Italy wants to challenge the dominance of Britain in film and television by dramatically expanding its famed Cinecittà studios outside Rome.

Rome was nicknamed “Hollywood on the Tiber” during its heyday in the 1950s, when American and British stars flocked to the capital to enjoy la dolce vita and make blockbusters like Roman Holiday, Cleopatra and Ben-Hur.

The Italian film industry has lost some of its lustre in recent years and Cinecittà, which was built by Mussolini in the 1930s, saw its revenue decline as directors opted for cheaper filming locations offering generous tax breaks, including Eastern Europe.

But the government now intends to spend €300 million on Cinecittà, building new studios and sprucing up an Ancient Rome set that has been used in a string of TV and film productions, notably the series Rome.

The entrance to Cinecitta, Rome's historic film and television studios

Credit: Alamy

The money will come from the €750 billion EU Recovery Fund – Italy is the biggest beneficiary of all EU countries and stands to receive more than €200 billion from Brussels.

The bid to expand Cinecittà comes just days after it emerged that the EU regards Britain’s success in producing film and TV content as a threat to the continent’s “cultural diversity”.

Brussels wants to take action against what it sees as the “disproportionate” amount of British content shown in Europe, including acclaimed series such as The Crown and Downton Abbey.

The expansion of Cinecittà is part of a “strategic” plan to better compete with the British, said Italy’s culture minister.

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, hold a joint press conference on June 22, 2021 at Rome's Cinecitta cinema studios

Credit: AFP

“It seems to me obvious that if Great Britain leaves the EU, its production becomes non-European and it cannot be included in European quotas,” Dario Franceschini told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“Europe must respond…and Cinecittà will be a strategic part of this common front.”

The expansion of the film studios will be “one of the biggest industrial projects in Italy in the last 10 years,” he said.

A new indoor pool will be built for filming underwater scenes and the set of Ancient Rome will be expanded with the construction of a Roman theatre.

The aim is to make Cinecittà “a world-class competitive production hub,” the minister said. “We want to revive the splendours of Roman Holiday.”