Often confounding and contradictory, Michael Winterbottom is considered among the most important recent British directors. Despite the acknowledged influence of major European directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders and Ingmar Bergman, and being famously collaborative, Winterbottom has developed a distinctive reputation and a high degree of thematic and stylistic continuity as director of a diverse range of films.
Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, in 1961, Winterbottom studied English at Oxford University and film and television at Bristol. He entered the television industry in the 1980s, working as an editor and then director, beginning with two documentaries about Ingmar Bergman. His television work included episodes of Cracker and the Roddy Doyle-scripted drama, Family (1994). In television he developed collaborative relationships that have lasted throughout his career, working with writer Frank Cotterell Boyce and producer Andrew Eaton. In 1994 Winterbottom and Eaton formed the production company Revolution Films, making their first theatrical feature, the lesbian road movie Butterfly Kiss in 1995.
Michael Winterbottom is highly productive by most standards, directing a dozen theatrically released films in the ten years between 1995 and 2005. He is also renowned for the diversity of his output. Winterbottom followed his feature debut with the historical drama Jude (1996), a version of the Thomas Hardy novel, and then that film with Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), about war journalists that was set during the conflict of the 1990s and filmed on location soon after. Winterbottom returned to contemporary Britain with Wonderland (1998) but then moved onto The Claim (2000), set in gold rush California, though adapted from another Hardy novel. 24 Hour Party People (2002) entertainingly recounted the Manchester music scene of the 1980s with comedian Steve Coogan in a style that mixed comedy, drama and seemingly documentary interviews, yet In This World (2002) felt like an actual documentary with non-professional actors and the looseness of a very small crew. The futuristic Code 46 (2003), the real sex of 9 Songs (2004), and comically intertextual Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005) further extended the range of topics and approaches of Winterbottom?s cinema.
Winterbottom?s various films superficially reflect an interest in a number of genres, from period and contemporary dramas to westerns and science fiction, yet in his best work there is a mix of the experimental and even anarchistic with a controlled almost formalistic ethic.