According to the UK government, face masks are a legal necessity to ensure Britons feel safe going to the shops and indulging in what used to be real life. Confidence, so far, is absent. For independent British cinema, this is now a very real problem; a major opportunity to fill the creative void left by Hollywood is being missed. Such assertions can be made because in France the public are back in cinemas, and in the absence of Hollywood a new French comedy, Divorce Club tops the bill. Moreover, of the top ten grossing films in the week starting 13 July, five were domestic productions. Since the Covid-19 hysteria began, Hollywood has more or less shut down releases. Few films are making any meaningful progress. Without major US titles opening anytime soon, now is the chance for indigenous and independent films to find a previously unobtainable audience. For the British, however, the government’s draconian rules based on little more than furthering public anxiety, have so far prevented any such repeat of the French experience.
Cinemas are open but nobody is going. What the Prime Minister appears to misunderstand is that by writing precautions against the Covid-19 virus into law, the common interpretation is that by going to a cinema or a shopping center, there remains a very strong risk of becoming infected. Numerous scare stories have left a lingering – and entirely false – impression of the true risk of death from the pandemic. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that people have not returned to cinemas across the country.
The current situation is denying a unique opportunity for British film makers to gain recognition and compete against Hollywood. Movies coming out of America have been stagnant for many years—Joker was a notable success among a plethora of reboots and franchise movies increasingly designed to cater to the wholly unrepresentative audience of Twitter. Ditching the determination to frighten people would be a tremendous boon to UK cinema. Ensuring that productions filmed here are completed and shown in cinemas would provide the impetus needed to show audiences there is a world outside of that in which actors are cancelled for pretending to be someone they are not in ordinary life.
Despite rising revenues, Hollywood has been storing up problems for a long time. Going to the movies is a habitual activity, but once people have found something else to do, getting them back into the cinema will be extremely difficult. For now, revenues are holding up, yet the audience pool is shrinking and has been for some time. Peak cinema ticket sales in North America occurred in 2002, when nearly 1.6 billion were sold; during 2019 the film industry only shifted 1.2 billion, approximately the same achieved in 1995 according to Statista. Film makers are increasingly losing their audience to alternatives such as Netflix (though Netflix and other streaming services are involved in a vicious fight for market share, causing spending to far outstrip revenue). Modernity is rushing from the other end of the tunnel, and the great and the good of cinema in the United States have seemingly yet to notice. Globally, large audiences really are becoming less interested in Hollywood, which makes it all the more frustrating that while French cinema is taking advantage of the present situation, British film makers are unable to follow likewise. For the long-term future of the industry, and to ensure the mob who have turned fear into a virtue are not victorious, the heavy hand of the government must be taken away.