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Genres and Themes

Main image of Genres and Themes

We commonly consider films in terms of their genre - the set of characteristics that distinguish, say, a Western from a Comedy or a Thriller. We recognise genres by their narratives or their themes, but also by their iconography, characters and certain stylistic elements (for example, lighting, camera style). As audiences, we enjoy the repetition of the familiar, but also the injection of novelty and change to familiar forms.

British cinema, like other national cinemas, has favoured some genres over others - for obvious reasons, there have been few British Westerns - and has put its own distinctive spin on existing genres and invented new ones of its own. Some genres have evolved from the earliest days of film: many film Comedies have their roots in the slapstick or chase films of the silent period, while Britain's celebrated Documentary tradition has origins in early 'Actuality' films from the 1890s on, although it arguably came of age in the 1930s.

The character of British takes on genre often predate cinema - Social Realism (not exactly a genre, but such a dominant influence in Britain that it might be considered one) continues a tradition found in the literature of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, among others. Genres also change over time - Brighton Rock (1949) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) are both recognisably representatives of the Gangster genre, but the two films are worlds apart in style and content, reflecting changes in the medium and in Britain itself.

Equally significant is the way that filmmakers, working within or outside the mainstream, challenge, reject or actively oppose genre categories in order to give voice to ideas and positions frequently denied expression. Since the 1950s, Black and, later, Asian filmmakers have struggled to represent communities whose concerns have long been ignored by the mainstream, while Gay and Lesbian voices really began to be heard only in the last two decades. Similarly, Britain has a long history of artists using film to political - usually leftwing - ends.

20s-30s Avant-Garde
Asian-British Cinema
B Pictures
Black British Film
British Pioneers
British-Chinese Cinema
Children on Film
Costume Drama
Early Spy Films
Film and Music Hall
Literary Adaptation
Political Film
Public Information Fillers
Science Fiction
Short Films
Social Problem Films
Social Realism
Women and Film
Thumbnail image of 20s-30s Avant-Garde20s-30s Avant-Garde

The birth of avant-garde film in Britain

Thumbnail image of AnimationAnimation

Funny ha ha and funny peculiar

Thumbnail image of Asian-British CinemaAsian-British Cinema

From the margins to mainstream

Thumbnail image of B PicturesB Pictures

Second feature, but not necessarily second-best

Thumbnail image of Black British FilmBlack British Film

Pride, pressure and rage

Thumbnail image of British PioneersBritish Pioneers

How the British helped create a new art form

Thumbnail image of British-Chinese CinemaBritish-Chinese Cinema

Expressions of an almost hidden community

Thumbnail image of Children on FilmChildren on Film

The adult world through a child's eyes

Thumbnail image of ComedyComedy

Movies made to make us laugh

Thumbnail image of Costume DramaCostume Drama

Britain re-enacts its past, real and imagined

Thumbnail image of DocumentaryDocumentary

Britain's greatest contribution to cinema?

Thumbnail image of Early Spy Films Early Spy Films

Intrigue and paranoia in pre-WWI Britain

Thumbnail image of Film and Music HallFilm and Music Hall

The bond between two related traditions

Thumbnail image of GangstersGangsters

Dark tales from the criminal underworld

Thumbnail image of HorrorHorror

The darker side of life and death

Thumbnail image of Literary AdaptationLiterary Adaptation

British cinema's lifelong love affair with literature

Thumbnail image of MelodramaMelodrama

Torrid passions and doomed desires

Thumbnail image of MusicalsMusicals

Song and dance on the big screen

Thumbnail image of NewsreelsNewsreels

The journalism of the moving image

Thumbnail image of Political FilmPolitical Film

Film as an ideological weapon

Thumbnail image of Public Information FillersPublic Information Fillers

Messages for the masses

Thumbnail image of Science FictionScience Fiction

Britain's distinctive take on the future

Thumbnail image of Short FilmsShort Films

The feature's older but less celebrated brother

Thumbnail image of Social Problem FilmsSocial Problem Films

British cinema and postwar social change

Thumbnail image of Social RealismSocial Realism

The most 'typically British' of all film genres

Thumbnail image of ThrillerThriller

Edge-of-seat excitement

Thumbnail image of WarWar

The triumphs and tragedies of battle

Thumbnail image of Women and FilmWomen and Film

Women on both sides of the camera