The British are invading again, and this time there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.
That’s because it’s a pop culture invasion, more like the one that brought miniskirts, Merseybeat and crazy eyelashes stateside in the 1960s than the one that brought redcoats and muskets in the 1770s.
This weekend’s return of the British Arrows, the beloved annual program of artful TV commercials at Walker Art Center, leads the charge. But, right now, you can’t swing a brolly without hitting a book, movie, TV series or slang word that came from across the pond.
British Arrows Awards
Inspiration and injustice are always big themes in the annual collection of ads (the awards are given by Brits to commercials from around the world).
Highlights include Samsung’s “Do What You Can’t,” about an ostrich teaching itself to fly; “140 Years,” a spot that showcases female Wimbledon winners while explaining why they must wear white, and a clever airline safety spot that has famous actors auditioning for “fasten your seat belt” videos — and shows what Jim Broadbent can do with one short phrase.
In “What Our Girls Are Made Of,” an apple-cheeked girl sings a hokey tune about “flowers and gossip” that morphs into an anthem of courage and strength.
While we’re on the subject of ads, did you see the one that was all over social media last week, in which we saw the trajectory of Elton John’s career, running backward, for a department store most of us probably never heard of (John Lewis and Partners). Yep, it’s British.
The time-traveling adventure series is in its 99th-or-something season but it’s never been buzzier than it is now, largely due to the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor. A veteran of another smash hit that transferred from England to the States, “Broadchurch,” Whittaker initially sparked controversy with her casting, but has become a fan favorite.
People magazine finally stopped messing around and gave the actor his due as Sexiest Man Alive. Elba and his abs accepted the honor with grace while using the occasion, sexily, to remind folks to vote in midterm elections. And he’s not even an American citizen! Previous honorees from the United Kingdom include Jude Law, David Beckham and Scotland’s Sean Connery.
The Brits are even shoving their spelling rules down our throats with this one, which Daniel Webster hated so much that he published an American dictionary eliminating the “u” from “color” and “favorite.” It’s an “All About Eve”-ish comedy in which cousins (played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) scheme to become besties (that’s a Britishism, by the way) with a queen played by Olivia Colman. The movie opens here Dec. 7 but is already a hit in New York and L.A., where its $105,000-per-theater average last week was the best of the year. Look for “The Favourite,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), to loom large in year-end awards.
Many of us had probably never heard that word, meaning “stunned,” until Emma Thompson started tossing it around in award acceptance speeches in the 1990s. But, in “The Prodigal Tongue,” Lynne Murphy’s book about the different ways Americans and Brits speak English, she notes that as much as the British complain about Americanisms such as “awesome” or “cookie” worming their way into their vocabulary, there are as many British words and phrases that journey west across the Atlantic, including “at the end of the day” and “brilliant” (meaning “awesome,” not “intelligent”).
“The Great British Baking Show”
Yes, we all miss that nice Mary Berry, but the show continues to be a hit on Netflix, which released a new season of contestants making sky-high cakes earlier this month (one that features the cast that replaced original “Bake”rs Berry, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins), as well as an old season with the original cast. Although Brits typically have not been celebrated for their cooking, the competition series is part of a wave of British food porn, among them Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks and breathy TV shows as well as Yotam Ottolenghi’s bestselling British/Middle Eastern fusion cookbooks, including his brand-new “Simple.”
“Mary Poppins Returns”
A few stray Americans chipped in on the Dec. 19 musical comedy (director Rob Marshall, actors Meryl Streep and Lin-Manuel Miranda) but you can’t get more British than an adaptation of stories by P.L. Travers (Brit) about a chaotic family (Brits) assisted by a nanny (Brit) played by Emily Blunt (Brit), with everyone participating in a production number in which London’s lamplighters “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” a song that explains Cockney rhyming slang. Bonus Britpoints for another number titled “Lovely London Sky.”
The royal family
Even Americans with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the British royals have had a tough time hating on the Windsors lately. Whether it’s the introduction of free(r)-thinking American Meghan Markle into the inbred clan, Queen E’s corgis, the recent births of numerous difficult-to-dislike babies or the image of Grandpa Charles distracting himself from not inheriting the throne by playing airplane with his descendants, the royals are currently sweet and likable.
We’ve always integrated British culture into our own, of course. That’s has been true from the time the Puritans showed up in Jamestown nearly 400 years ago. But, with upcoming waves of British products, both open (the “Downton Abbey” movie finally will open next September) and insidious (a new film of the all-American “Little Women” is on the way next year, featuring two Englishwomen, an Aussie and an Irishwoman as the March sisters of Massachusetts), might another American Revolution be in order?