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Royal bio-pics have always enjoyed a high priority among cinematic representations of British history and taken a lion’s share in defining Britishness to audiences at home and abroad. These historical narratives never render national identity by capturing the past of historians, instead reconstruct the past as a mirror of contemporary reality and in a way as to satisfy their audience’s demand for both romantic qualities and antiquarian nostalgia, for sensations they regard their own. The author’s basic assumption is that such cinema does not represent history but exploits spectatorial desire for a mediated reality one inhabits through the experience of an empowered identity. The first part of the article examines how private-life films (a subgenre of royal bio-pics) mythologized and idealized Tudor monarchs in the 1930s, while in the second part, contemporary representatives of the subgenre are analysed as they portray the challenges of the Monarchy in its search for a place within modern British identity politics. Analysed films include The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939), Mrs Brown (John Madden, 1997), The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006), and The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010).1
This article explores the relationship between film, contemporary art and cultural memory. It aims to set out an overview of the use of film and media in artworks dealing with memory, history and the past. In recent decades, film and media projections have become some of the most common mediums employed in art installations, multi-screen artworks, sculptures, multi-media art, as well as many other forms of contemporary art. In order to examine the links between film, contemporary art and memory, I will firstly take a brief look at cultural memory and, secondly, I will set out an overview of some pieces of art that utilize film and video to elucidate historical and mnemonic accounts. Thirdly, I will consider the specific features and challenges of film and media that make them an effective repository in art to represent memory. I will consider the work of artists like Tacita Dean, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Jane and Louise Wilson, whose art is heavily influenced and inspired by concepts of memory, history, nostalgia and melancholy. These artists provide examples of the use of film in art, and they have established contemporary art as a site for memory.
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