No Sets Please, We’re British! Realist Traditions of British Film Production Design

By Laurie N. Ede.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The film director Danny Boyle observed that “a Hollywood movie is, while the European film is usually about something”. British films have long expressed a kind of ‘Lumières fixation’, which assumes that a purposeful cinema must necessarily be a realist cinema. This ideal has placed a particular duty on the British art director, who has frequently been called upon to efface him/herself in order to provide ostensibly unmediated visions of the world. This paper surveys realist art direction within three moments of British film history: the films of the Ealing Studios (1938-1955), the British New Wave (1958-1963) and the films of Mike Leigh (1971 to the present). It aims to chart points of continuity in British realist film design and reflect on its contribution to regimes of film representation. In addition, this paper challenges the familiar notion that realist film design is inevitably un-expressive design.

Keywords: Film Design, Film Realism, Production Design

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.395-404. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 612.771KB).

Dr. Laurie N. Ede

Principal Lecturer, Film and Media, School of Creative Arts, Film and Media, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK

Laurie N Ede works as a lecturer in Film, Media and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth. His research is largely devoted to film production design. In 1999, he completed the first British PhD thesis on the subject. Subsequently, he has written articles on production design for a range of journals, including Screen and the Journal of British Cinema and Television. In March 2010, I.B.Tauris published Laurie Ede’s monograph, British film design: a history.

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