Any consideration of the cinema of Great Britain raises two key problems. First is the dominance of Hollywood cinema. English is the primary language of British cinema and, of course, of Hollywood. Britain's decline in the twentieth century has been matched by the rise of the United States as an economic power. As a key American export, Hollywood film served as a considerable influence on and a hindrance to the development of cinema in Great Britain. The absence of any language barrier made the British market an attractive one for Hollywood. Throughout most of its history, British cinema has struggled to compete against the Hollywood monolith.
The second problem is the very notion of Great Britain itself, which is hardly a unified whole, but rather is composed of other nations, prominently England but also Scotland and Wales. Additionally, Northern Ireland—which together with Great Britain constitutes the United Kingdom (UK)—must compete with other UK films as well as with the burgeoning film industry in the Republic of Ireland. In both a critical and popular sense, it is England that has been equated with Britain, and it is the English film industry, with its economic base in London, that has dominated British cinema. A further complication is the United Kingdom's ties to the European Union, which has led to an increase in co-productions where aspects of national identity tend to become subsumed.
Presently, the United Kingdom averages about one hundred feature films per year, but this number includes co-productions in which British interests may comprise only a minority stake. In the 1980s the average number of features produced was only forty-three, so current numbers represent a substantial rise. Changes in funding practices, as well as increased emphasis on co-productions, are leading causes of this apparent production boom. Funding was previously much more closely tied to exhibition, or at least to the possibilities of exhibition, either theatrically or on television. Current funding is primarily through the National Lottery, the monies from which are doled out by various regional film bodies, which are able to encourage production but rarely provide exhibition outlets. Anxiety over the state of the British film industry has been a recurring issue throughout the industry's history. In reality, Great Britain shares fears of Hollywood dominance with numerous other nations and yet, despite an ongoing inferiority complex, has a cinema history that is rich, varied, and reasonably successful.