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Cinema and society: Thatcher's Britain and Mitterand's France

By Barbara Lehin


This thesis examines the representation of society in British and French cinemas of the 1980s. In this comparative study, the choice of this particular decade was motivated by the coming to power of the Conservative Party in Britain and the Socialist Party in France. Since the two governments adopted 'extreme' policies increasing the strengths and weaknesses traditionally found in their film industries, British cinema struggled even harder while French cinema enjoyed a strong financial support from the state. A significant feature of these two national cinemas in relation to films about society was the predominance of the realist vein in Britain and the comedy genre in France. This generic discrepancy was highly influential in the way the two national cinemas referred to social issues in the 1980s and most scholars have argued that British cinema widely discussed the state of its society whereas, on the whole, French cinema avoided to do so. What this research hopefully demonstrates is that, despite different generic approaches, British and French cinemas equally contributed to depict their contemporary societies. To analyse how these two societies were represented on screen, three main areas are studied thematically: first people in power (public institutions and individuals), second the world of work, and third the family. After a brief summary of social issues in Britain and France in relation with the aforementioned themes, discussions of their filmic representations are based on the films themselves, the textual analysis of films taken as case studies and their critical reception. I will argue that in the 1980s, British cinema offered the overall image of a class-bound society where individuals - living side by side - were unable to escape their social fate. The paradox of this cinema made by a majority of left-wing filmmakers was that ultimately it favoured a rather traditional view of society. By contrast, my research shows that the idea of friendship and solidarity prevailed over economic and social hardship in French cinema. Although this depiction of society was largely consensual, it nevertheless opened the debate for social alternatives

Topics: DC, DA, PN1993
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