In a candid interview, Christine began by telling me how she joined the BBC.
“I started out in Television. I was a producer on Cold Feet over at Granada in Manchester and that came about after working with Andy Harris for several years in development. I ran three series and then left, but continued freelance working for them.
“Then I directed something for the BBC, which sadly didn’t get commissioned and I was left at a bit of a crossroads. David Thompson asked me to come to the BBC, but Andy Harris had offered me something at Granada too. I already knew Peter Morgan very well, and that’s how I went on to produce The Deal.”
Michael Sheen, who memorably played Tony Blair in The Deal, features prominently in the career of Langan. He also starred in Dirty Filthy Love and will soon be seen in the BBC adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd on the big screen.
It was The Queen, however, that is arguably the biggest hit of their collaborations so far, in which Sheen reprised his role as Prime Minister Blair opposite Helen Mirren who went on to win an Oscar in the lead.
Following on from that huge success, Christine took up the position of Executive Producer at BBC Films in 2006. Three years later she became Head of BBC Films.
“By this point, I really did want to focus exclusively on film,” says Langan of her initial appointment in 2006. “I had a feeling that things were changing elsewhere.”
Clearly a high-profile role, and one of the most important in British Film Production, what does the job actually entail?
“I oversee all of our development and production. I have an editing team, there is a business affairs side of a similar size. I defer to them when it comes to the deals we do and negotiations, but I embrace the fact that I’m not completely free to negotiate deals. It all goes before a committee anyway. Film is very contractual, there is quite a lot of paperwork. A deal is like making the film itself in many ways. We make a point of only looking at the work of writers who are represented or have been produced already. We just don’t have the resources to review submissions from absolute novices so it won’t be anyone too green.
At any one time we will have 70 or 80 projects in development, resulting in 10 or 12 films released every year. The process is ongoing back-and-forth meetings to try and get the script from an initial pitch. It has to be attractive to talent and inward investment, so you can attach a director for example. It’s organic. So I met with a distributor yesterday and they wanted to know what we had on our slate, and I was aware that we have other projects with other companies, so you have to see which fits best. It’s an ongoing dialogue with our commercial partners.
“Studios get involved sometimes, so for example Far from the Madding Crowd is fully funded by Fox. Brooklyn, which we fully made, did really well at Sundance and following a bidding war Fox Searchlight bought the rights. So I’m working with the same people in many relationships and dialogues.”
Is this method of working unique to BBC Films?
“I assume its similar to Film4, but that would be it. The BFI would be another, potentially, but they don’t really have that end user. I’m also working for the TV viewer and the license fee payer, so I’m thinking about what the film will be like when it’s broadcast on TV.”
Is there anything on that basis that you haven’t pursued because it might make for a great film but not necessarily a TV experience?
“No, it generally works the other way around actually. I might get involved with something purely because I think it will work for the TV viewer if not the cinematic audience. For example, Mrs Browns Boys, was all about a BBC talent and an under-served audience that it reaches. When it’s served up on TV, there will be an audience ready for it. It’s not necessarily something I would otherwise get involved with, but I was very happy to do it.”
And what about the other end of the spectrum, the big Blockbusters. Is that something you would get involved with at the BBC?
“The American tent-pole releases? There’s no need or place for us there. I don’t see that as our activity. One day of enhancements on a movie like that would probably pay for an entire production on one of our films. It’s like a different industry altogether. We have to make sure there is an alternative to all that for people who want it. Human stories. I certainly go and see those films, and talent that migrates over will always be a welcome addition.”
We’re here for the 25th anniversary of BBC Films. What do you have planned?
“We have a week of films soon that begins and ends with two premieres. We have Great Expectations and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in May. We’re not sure about the other titles just yet. There will be two new initiatives announced at our launch event.”
Finally, in your time here what has been the biggest success and the biggest failure?
“I think Dom Hemingway was the biggest failure. It was a miscalculation, it really didn’t perform. I think it was a shame that many people didn’t see it. Given my time again, I would have done things differently on it.
My biggest success is probably Philomena. We were embroiled in it from the early days, introducing Steve [Coogan] to the writers and getting Stephen Frears on board. BBC Films was quite instrumental in getting that off the ground and looking after it. It was very important that it all came together because it’s her real story and it resonated for a large number of people around the world. The film made for all the investors and we went to the Oscars, but most importantly it told a story that was half-known yet opened up records that needed to be opened up. It was incredibly gratifying, although not to over-claim, that a film could do so much and make a difference.”