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Michael Winterbottom is the most prolific and the most audacious of British filmmakers in the last twenty years. His television career began in the cutting-rooms at Thames Television, and his first directing experience was on the Thames TV documentaries, Ingmar Bergman: The Magic Lantern and Ingmar Bergman: The Director, made in 1988. Winterbottom has featured in top ten lists in Britain and his name has become a moniker of distinction in the promotion of his own films. This book articulates the ideas which have led to the name 'Michael Winterbottom' being associated with a particular body of work and, second, by turning to those factors which tend to dissipate the idea of Winterbottom as the single source of a world view and style, and to relocate his films within a constellation of directors, films and (principally European) national cinemas. It is important to acknowledge that all of his films employ realism across a variety of styles, genres and historical representations. The book focuses on Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland, In This World and The Road to Guantánamo, with a brief reference to 24 Hour Party People as five very different films that have particular relationships with the historical world that they represent. It considers what Winterbottom has done with such popular genres as the road movie, the musical and the sciencefiction thriller, how far he has adapted their conventions to contemporary film practice and ideology, and whether these films, in reworking Hollywood genres, exhibit any peculiarly British inflections.

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Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

Michael Winterbottom’s career in British films should give heart to other aspirants. Without ever having a major commercial success, he has contrived for over a decade to turn out at least one film per year, has shown no sign of slowing down, and has won or been nominated for dozens of awards at festivals from Istanbul to Seattle. He is the most prolific and the most audacious of British filmmakers in the

in Michael Winterbottom
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Winterbottom and a body of work
Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

genres and styles, often exhibiting connections with a host of filmic influences. In this chapter we attempt to reconcile these disparate positions by, first, articulating the ideas which have led to the name ‘Michael Winterbottom’ being associated with a particular body of work and, second, by turning to those factors which tend to dissipate the idea of Winterbottom as the single source of a world view and style, and to

in Michael Winterbottom
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Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

It is tempting to begin writing on realism in Michael Winterbottom’s oeuvre by considering it in relation to realist traditions in British cinema. As we have just seen, any close consideration inevitably draws attention away from the lineage that includes Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows and the canonical directors of British cinema, out into the wider and more varied realm of European

in Michael Winterbottom
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Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

in it’. 1 In Michael Winterbottom’s case, either he has never been given that advice or he has ignored it. The diversity of his output raises the issue of genre in British filmmaking in unusually vivid terms. He has made literary adaptations strikingly at odds with the prevailing British mode of dealing with classic authors; there is in some of his work a strong sense of the documentary influence at work, when he has been

in Michael Winterbottom
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Winterbottom and the English novel
Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

Those who admired Michael Winterbottom's first cinema feature, Butterfly Kiss or the telemovie Go Now would not have been likely to expect him next to turn his interests and talents to adapting Thomas Hardy's late Victorian tragic novel, Jude the Obscure. The film moves inexorably, as the novel does, towards its bleak denouement, stopping short of the death of Jude with which Hardy concludes his agonising fable of lives crushed by a heartless society as well as by a malign fate. Winterbottom also adapted Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge to make The Claim, which fits easily into one of the dominant Western paradigms. If Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy diverges wildly from the first-person chronicle that was the characteristic genre and mode of the eighteenth-century English novel, Winterbottom's A Cock and Bull Story plays with several recognisable film genres, its own most obvious genre is that of the film-about-filmmaking.

in Michael Winterbottom
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Doing what you want to do
Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

Despite modest financial return, Michael Winterbottom's films have been well received, critically. Virtually none of his films has been given a critical thumbs-down; equally, though, none has been a major box-office hit. His current standing in British film production is high. His latest release at time of writing, A Mighty Heart, has won golden opinions at the Cannes Film Festival and there has been talk of Oscar nomination for its star, Angelina Jolie. When he has made road movies, they have been spiked with terminal pain in each of Butterfly Kiss, In This World and The Road to Guantdnamo, and in the latter two at least, crossed with a documentary aesthetic that would seem to preclude the easy outcome of an upbeat ending. And the latter certainly also eludes his noir thriller, I Want You, and indeed most of his films.

in Michael Winterbottom
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Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

This chapter aims to suggest some of the ways in which A Mighty Heart's lineaments mark it unmistakably as a Michael Winterbottom film. First, it strikes one at once as yet another foray into politically dangerous territory. In this respect, it reminds one of Welcome to Sarajevo, which found drama in the war-torn Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia. There is a further echo of Welcome to Sarajevo in that its protagonist is again a journalist attempting to monitor this volatility, the while preserving a core of integrity, though A Mighty Heart has less of the conventional excitement of the man-in-a-fraught-situation than the earlier film. What Winterbottom offers in A Mighty Heart is, then, a species of literary adaptation, yoked to techniques of documentary drama with an overriding social awareness - and perhaps for the first time, in the sheer physicality and emotional rigour of Jolie's performance, a star vehicle.

in Michael Winterbottom
Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

’. 20 If it is not wholly successful, it is more interesting than many stylistically and thematically less complex films which achieve simpler aims. With or Without You Winterbottom made his name on a series of television documentaries on Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. As Caroline Frost, writes: ‘like the great Swede, Michael Winterbottom is striving time and time again to cast

in Michael Winterbottom
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Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams
in Michael Winterbottom