Channel Hopping: British actresses in French cinema and French actresses in British cinema

William John Robert Campbell Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


From Simone Signoret in Room at the Top to Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, French women in British films have seemingly represented desirable others that threaten the local masculinity. Of late, Juliette Binoche in particular has played various characters whose ‘otherness’ is enhanced by her not playing noticeably French women, but, more generally, ‘European’ women (Chocolat, Breaking and Entering, The English Patient), who similarly threaten an arguably British masculinity. Meanwhile, recent French films featuring Charlotte Rampling involve a different emphasis that reveals potentially important divergences between the French use of British actresses and the British use of French actresses. Whilst French actresses in British films are by and large foils for or threats to the male stories being told, Rampling is, in French cinema, much more empowered, as per Sous le Sable, Swimming Pool, Lemming and Vers le Sud. The British, therefore, seem to see French women as powerless or to-be-disempowered objects, whilst the French seemingly consider British female sexuality as desiring as well as desired, albeit also at times threatening to French masculinity. This paper will analyse the possible cultural meanings of these differences by including the work of a further bilingual actress, Kristin Scott-Thomas, who, in many of her films, both British and French, and including films in which she plays an active sexual being (The English Patient, Bitter Moon), is curiously asexual (especially in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Aux Yeux du Monde). By being de-sexualised, and also by never posing a threat, Scott-Thomas arguably cuts to the similarity at the heart of the differences discussed above: being the exception that proves the rule, Scott-Thomas reveals that, for cinema, nationality plays a subordinate role to gender, and that it is women who are another country.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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