The film Taking Liberties, which I mentioned recently and which opens in London this weekend, seems to be a sign that the economics – and maybe culture – of the film market are changing. It’s the first time, as far as I recall (corrections welcome) that a documentary with a clear British (rather than US/global) theme has gained a reasonable theatrical opening in the UK.

There are already a spate of documentaries which have gained theatrical release in the UK – anything from Bowling for Columbine (and Michael Moore’s other titles) to Inconvenient Truth to The Smartest Guys in the Room. Film critics such as Philip French have already observed that cinema documentaries have re-emerged as a significant cultural form as our trust in politicians and parties has declined (although I can’t now trace the reference for his article).

But all of these films have had the cushion of American theatrical distribution before they reached the UK. Taking Liberties (BBC article here) seems to be the first film – at least in the recent cycle – to take a British theme from a British production base.

Without investigating the funding, there are a number of possible reasons for this:

  • digital technologies have brought down production costs
  • there are enough screens for distributors to take some risks (the multiplex effect)
  • the success of the US documentaries have persuaded the distributors that there is a domestic market for ‘political’ documentaries.

First reviews from critics (rather thasn partisans!) seem to be positive: The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw observed:

“For me it was a vitamin-boost of scepticism. Cheerful, polemical and tactless, Atkins’s film raises a celebratory glass to the spirit of British awkwardness and bloody-mindedness, the dissident spirit that infuses both the anti-war protesters and the Countryside Alliance – Mark Thomas and Boris Johnson alike. “What about Magna Carta?” demands Tony Hancock in a nicely chosen clip. “Did she die in vain?” In the strangest way, Hancock is the tutelary deity behind many of the English protesters here: very often elderly and apolitical souls who feel they have earned the right not to be bullied by the macho-menopausal apparatchiks of the Blair/Brown succession.”