The first motion picture producer ever to receive a knighthood, Alexander Korda was a guiding force behind the British film industry throughout the 1930s as a studio chief, producer, and sometime director, and continued as a major -- and highly influential -- film producer until his death in 1956. Although synonymous to the world with British films, Korda was Hungarian-born, and worked in movies in Austria, Germany, and America, without finding any particularly notable success, before coming to England in 1930. He was a crafty businessman as well as a flamboyant personality; he favored bold, ambitious, opulent productions -- Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger modeled Boris Lermontov, the egotistical ballet impresario of The Red Shoes, partly on Alexander Korda. And toward that end, by 1933 he had founded a major (though always financially shaky) studio in London Films, and managed to pull off a seemingly impossible feat by directing and producing The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). The latter film succeeded as no British picture since the advent of the talkies had, becoming a major hit in America, also earning an Oscar nomination as Best Picture and turning its star, Charles Laughton (who won the Best Actor Oscar), into an international star.
From that first great flash of success, London Films went on to occupy a unique niche in the firmament of the British cinematic world. Indeed, the studio was a study in brilliance and contradictions. For starters, there was its name -- it may have been "London" Films, but it was built on Korda's production genius, and also the work of his brothers, Zoltan Korda (one of England's best directors) and Vincent Korda (a world-renowned art director), along with their assembled staffs of writers, artists, costumers, etc., almost all of them expatriate Hungarians. Despite the national origins of its founder and most of its employees, however, the studio seemed bent on "selling" the British Empire all over the world, a fact not lost on the British bankers who financed the film industry or government officials whose financial and regulatory policies had profound impact on the motion-picture business.