I love movies. All sorts, from every continent. I remember spending every rainy Sunday afternoon, watching whatever classic was on BBC2. Later in life I would hit the local Odeon, Classic, or ABC multiple times a weekend. Being only a stones-throw from London meant I could get to see a lot of foreign films that didn’t make it out to Essex. But there’s always something special about the “home-grown” ones. The British film.
There is always a little disagreement about what defines a truly “British” film, but I think these hit most of main criteria. Not only are these my top ten British films, but some of my favourite movies of all time too.
So, in reverse order, here are my Top Ten British films:
10. Made In Britain (1982)
This is the story of Trevor (Tim Roth), a 16 year old skinhead in 80′s Britain, who’s social worker is trying to help conform.
I stayed up to watch this; It was all we could talk about in school the next day. I think this was the first time (then 13) I heard “the F-Word” on TV. Still not an easy film to watch, even now. Roth’s performance is brilliant, and considering it was originally made for TV by Alan Clarke, the language and ideas are still hard-hitting and the ending has not softened at all.
9. Hidden City (1987)
Charles Dance plays a professor who is persuaded by a young girl, to find snippets of film hidden at the end of old newsreels. The snippets allude to a kidnapping, and its cover up, in the 50′s. But as the pair look for the pieces, modern day shadowy forces start to make they’re presence felt.
Looking back the story can get a little clunky, but there are some great cameos from Richard E. Grant and Bill Paterson. The real star is the City of London. They use a lot of locations that don’t show up too often – Alleyways and courtyards that you may never know exist. I remember looking very differently at the buildings I walked past on the way home.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun has a dead-end job, and his girlfriend just dumped him. The next day he, and his wastrel friend Ed, awake to a full-blown zombie outbreak in London. This is when Shaun decides to win his girlfriend back, find his Mum, and hole up in their local until it all blows over. Needless to say things don’t go to plan.
I’m not a huge horror fan, but this slice of fried comedy gold has the laughs, scares, and gore. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright all worked on the fantastic TV series Spaced, and a lot of that humour comes through, but there’s also a lot of respect for the zombie genre too.
7. The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
Based on the Jack Higgins novel, it tells the story of a secret German mission to kidnap Churchill, from England, during WWII. With an all star cast including Michael Caine as the German Commander, Donald Sutherland, Jenny Agutter, Larry Hagman, and a whole slew of familiar faces this is a great action-adventure film.
The big set piece revolves around the German paratroopers “defending” the sleepy English village, against the nearby U.S. Forces, as they try to get to Churchill. Spy’s, a love story, Germans on English soil, and a couple of twists! Very similar to the earlier film ‘Went the day well?’, but a lot more action-packed.
6. Zulu (1964)
An adventure from Britain’s past. A small contingent of British soldiers & engineers, most of whom are in the infirmary, have to fend off the thousands of Zulu warriors that just decimated the British Army. Based on the true story of Rourke’s Drift where 11 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross.
It has a great cast (Micheal Caine’s first movie), looks fantastic, and is not as pro-Empire as you might initially believe. This was one of the first films I remember watching where I didn’t believe everyone would make it to the end.
5. A Month In The Country (1987)
This is one of two love stories I have in this list. Colin Firth plays a soldier back from WWI who is set to restore a mural in a country church. Kenneth Branagh plays another veteran looking for the grave of an ancestor and Natasha Richardson plays the Rectors wife.
It is beautifully shot, Firth & Branagh are fantastic, and it takes it’s time to tell it’s bittersweet, sometimes painful, story.
4. A Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
Set in the 1600′s it follows the fortune of a cocky Draughtsman employed by a landowner’s wife to make drawings of his estate. But as he starts objects (clues?) appear in the garden and make their way into his drawings. Is the owner missing? Was he murdered? Who is the living statue?
I love this film. Channel 4 played it as part of it’s launch, and I was hooked immediately. There’s a lot going on and warrants multiple viewings to unravel. Director Peter Greenaway delivers a feast for the eyes, and Michael Nyman’s score is fantastic. The performances are all good and the language is very period. The main location, [Groombridge Place](http://www.groombridge.co.uk/), is open to the public and well worth a visit.
3. The Man in the White Suit (1951)
A list of British films wouldn’t be complete without an Ealing comedy, and this is my favourite. Alec Guinness plays a chemist who creates a fabric that never wears out or gets dirty. The foxy Joan Greenwood is the love interest; Cecil Parker plays her father, and mill owner, who will be out of business if this invention goes public. Funny, touching, and with a not so subtle message. Classic Ealing. Classic British.
2. Withnail & I (1987)
The story of two out-of-work actors in London at the tail end of the 60′s, who go on holiday “by mistake, to the Welsh countryside. Funny, touching, and very quotable.
I was one of only three people at the showing in Basildon when it was released, and loved it. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann turn in great performances, as do the supporting cast. It found a cult following and became mainstream a decade after it’s release. I wouldn’t recommend following along with the accompanying drinking game though.
1. A Matter of Life & Death (1946)
It opens with a bomber pilot (David Niven) returning from a run in WWII. His crew is dead, the plane damaged, and he’s lost in fog over the English Channel. Talking to an American WAAF (Kim Hunter) over the radio, he makes his peace and bails out without a parachute. Niven cheats death and a Conductor (Marius Goring) is sent to guide him back to “Heaven” where his crew awaits, but he refuses to go as he’s now in love.
From there we have one of Powell & Pressburger’s greatest films. The performances are top-notch, it looks fantastic (flipping between B&W and Technicolor), and all the while the story plays with the idea this might be all in his head.