From ‘English’ heritage to transnational audiences: fan perspectives and practices and why they matter




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Despite the transnational character of the 21st-century film and entertainment industries, and the transformation of modes of consumption by the interlinked impacts of globalisation, digitisation, media convergence, social media and participatory culture, academic discourse around ‘heritage cinema’ has nonetheless persisted in framing it (however anachronistically) as a national ‘project’. The Screening European Heritage project, similarly, has pursued research questions that assert the key importance of heritage films within national and European film culture(s), and in supporting domestic film industries and the wider heritage and tourism sector at a national-cultural and nation-state level. As Andrew Higson correctly observes, however, ‘a great deal of what passes as (national) heritage cinema is actually the product of transnational, even global, markets’ (cited by Cooke and Stone, ‘Introduction’ to the current volume, 2016, xxxi). These ‘transnational circumstances’ are thrown into still sharper relief if we focus on the heritage film from the plural, unpredictable and surprising perspectives of transnational audiences and fans – from Europe and beyond.

This chapter builds upon my earlier empirical engagements with real UK-based audiences of heritage cinema, and with the place of these films in internet-based fan cultures, to explore 21st-century transnational and transcultural fan discourses, understandings, and creative/participatory practices around Anglophone, ‘culturally British’ heritage films and their actors. Intriguingly and usefully, these fan engagements focus on, or intersect with, the same iconic ‘culturally English’ period-film texts of the 1980s that were cited and denounced in the founding early-1990s British critiques of the ‘heritage film’. Attention to 21st-century internet culture, however, reveals that these same films are consumed, appreciated, understood and (at times) (re-)appropriated by audiences and fans within markedly different generic, media, fannish and transtextual contexts that depart sharply from notions of ‘heritage cinema’ or narrowly national interpretative frameworks, and may even render them redundant.

21st-century global fan perspectives and practices around these films are transnational and even deterritorialised; but also trans-temporal and trans-generational; while focusing on films and actors which, and who, always were more transnational and ‘European’ than the 1990s debates which cast them as exemplars of ‘conservative English heritage’ were willing to concede. The culture of fandom itself shifts the consumption and interpretation of ‘English’ ‘heritage’ films further away from the ‘national’, since committed fans perceive fandom itself as (a, self-evidently, transnational and deterritorialised) ‘community’ in which pseudonymised interactions (which may strongly reveal or conceal nationality, region or other salient facets of identity) are the norm. And, with regards to the presumed relationship between heritage films and heritage tourism, some fan perspectives reveal a passionate interest in sites which remain uncommodified or even un-visitable in relation to the beloved film.




Monk, C. (2016) From “English” heritage to transnational audiences: fan perspectives and practices and why they matter. In: Cooke, P. and Stone, R. eds. Screening European Heritage: Creating and Consuming History on Film (Basingstoke: Palgrave), pp. 209–234


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)