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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 26th September 2004

Working Title's Annus Mirabilis

The Government's new 20% tax break for films made in Britain may have come too late for Working Title, the company behind Four Weddings, Notting HIll and Love Actually. It's latest offering, Wimbledon, could only muster fourth place at the US box office last weekend, having debuted with a modest .1 million. This follows hot on the heels of Thunderbirds, Working Title's most ambitious film to date, which ranks as one of the biggest flops of the summer. Having cost approximately million, the big-screen adaptation of the children's television series limped home with a worldwide box office total of just .5 million.

Even WT2, Working Title's low-budget arm, has been struggling. It started life very promisingly four years ago with Billy Elliot and followed up with a couple of modest hits: Long Time Dead and Ali G Indahouse. Unfortunately, the only film it has released since then has been The Calcium Kid, a boxing picture starring Orlando Bloom that came and went in the course of a single weekend last May.

Not that these setbacks will hit the pockets of Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Working Title's co-chairman, who are each worth an estimated $20 million according to The Financial Times. Working Title is often hailed as a British success story but, in fact, it's wholly owned by Universal Studios. From Bevan and Fellner's point of view, the real danger is that Universal may simply decide to close the company down.

According to industry experts, though, it's too early to write off Wimbledon. Gabriel Snyder, a senior writer for Variety, points out that The Notebook, another chic flic, took just $13.5 million on its opening weekend in America and went on to gross $80 million. It's still possible that Wimbledon, which opened in the UK on Friday, could take between $30 and $40 million in the US and go on to make three or four times that worldwide.

However, the film that will really determine the future of Working Title is the sequel to Bridget Jones, due to be released in Britain and America in November. If advance word-of-mouth is anything to go by, Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason already looks like a hit.

"I wouldn't bet against BJ2," says Snyder. "The original did $70 million in the US and then $208 million around the world, the biggest chunk being $60 million in the UK. If it breaks $100 million in the US and Europe stay solid, you're looking at a $300 million movie."

It seems Working Title finds itself in the same position as Mark Darcy: it's future rests entirely in the hands of a nice, middle class English girl with a predilection for white wine and ice cream.

Watch This Spacey

Is Kevin Spacey suffering from a case of the jitters? His outburst against noisy theatergoers comes just a week before he unveils his first production as the Old Vic's newly installed artistic director. Cloaca, a Dutch import starring Neil Pearson, is due to open on Tuesday.

I sympathise with Spacey's comments about mobile phones, but his objection to people unwrapping sweets during live stage performances is a little bit precious. After all, he wouldn't have to worry about it if large bags of Minstrels, Maltesers and Munchies weren't available in the Old Vic foyer. It's a little bit hypocritical for an artistic director to complain about members of the public eating these products when his theatre sells them at a huge mark-up.

In any case, if mobile phones and sweet wrappers are all Spacey's performers have to worry about they should consider themselves lucky. I once sat through an entire production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park behind a deaf man whose wife insisted on translating every line into sign language. As she semaphored her way through the play, the actors kept getting distracted, imagining that someone in the audience was trying to get their attention.

Hot New Sitcom

Arrested Development, the most talked-about new sitcom in America, has finally reached these shores. BBC2 will be showing it for the first time next week.

So far, it hasn't been a huge ratings success in the US, but the critics love it--a fact that was confirmed last week when it won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Comedy Series". It charts the efforts of a dutiful son to prevent the family business from falling apart after his father is arrested for fraud, a job that isn't made any easier by his wildly dysfunctional siblings. The cast will be largely unknown to British audiences, with the exception of Ally McBeal's Portia de Rossi who plays the protagonist's sister.

I've seen the pilot and if that's any guide to the quality of future episodes then Arrested Development is definitely worth sticking with. It's a little like Six Feet Under, but with more jokes. For those looking for an intelligent sitcom to fill the gap left by the disappearance of Friends and Fraser, this could be it.

Global Ceasefire What?

You may not be aware of this, but last Tuesday was Global Ceasefire Day. To commemorate this, BBC4 showed a 90-minute documentary made by Jeremy Gilley, the out-of-work actor who managed to persuade the United Nations to take up this cause and make it a reality. Actually, "reality" isn't quite the right word. No one actually ceased firing on Global Ceasefire Day. But the UN has got behind it and the organisation is trying, albeit completely ineffectively, to enforce it.

At first, I thought Jeremy Gilley was an idiot. As a student pointed out in the documentary, the UN supports something called African Children's Day without helping any African children. Why should this be any different?

But as I watched Gilley in action, I gradually began to change my mind. Merely to have navigated his way through the UN's bureaucracy and won the support of the Director General, not to mention the Prime Minister of Costa Rica, seemed like a pretty formidable achievement. He had that Blairite ability to emotionally connect with people that is so essential to achieving anything in modern politics. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more from Jeremy Gilley in future.

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