Rule, Britannia!

The Biopic and British National Identity

Edited by Homer B. Pettey & R. Barton Palmer

Subjects: Film Studies, British Studies, Biography, Cultural Studies, Identity
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438471112, 364 pages, October 2018
Paperback : 9781438471129, 364 pages, July 2019

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Table of contents


R. Barton Palmer and Homer B. Pettey


1. Introduction: The Kray Twins and Biographical Media
Homer B. Pettey

Part I. Royalty and Politicians

2. The Biopic, the Nation, and Counter-History in the Films of Derek Jarman
Marcia Landy

3. Elizabeth I and the Life of Visual Culture
Homer B. Pettey

4. Gender and Authority in the Queen Victoria Films
Jeffrey Richards

5. The Re-Centering of the Monarch in the Royal Biopic: The Queen and The King’s Speech
Giselle Bastin

6. The Iron Lady: Politics and/in Performance
Linda Ruth Williams

Part II. Artistic Biography

7. Casting the British Biopic: The Barretts of Wimpole Street 1934–1957
Deborah Cartmell

8. The Muse’s Tale: Rewriting the English Author in The Invisible Woman
Hila Shachar

9. A Matter of Life and Art: Artist Biopics in Post-Thatcher Britain
Jim Leach

10. Closer and Closer Apart: Questioning Identities in Richard Eyre’s Iris
Mark Luprecht

Part III. Crimes and Warfare
11. Carving the National Body: Jack the Ripper
Dominic Lennard

12. Leslie Howard’s The First of the Few (1942): The Patriotic Biopic as Star Vehicle
R. Barton Palmer

13. Who the Man Who Never Was, Was
Murray Pomerance

14. Secrecy and Exposure: The Cambridge Spies
Erica Sheen

Selected Film, Television, Recordings, and Radio

Assesses how cinematic biographies of key figures reflect and shape what it means to be British.


Winner of the 2019 SAMLA Studies Book Award for Edited Collections presented by the South Atlantic Modern Language Association

Rule, Britannia! surveys the British biopic, a genre crucial to understanding how national cinema engages with the collective experience and values of its intended audience. Offering a provocative take on an aspect of filmmaking with profound cultural significance, the volume focuses on how screen biographies of prominent figures in British history and culture can be understood as involved, if unofficially, in the shaping and promotion of an ever-protean national identity. The contributors engage with the vexed concept of British nationality, especially as this sense of collective belonging is problematized by the ethnically oriented alternatives of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish nations. They explore the critical and historiographical issues raised by the biopic, demonstrating that celebration of conventional virtue is not the genre's only natural subject. Filmic depictions of such personalities as Elizabeth I, Victoria, George VI, Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, Iris Murdoch, and Jack the Ripper are covered.

Homer B. Pettey is Professor of Film and Comparative Literature at the University of Arizona. His books include Film Noir and International Noir, both coedited with Palmer. R. Barton Palmer is Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature and Director of the World Cinema program at Clemson University. His books include Invented Lives, Imagined Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity (coedited with William H. Epstein); Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adaptor (coedited with David Boyd); and Hitchcock's Moral Gaze (coedited with Pettey and Steven M. Sanders), all published by SUNY Press.


"…Rule, Britannia! offer[s] thought-challenging case studies that discuss a wide range of theoretical questions, opening up a large spectrum of valuable leads for research on both the biopic genre in general and its specificity in British film. " — Cercles

"This exceptional collection offers new ways of looking at these films as films, as well as a fresh approach to British history as a cultural whole. " — Wheeler Winston Dixon