so many of the awards crop this year – and in years past – involves homegrown contributions.

BAFTA uses a mixture of its own guidelines and those of the BFI to determine what passes as “British”. So, for example, while these six films earn the points necessary to be strongly British, ‘12 Years a Slave’, as an American production by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company, doesn’t, despite having a Brit director and stars.
As far as ‘Gravity’ is concerned, its Outstanding British Film nod means it leads the overall pack with 11 nominations. There’s no doubt that the definitely Mexican Alfonso Cuaron conceived this Warner Bros.-financed production. But it was produced by Brit David Heyman, who’s best known as the man behind the ‘Harry Potter’ films. It was also shot almost exclusively at Shepperton Studios using an entire crew of British artists and technicians, with its spectacular visual effects overseen by the team at British company Framestore.

[Gravity leads Bafta nominations]

All of the films on the list this year feature similar qualifying combinations, and most of them were conceived in Britain. Cinema is about much more than where the money comes from, or who the stars are. These six films are all British, and they’re also, variously, American, French, Mexican, German, South African, Australian and more. BAFTA isn’t denying that. But narrowing the field would exclude the hard work of thousands of Brits in such melting-pot productions.
Film today is an international business, with key creative talents coming together from all over the world to tell stories. We’ve always punched above our weight in Britain. These nominations reflect that, where the art of making movies is concerned, we can fight with the best of them.

Need a reminder of how brilliant 'Gravity' was? You can watch our heart-stopping clip from the film, below.

This article was first published in January when the BAFTA nominations were announced.