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Why Remake Great British Films Into American Mediocrities?

Does Hollywood think we can't understand an accent? Film review by Cecilia Cygnar.

Why Remake Great British Films Into American Mediocrities?

Film Review by Cecilia Cygnar

With the announcement that the BBC America series Broadchurch, feature film About a Boy, and former Masterpiece Mystery mini-series Second Sight will be “remade” for American audiences, my loathing for Hollywood increases.  We’ve known for a long while that Hollywood does not think that American audiences can read subtitles, which is why they feel compelled to remake popular foreign films into “English” language versions.  Well, there also is the continuing trend of Hollywood remaking British productions.  So I guess now, in addition to not being able to read, we can’t understand an accent? 

The list of British-American remakes is lengthy.  Some are successful (The Office) and some are not (do you remember the American remakes of Coupling and Mistresses?  Well, you are not alone.  No one does.).  

It goes on and on and on: Edge of Darkness (Brit mini-series made into an American feature film), House of Cards (Brit TV trilogy made into an American Netflix series), Prime Suspect, Queer as Folk, Shameless (all Brit TV series made into American series), and so many more it would be impossible to name them all.  

We’ve been “stealing” ideas from the British for game shows and reality shows for years (Who Wants to be a Millionaire and American Idol, anyone?).  But, feature TV shows and movies…really?  Why not just put the British productions on American TV?  Even though the Brits occasionally remake one of our shows (Law and Order UK), the list is MUCH smaller than the British to American conversion. 

Saying all of that, I recently re-watched both versions of State of Play, the British mini-series from 2003 and the American feature film from 2009.  The British version is a fantastically well-done, intense political thriller that delves deep into the heart of British politics and journalism. Two friends…one a writer at a major London newspaper and the other a Member of Parliament (MP)…get entwined in a series of twists and turns that do not let up until the very end. The MP is caught in a sex scandal with a murdered young researcher from his office. His former roommate is a reporter who is on the story and trying his best to keep both his loyalties to his MP friend and to his newspaper job. Extremely well-acted, this series will keep you guessing until the final scene…literally. In addition to the great performances, the writing is top-notch…fast and intense -- the fast-paced script crackles with wit and is chocked filled with details about politics and insights on the "rag" trade.  Like All the President's Men, this film really takes you inside the inner workings of a newspaper office...depicting the nightmare pace and the cutthroat-ness of the profession.  To that, add in the turmoil of Parliament and you get a frenzied political and journalistic thriller.

The American remake, about 4 hours shorter than the British production, though still taut and occasionally gripping, loses something in translation.  The MP becomes a congressman and though his friend is still a journalist, gone are the frenetic worlds of both politics and journalism.  The feature feels more like a squashed, forced version of what the British series successfully was.

Watch both versions and compare for yourself!

State of Play: 2003, not rated, approx. 6 hours, directed by David Yates, starring James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Kelly Macdonald, and John Simm.

State of Play: 2009, PG-13, 127 minutes, directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, and Robin Wright.

The Niles Library owns both of these titles on DVD. 

About this column: Cecilia Cygnar of the Niles Public Library reviews films. 

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