was founded by Sam. W. Smith in November 1927. By the end of World War II the company had released over fifty-five films including the 1942 classic, In Which We Serve, for which writer/producer Noel Coward received an honorary Oscar for his outstanding production achievement competing as he was for Best Picture with Casablanca, which won the top award, and For Whom the ‘Bell Tolls .
BRITISH LION has long been one of the UK’s premier independent studios, with such titles as The Wooden Horse, The Entertainer, Lord of the Flies, Don’t Look. Now, among its vast library of credits. Although BRITISH LION was a prolific company operating successfully from the 1920’s, it is best known for the period when it was managed by Sir Alexander Korda. Korda’s company, London Films, bought the controlling interest in BRITISH LION in 1946 and went on to acquire Shepperton Studios, basing all his production there.
Korda was known for his charm, charisma and Indefatigable drive, as well as his unpredictable temper, He twice created film empires of enormous influence and for a time was considered the most important producer outside Hollywood. He was also the first film producer to be knighted. Early BRITISH LION movies such as An Ideal Husband (d. Alexander Korda, 1947) were received quite well, but the films that made the company’s name were The Fallen Idol (d, Carol Reed, 1948) and The Third Man (d, Reed, 1949). The collaboration between Graham Greene and Carol Reed proved to be a winning formula. Both films deservedly received Academy Awards.
The company soon ran into trouble after accepting a National Film Finance Corporation loan in 1949, The loan was aimed at boosting production at a time when the quota (or British films had been raised as a result of the 1948 Cinematograph Films Act. Consequently, both cinemas and producers had to screen and distribute a proportion of British films in order to satisfy the government. Cinemas were now desperate for British film product and Korda took good advantage at the situation.
Korda, though misjudged production costs and found he was unable to pay back the loan. The company went into receivership in 1955. Sir Alexander Korda died in 1956.
As a result BRITISH LION was reformed as a distribution company in January 1955 and the company was again re-invigorated. New management in charge were the Boulting Brothers, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Many classics followed, such as Private’s Progress (1956), I’m All Right Jack (1959) and The Family Way (1966), not forgetting A Taste of Honey, The Entertainer, The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery, The L-Shaped Room and Saturday night and Sunday Morning all released under their management.
The Company was then sold to Barclay Securities in 1971 Peter Snell was appointed Head of Production and then Managing Director. Under his stewardship, he reorganised BRITISH LION’S UK distribution arm and was responsible for two international successes which followed in quick succession in 1973; Don’t Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie and directed by Nicolas Roeg and The Wicker Man, starring Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Diane Cliento, Britt Elkland. Ingrid Pitt and directed by Robin Hardy.
Both films still have cult status today, but Sutherland and Roeg refute the often quoted scandal of actual love-making on set. In 1976 BRITISH LION was acquired by EMI for the value of its film library. It had distributed more than 230 films and produced upwards of 170 many of which are still considered classics, not only of British cinema but many notable international productions as well.
EMI sold the library to Cannon who subsequently sold it to Weintraub Entertainment, then it was sold to the Movie Acquisitions Corporation which was renamed Lumiere Pictures and finally Into the secure hands of Studio Canal in Paris. The BRITISH LION name continued after 1976 and remains so today in a fully integrated independent production and distribution capacity. Peter Snell bought BRITISH Lion in 1988 from Thorn/EMl in order to revitalise and recapitalize the brand, which he did very successfully with productions for both television and theatrical, including his most recent, The Wicker Tree, directed by Robin Hardy, starring Christopher Lee, Graham McTavish and Honeysuckle Weeks.