THE  DAVID THOMPSON  PHENOMENON

Auntie goes to the movies

If you go to the cinema and see a film that opens with the distinctively dramatic fireball ident of BBC Films, don't rush out of the building the moment the film ends; linger a little while to read the credits, and there you will see the name of David M. Thompson.

Following the sad demise of FilmFour in 2002, David M. Thompson, the head of BBC Films, is now one of the most influential people in what remains of the British film industry. With David M. Thompson in charge, the Corporation's cinematic arm has brought us such films as Dirty Pretty Things, Mansfield Park, Maybe Baby and the hugely successful Billy Elliot.

Despite achieving both critical and commercial success, BBC Films isn't trying to beat Hollywood at its own game, according to David M. Thompson. 'Our way has been to grow scripts which have great parts for actors, something that is in short supply in Hollywood. There's no point taking on Hollywood with big action films, because they do it better.' And being head of BBC Films is nothing like running a Hollywood studio: David M. Thompson also works in the less glamorous world of television drama - you'll find his executive producer credit on such productions as The Gathering Storm and The Lost Prince - and when he's heading for the Cannes Film Festival, he flies with EasyJet.

He has some top tips for anyone going to Cannes. Don't go to a party held on a boat because you can't leave when you want to. And don't turn down an invitation to a party hosted by Elton John in his nearby villa: 'It's fantastic. He will give you a tour around the house and you are allowed to walk into his cupboards and inspect his clothing.'

After the success of Iris, starring Judi Dench as the Alzheimer's-afflicted writer Iris Murdoch, BBC Films continued in a similar vein with Sylvia in which Gwyneth Paltrow played the poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Among those who didn't go to see the film was Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Despite assurances from David M. Thompson that 'we have approached the film in a responsible and unsensational way', she employed the medium of poetry to criticise the decision to make the film. Her poem speaks of 'the peanut eaters, entertained at my mother's death', and refers to how she has refused to let any of her mother's poetry be used in the film. Significantly, Frieda Hughes and David M. Thompson are no strangers: she was one of his pupils during his earlier career as an English teacher.

BBC Films
Profile of David M. Thompson