U.K. 2014 in Review: Oscar Glory, 'Star Wars' and Benedict Cumberbatch
Also, Simon Cowell's return to the 'X Factor' U.K. didn't bring the hoped-for ratings boost, while Monty Python said farewell
Despite the lack of a major British tentpole release like Skyfall or Harry Potter, 2014 was still a good year for U.K. film. Teen comedy The Inbetweeners 2 followed on the success of the franchise's first outing of fart jokes and sexual references to become the U.K. box office’s second-biggest title of the year with $55 million, just $1 million short of The Lego Movie.
Meanwhile, the new Star Wars movie, which was shot in the U.K., drew global buzz, with its first trailer released late in the year.
The Brits put in another solid showing during awards season, with 12 Years a Slave earning Steve McQueen the best picture honor at both the Oscars and Golden Globes and Gravity, which was made almost entirely in the U.K. and with a British production team, doing well.
With some nominations already in the bag, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Mr. Turner are leading the charge to keep things looking British in 2015 as well.
Among the other big media and entertainment headlines of 2014 in Britain were the Scotland independence referendum, Benedict Cumberbatch and the second royal baby.
Here's The Hollywood Reporter's look at some of the biggest stories from the U.K.:
Scots Almost Say Goodbye
2014 will forever be known as the year that England almost lost its 300-year union with Scotland. A heated independence referendum took place on Sept. 18, with analysts predicting it would go down to the wire. In the end, the no's won it by a fairly comfortable 55.3 percent of the vote, but the entire process – and considerations of possible consequences should a split actually occur — shook the British Isles to the core.
While much of the debate centered on taxation and control of income from (Scottish) oil, there were entertainment considerations to take into account as well. An independent Scotland, already struggling to attract major productions, would likely to lose film and TV tax breaks set by the U.K. government, while there were worries about the future workings of the BBC north of the border.
The issue also saw legions of A-listers come out to offer their two-cents worth, mostly in the "no" camp. J.K. Rowling donated $1.6 million to the ‘Better Together’ campaign, while a flock of celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Simon Cowell and Judi Dench, signed a plea urging Scotland residents to vote against breaking away, instantly met with derision for its seemingly patronizing tones. On the "yes" side, it was left to Sean Connery and Alan Cumming to lead to celebrity cries for "freedom!".
Brits Take Over 'Star Wars'
While it may be set in a galaxy far, far away, to the untrained eye Star Wars: Episode VII could be seen as an almost predominantly British affair.
London’s Pinewood Studios was famously the main base for much of The Force Awakens’ shoot in 2014, which wrapped in December, while Industrial Light & Magic opened up a base in the U.K. capital in October to work on the special effects.
When the 88-second teaser was finally unveiled in December, it was again something of a Brit-fest as John Boyega popped up – literally – as the first cast member, quickly followed by newcomer Daisy Ridley on some sort of speeder bike. And the voice? No, not Benedict Cumberbatch, but Andy Serkis.
For the time being, Britain is set to retain its galactic bragging rights, with Pinewood again being used for the first Star Wars spin-off being filmed next year. In the director’s chair: rising British director Gareth Edwards.
BBC Looks to Repair Trust With New Chief
Following a lengthy and rather public courting and interview process, Rona Fairhead was in September named head of the BBC Trust, the British public broadcaster’s independent governing body.
Fairhead replaced Chris Patten, who stepped down following heart surgery in May and after a contentious period at the helm. Ongoing historic sex abuse scandals involving some of the BBC’s most famous faces from the 1970s and 1980s – most notably late DJ Jimmy Savile – plus controversial payoffs to senior execs and a digital initiative that was scrapped after costing as much as $153 million had plagued Patten’s tenure.
Fairwood – who formerly headed up the Financial Times — also became the Trust’s first female chair, seen by many as something of a glass ceiling-smashing situation at a broadcaster and media institution often considered old and largely male-dominated.
A Royal Baby Time (Again)
The world’s media – plus a few flag-waving royalists - are again set to camp out on the steps of a private hospital wing in London in 2015, following the news in September that Prince William and Kate Middleton were expecting baby number two.
The official announcement was made just days before the Scottish referendum and immediately seen as a perfect bit of pro-union PR. Many speculated that its timing was almost too perfect.
Viacom Snaps up Channel 5
Part of a growing wave of U.S. acquisitions in the U.K., Viacom’s $700 million-plus takeover of broadcaster Channel 5 was announced in May and completed in September, becoming the free-to-air channel’s third owner in five years.
CEO Philippe Dauman quickly unveiled plans for cooperation with Viacom’s other British operations.
Making good on the promise of investment, the new purchase was soon followed by Channel 5 acquiring the U.K. rights for Batman origins series Gotham, rumored to have cost upwards of half a million dollars per episode. The channel also aired MTV EMAs for the first time with a record number of U.K. viewers tuning in to watch Nicki Minaj, Ed Sheeran and co do their thing in Glasgow.
Simon Cowell’s Return to the 'X Factor' U.K.
Simon Cowell made his return to the reality show that he created and that helped propel him to international mega-stardom, The X Factor on U.K. network ITV.
With the U.S. version of X Factor now defunct, Cowell jetted back to the judge’s chair of the British flagship program for the first time in years. Despite being joined by Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versni (nee Cole) - whom he famously fired from the U.S. version - the 11th season failed to help the show’s faltering ratings, which fell further, slumping to a 10-year low of 9.1 million for December’s finale.
Monty Python’s Final Farewell
The five remaining members of arguably the U.K.’s most famous comedy troupe of all time reformed on stage for the first time in 34 years.
Tickets to the first show of Monty Python Live (Mostly) at London’s 02 Arena – starring John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and video clips of the late Graham Chapman – sold out in 45 seconds, with the group saying the run of 10 performances would be their last.
The final show in Jury was screened live in around 570 cinemas in U.K., becoming the country’s third-biggest live cinema event of all time.
As it happened, 2014 proved to be something of a game-changer for such event cinema, resulting in its first box office number one. In September, Billy Elliot the Musical Live tapped and danced all over Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer to claim the top spot.
The Desolation/Domination of Benedict Cumberbatch
It’s not as if Benedict Cumberbatch was even remotely an unknown in 2013, but 2014 surely became the year in which the Sherlock star reached unparalleled levels of omnipresence.
Aside from an impressive lineup of film appearances – including 12 Years a Slave, The Imitation Game and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies – it seemed there wasn’t a single role the actor wasn’t attached to at some point. So convinced were some that he was a part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite an already announced cast list, that he had to actively announce that he wasn’t in the lineup or indeed provided the voice in the teaser.
Despite calls that we might have reached "peak Cumberbatch," 2015 is unlikely to be any different. The Imitation Game is almost certainly set to see him earn a best actor nomination at the one or other awards show (he’s already up for a Golden Globe and should feature heavily at the BAFTAs), and he’s going to give it a try in his first superhero role as Marvel's Doctor Strange. Oh, and of course there's the wedding…