UK film industry is back and breaking records

Official figures from British Film Institute reveal record £5.64bn spent on film and high-end television productions

'The French Dispatch' was the highest-grossing UK independent film produced in 2021, and one of 126 domestic films made last year. AP
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The British film industry has bounced back with record-breaking figures, data released by the British Film Institute (BFI) showed on Friday.

Figures published by the BFI’s Research and Statistic Unit revealed that a whopping £5.64 billion ($7.6bn) was spent on film and high-end television production in the UK in 2021, the highest ever reported, and £1.27bn ($1.71bn) more than in the pre-pandemic year 2019.

The BFI said that latest figures underscored the UK’s “global reputation as the world-leading centre” for film and TV production.

Ben Roberts, chief executive of BFI, said: “The groundwork for further growth is under way with expansion of studio spaces and production hot spots across our nations and regions, and working with industry to build up the skilled workforce that we need to meet demand and stay on top of our game.”

Mr Roberts lauded the government’s Culture Recovery Fund for being a “lifeline for independent cinemas” and helping audiences return to the big screen.

The £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas was launched as part of an effort to save the UK’s cultural and heritage sectors, which were severely affected by months-long lockdowns and restrictions.

After continued restrictions in the first half of 2021 stunted the first two quarters of cinema season, the final quarter heralded a trajectory of recovery, with about 40 million admissions.

The long-awaited October release of the James Bond film No Time to Die, which stars Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek as the villain, drew the largest cinema crowds with 16.4 million admissions.

Box office totals for the top 20 independent UK films, including the highest grosser The French Dispatch followed by The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Spencer, reached a total of £26.8 million.

UK domestic (independent) film production spending reach £221 million in 2021, a 39 per cent increase on 2020.

More than 200 films went into production in the UK in 2021, despite continued disruptions brought on by the pandemic, with a total spend of £1.55bn.

High-end TV (HETV) production in the UK has also boomed since the introduction of HETV tax relief in 2013, delivering a record spend of £4.09bn in 2021 from 211 productions, including popular shows Bridgerton and The Crown.

Government support for production with the screen sector tax relief programmes and the Film & TV Production Restart Scheme have played an important part in the industry’s growth and recovery.

In 2007, the UK introduced a tax relief plan allowing production companies to claim up to 25 pence from HM Revenue & Customs for every £1 on qualifying expenditures. The system has since been extended to related sectors including animation, children’s TV and video games.

Kristen Stewart in a scene from 'Spencer'. Neon via AP

In the past six years, tax rebates worth more than £4bn have helped fuel a boom in UK film and television production that has transformed the country into a global entertainment hub.

Existing studios like Pinewood and Shepperton are regularly booked by the large companies, spurring an entrepreneurial drive to develop studios.

A new £20 million film studio set to open in spring this year in West London by the founder of RD Content, one of the largest creators of commercial and corporate content in Europe, is only one of a number of spaces cropping up to keep up with the boom in the domestic industry.

Another new 10-acre site, known as The Wharf, is also being built in East London on a larger existing studio complex called Eastbrook Studios, which covers more than 46,000 square metres.

It’s not only the capital meeting the growing demand for UK-based production: last December, planning permission was given for 85,000-square-metre media hub Shinfield Studios in Berkshire, which will be one of the largest film and TV studios in the UK.

Adrian Wootton OBE, chief executive of the British Film Commission, said the UK is now enjoying a “once-in-a-generation growth in production” and is “determined to harness this phenomenal demand” for content.

“The benefits are being felt right across our nations and regions, with large scale investment in infrastructure and revenue into UK plc that will directly benefit local communities,” said Mr Wootton.

“Existing production hubs are growing to accommodate the demand, and new hubs are developing throughout the UK, bringing with them thousands of new jobs.”

Earlier this month, the UK’s Culture Secretary announced a £50m government investment in creative businesses across the UK to drive economic growth. The investment includes £21m to help build on the international success of the UK film industry through a three-year UK Global Screen Fund.

Updated: February 04, 2022, 4:46 PM