Ravi Shankar was one of George Harrison’s closest confidantes and somebody he could entrust anything on. In addition to their shatterproof bond, Shankar famously introduced The Beatles guitarist to his trusty sitar and made Harrison take his first step into film production.
When Harrison helped finance Shankar’s documentary, Raga, and released it through Apple Films in 1971, The Beatle thought nothing more of it. Following the split of The Fab Four, he could invest his time and money into anything he wanted. On this occasion, Shankar was the benefactor of Harrison’s goodwill. However, it lit a fire in his belly that would eventually make the guitarist one of the most influential men in the British film industry.
Harrison would again team up with Shankar to make the Concert for Bangladesh film, and Harrison fell head over heels in love with the creative process. It allowed him to engage a different part of his mind to the one he used in the studio, and the guitarist found it a liberating experience.
After the demise of Apple Films, Harrison put his cinema career on the backburner before creating HandMade Films in 1978. Over the last coterie of decades, it has grown into an institution, and one financial gamble from George Harrison is what we’ve got to thank for these stone-cold British classics.
The 5 films that George Harrison made possible
Life of Brian (1978)
Monty Python was George Harrison’s catnip, and he even wrote a fan letter to the BBC after the first episode of Flying Circus aired in 1969 when The Beatles were at the height of their fame. Over the next few years, his friendship with Python’s Eric Idle would blossom. “His friendship meant an enormous amount to me,” Idle once said. “I was going through a broken marriage at the time. He was very encouraging and friendly and supportive. We’d go to his house and play guitars.”
When EMI pulled the funding on Monty Python’s feature film Life Of Brian in 1978 after chairman Lord Delfont expressed his repulsion at the script, Idle made a call to Harrison, and the film was miraculously back on.
The former Beatle remortgaged his house and ploughed $5 million into the film. Idle later commented: “I mean, imagine what he says to the wife in the morning. ‘Hello love, I’ve just mortgaged the house, I’m going to put it on this film over here’.”
Not only was this film the beginning of a fruitful partnership with Python, but more importantly, it was the start of HandMade Films.
The Long Good Friday (1980)
Following the success of Life Of Brian, there was no way Harrison was giving up on his production company, and The Long Good Friday was the next major project he undertook. The John Mackenzie directed flick starred Bob Hoskins alongside Helen Mirren.
Harrison managed to pick the film up for £200,000 less than its production costs after its controversial storyline relating to the IRA stopped it from getting a theatrical release. The Long Good Friday could have feasibly rotted on the back burner if it wasn’t for Harrison’s intervention which brought the picture to cinemas.
Time Bandits (1981)
Time Bandits saw Harrison reconvene with Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. Even though they occasionally butted heads on set, the film was a rousing success at theatres and reaped over $42 million at the box office from a modest $5 million budget. When the director opened up about their friendship with Metro in 2016, the national treasure had nothing but superlatives to say and described him as a “joy”.
In fact, Gilliam went as far as saying that his whole career as a director is thanks to Harrison taking a risk on him and allowing him the opportunity to make his directorial debut. “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for HandMade Films,” he said to the publication. “The world wouldn’t have Time Bandits, A Private Function. It wouldn’t have any of these things… It’s very simple. To have a Beatle as a patron is what you need in life, it really was. I mean George stepped in and saved our arses basically.”
A Private Function (1985)
The star-studded array of household names who appeared in A Private Function include Maggie Smith, Alison Steadman, Reece Dinsdale, and of course, Monty Python’s own Michael Palin.
The film is a lively comedy set in the West Riding of Yorkshire during the food rationing era after the war. To celebrate the Queen’s marriage to Prince Phillip, the villagers come together to get their hands on a pig to feast on, but as you can probably guess, things don’t go to plan, and hilarity ensues.
Mona Lisa (1986)
Mona Lisa wasn’t a money-spinner on the same scale as the likes of Life of Brian and Time Bandits. Yet, it remains universally adored by critics, and Bob Hoskins even won the Golden Globe and Bafta for ‘Best Actor’ thanks to his dynamic performance.
The film follows Hoskins’ character, George, as he falls in love with an escort and becomes dangerously entangled into the seedy underbelly of after dark crime. There are a plethora of twists and turns that leave you glued to the screen as you follow George on his murky adventures into the underworld.