There has been a lot of debate and discussions on how exactly these so called heritage films must be interpreted, in academic circles as well as in the mainstream press, and in the more specialized film publications.
As a part of the debate, certain issues became more important than others, and some of them were that a limit must be imposed on this type of trend in production, and that in terms of subject matter of the film, the sources from which the film would draw, the casting in the film, and the style. Would all these factors be able to make up and contribute to a major genre of films? As a matter of fact, heritage films do indeed operate at the culturally respectable end of the market, and they are also the main players in the British Art Film genre. The heritage film generally has a sort of an aura around it, which means that such films have no place in the contemporary national culture. They also operate as literal 'ambassadors', by promoting certain accepted and well-known forms of Englishness through the content and the depiction of characters in the film, and they articulate a version of English heritage that has been widely accepted all over the entire world for several generations.
In fact, when the Chariots of Fire won the National Award, that is, four Oscars, in the year 1982, Colin Welland, the scriptwriter of the film, is reported to have said, "the British are coming!" And when Anthony Minghella accepted his award for the film "The English Patient' in the year 1997, he is reported to have stated that it was indeed a "great day for the Isle of Wight," and the Isle was where he had been born. Although it has been proven that both the films were not as 'English' as they were made out to be, being partly produced by Hollywood names, and being characterized by international actors, the British Press did for sure make a huge drama about the Englishness or the Britishness of the films.
The same reactions were evinced when the film 'Gandhi' was released in 1982, as was 'Shakespeare in Love'. However, one important point is that when compared to major Hollywood films, the heritage films of England are made on a much smaller relative budget, and more emphasis is placed on the artistic value of the film, the craft and artistic expressions that went into it, and so on. Therefore, these films are much better valued for their aestheticism and for their cultural significance, than for the value in the box office. Therefore, it is very obvious that the British film industry has had a very long history, and in recent years, the industry has truly become international, with Hollywood playing a major influence on the film industry in Britain today.
It is often quoted that Jane Austen, the popular novelist of England, would be able to, in fact, get more drama out of issues on morality than many other writers would be able to get out of, for example, a shipwreck, or a battle, or from plain mayhem. Her novel, 'Sense and Sensibility', is one such work, in which morality plays a larger than life role, and the author makes the entire issue extremely interesting, with all the twists and turns that it may bring upon the characters in the novel. The novel deals with two sisters, Marianne, and Elinor, who are both embroiled in several controversies related to love. While Marianne believes in 'love at first sight', Elinor has infinitely more 'sense' in her head, and is the more practical sister of the two. However, this does not protect her from disappointments in love, and she suffers similar disappointments as her sister Marianne.
The heritage film, based on the novel was filmed in the year 1995, and it was directed by Ang Lee. With a star cast made up of actors like James Fleet, playing John Dashwood, Tom Wilkinson playing Mr. Dashwood, Harriet Walter playing Fanny Dashwood, and Kate Winslet playing Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood, among others, this was a film that raked in profits for the company that made it. The film deals with a memorable set of characters, and starts with Mr. Dashwood dying, and leaving his estate to his son by his first marriage, which had left his second wife and his three daughters without money to live on. They are, however, taken in by a kindly cousin, but their lack of fortune affects the prospects of marriage for all the sisters, and when Elinor happens to form a sort of attachment to the extremely wealthy Edward Ferrars, his family disapproves and separates them. Meanwhile, Marianne finds the dashing Willoughby more to her taste and liking, and this means that both the relationships are strained severely. However, the film being a romance, all through the heartbreak and hardships faced by the characters, especially Elinor and Marianne, there is indeed happiness and joy for the sisters at the end.
This film, 'Sense and Sensibility', is another of the famous heritage movies of the 1980's of England. Some of these films have been described by various critics as being 'politically negative'. Andrew Higson, when writing on the early costumes and literary adaptations of novels into movie that were done in the 1980's, states that one of the most important and central part of the heritage film is generally the "artful and spectacular projection of an elite conservative vision of the national past." The manner in which such visions are created, according to Andrew Higson, are the inordinate amount of concentration on the Edwardian era, and the depiction of old English cottages, on canonic literature, and on certain select landscapes, like for example, the very green English landscape. In addition, the division between the upper and the lower classes that existed in times of yore, certain significant moments of national history that had happened in olden times, and the expected nostalgia that all this would create in the viewer's minds, were all depicted in the heritage films, like in Sense and Sensibility, for example. However, another critic, Julianne Pidduck, has stated that these heritage films do indeed democratize history, by the mere act of making it widely and freely available to large audiences. Raphael Samuel is also reported to have mentioned the same thing in his criticism of heritage films of the 1980's in England.
However, all this in no way means that there is no suspicious ideological content in these heritage films and issues like conservatism, an aura of nostalgia, and a longing and a respect for history are all a part and parcel of these heritage films. This means that social as well as economic politics are in fact relevant, and continue to be so, for the heritage films, and this is point that has been debated on through the years since then. Class has also been an important aspect of the true heritage film, but the question this raises is, have all the heritage film up until today have been mere depictions of the upper classes alone, or have other classes too been allowed to emerge form time to time? In case they are depicted, then how are the poorer classes and their misery and poverty shown in these films? For example, the film 'Far from the Madding Crowd', made in the year 1967 by John Schlesinger, and an adaptation of the novel by the same name by Thomas hardy, is one heritage film that catches one's attention.
In the year 1959, in fact, the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had declared that the class war was over, and that Britain had successfully won that war. He was actually however talking form the point-of-view of one nation Toryism, which at that particular point of time seemed to be credible and also quite secure. However, just about four years after this particular declaration, the conservative administration in England was brought down by a number of crises and problems, which led to the labeling of the Tories as being an elitist, and an anachronistic and a corrupt party that was 'tainted with traditional upper class vices'. At the same time, affluence had indeed brought about several changes in the existing class structure in England at the time, like for example; it led to more and more opportunities for social mobility, and also for better professionalism among the classes. However, on the other hand, consumerism had started to increase, and a variety of problems happened to be hidden under the facade of this aspect of the class problem.
There were several opportunistic policies that had been passed, and there…