Cup of tea? A bun? Fish and chips for tea? Depends how much dough you have in your sky rocket. Why not go to the pictures instead? You’ll need a few quid, mind, probably cost you a bloody tenner for that bag of Maltesers and orange Fanta. No wonder we’re skint. So then, take a gander at these movies from the land that brought you Brexit. 100 British films to tickle your fancy, and here’s your starter for ten…
Tyrannosaur – Paddy Considine (2011)
English actor Paddy Considine makes an assured directorial debut with Tyrannosaur. A gritty drama that prods at the horror of brutality, rather than shoving it down your throat. Peter Mullan plays Joseph, tormented by his own tyrannic past, with his current reliance on drink and building frustrations of the downtrodden social landscape taking its toll. An unlikely alliance comes when he meets a meek shop-owner, Hannah (Olivia Colman). She offers him prayer, a notion which he mocks in his perturbed state, thus offending the good-natured woman.
Hannah’s own world is something of a dead-end, her husband (Eddie Marsan) frequently abuses her, both physically and mentally. The bond between Hannah and Joseph offers a kind of redeeming outlook for both, but they’re perhaps too marooned in their own chaos to pull through. Considine, who also wrote the compellingly true-to-life screenplay, handles the physical and verbal violence with a deft hand. The turmoil suffered by these characters is alarming, Tyrannosaur gives us a powerful view of the real world, one which hurts, and has the scars to prove it. – – – – – Robin
A Taste of Honey – Tony Richardson (1961) Bianca
Based on Shelagh Delaney’s play of the same name, A Taste of Honey remains a moving period drama. Beautifully directed by Tony Richardson, this film evokes all the stark realism of the famed English “New Wave / kitchen sink” dramas. The 1960s brought about many films about the English working class experience: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; Saturday Night, Sunday Morning; This Sporting Life; Kes. These films were real stories about real life, featuring real characters.
The film revolves around the life of a high-school girl, her mother, and a homosexual. As the narrative develops, we find out who they are sexually is not as important as who they are as human beings. And, this is what makes this film a wonderful experience; as all these characters desire is a sense of belonging. A Taste of Honey provides a grim slice-of-life look at the working class poor in early 1960’s England. Teen pregnancy, an openly homosexual companion, a negligent single mother and homelessness are featured- mainstream topics in today’s movies, but completely unseen on the big screen 1961. This is a very groundbreaking and compelling drama, which came a point in time where British cinema was making waves across the globe. – – – – – Bianca
The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper (2010)
If ever there was a prime example of what I enjoy, and what I don’t about the period piece. Director Tom Hooper’s drama, dealing with the real-life story of King George VI (Colin Firth), his stammering problem, and the unorthodox therapist, Lionel Louge (Gefforey Rush) – is that film. The look of the film is what I expect from our friends across the pond, which is to say it is polished to the nines. The use of lighting and color to evoke the mood of the scene as well as the characters surrounding it. The attention to detail as it pertains to sets and the fashion of the times. A score which is made to sound like the audience is hearing a piece of classical music from a world-renowned composer circa the 17th century. These aspects all add to the film’s charm
You can see why Colin Firth was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the reluctant, unofficial leader of the British Empire. He goes beyond just putting on a convincing stammer. He cuts at the heart of the issues which haunt him. His fears of constantly disappointing his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), him taking constant abuse from his playboy brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), as well from the rest of his family. On top of that he has a stubborn, almost bullish nature due to his fierce adherence to preserving the duties of the Crown. – – – – – Jonathan
Naked – Mike Leigh (1993)
Dark, bewildering, but certainly not far from home. A portrayal of a depressing England is certainly Mike Leigh’s forte, and Naked is one of his very best. And that is saying something. ‘Best’, of course, does not mean euphoric, for this 1993 masterpiece never strives to venture to a happy ending. David Thewlis plays Johnny, returning to familiar ground with a chip on his shoulder that would exceed the size of London itself.
A bitter man, perhaps, angry, sure, but his rants and theories on the world’s social self-destruction ring very true. Undeniable logic and ludicrous intelligence make Johnny a bleak wonder as far as characters go. And Thewlis is immense, chewing up and swallowing Leigh’s cynical, brilliant words with such venom and sarcasm. Johnny is the kind of raggedy soul that’d get on your nerves after a while, willing him to shut his mouth, but as battle of intellects go, you would want him on your team. – – – – – Robin
71 – Yan Demange (2014)
‘71 brings the story of Gary Hook, a British soldier. As the movie opens, we see Gary training with the rest of his platoon. It isn’t long before they are informed that they are being sent to deal with “a deteriorating situation in Belfast”. Before shipping out, Gary spends some quality time with his son. Upon arriving in Belfast, it isn’t long before the platoon is sent out in the streets of Belfast. Due to a blunder by the platoon’s lieutenant, soon they find themselves in the midst of a street riot, and they retread. In all of the confusion, Hook is left behind and he runs for his life, being chased by several Catholics bent on killing him. At this point we are 15-20 minutes into the movie.
Will Hook make it out alive? ‘71 is both a top notch political movie and action thriller. The tension that builds up in the street riots is incredible, and remain palpable later on. Once Hook escapes the first immediate danger, he catches his breath, and only then realizes the horrible position that he finds himself in. And every choice he makes from here on out can be the wrong one. As to the political side, things are not clearly black and white, and in fact the comment is made several times in the movie that “the situation is confused” and we can’t always tell who the “good” guys and the “bad” guys are. Perhaps an accurate reflection of how things were like back then in Northern Ireland. – – – – – Bianca
The English Patient – Anthony Minghella (1996)
The English Patient would steamroll its way through the 69th Academy Awards on the night, taking all 7 of the first categories it was nominated in. Incredible. Duly noted, as Andrew Lloyd Webber quipped “Thank God The English Patient didn’t have a song”. He and Tim Rice had just won Best Original Song for Evita with “You Must Love Me”. It was Billy Bob Thornton who broke The English Patient‘s streak. A surprising, but extremely popular win, beating Anthony Minghella’s extraordinary writing, for Adapted Screenplay with Sling Blade. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas would also lose next. But that was it. Best Director and Best Picture were a certainty. Nine Academy Awards for The English Patient, equalling the record by Gigi (1958) and The Last Emperor (1987).
This was not the easy ride the Oscar success implied. Producer Saul Zaentz, director Anthony Minghella, and much of the cast deferred payments earned because of such financial difficulties. The production was actually forced into a temporary halt – in real danger of being shut down. Early in shooting, Minghella had tripped, breaking his ankle, and had to direct the rest of the picture on crutches and leg in a plaster cast. Before 20th Century Fox bailed, they were not quiet about their doubts over whether Anthony Minghella could make such a grand film. They also pushed for Kristin Scott Thomas to be replaced by Demi Moore. Good gracious. – – – – – Robin
Brighton Rock – John Boulting (1947)
Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) is a small-town hoodlum, whose gang runs a protection racket based at Brighton racecourse. When Pinkie murders a journalist called Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley), whom he believes is responsible for the death of a fellow gang-member, the police believe it to be suicide. This doesn’t convince Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who was with Fred just before he died, and she sets out to find the truth. She comes across naive waitress Rose (Carol Marsh), who can prove that Fred was murdered, but before she can talk, Pinkie marries her in order to keep her quiet. But with his gang beginning to doubt his ability, and his rivals taking over his business, Pinkie starts to become more desperate and violent.
Brighton Rock was made in black-and-white, being the UK answer to the dark, moody American film noir. There is a clear distinction between the dark foreboding interior and the bright exterior. Scenes shot outside, are light and cheerful, reflecting the atmosphere of a warm summer’s day by the seaside. Where the scenes located in Pinkie’s home create a dark seedy atmosphere, which seems familiar from many British “kitchen sink” dramas. Crime has clearly not paid for the gang. Attenborough is absolutely riveting and charismatic as gang leader Pinkie Brown, that it’s hard to imagine him becoming that dear old sweet man we all loved in Jurassic Park, 45 years later. – – – – – Bianca
Atonement – Joe Wright (2007)
Joe Wright’s WWII literary adaptation Atonement encapsulates a quintessential summer in a quintessential Britain – glorious and class-divided. A season of tactility and bodily sensations, summer in Atonement captures almost deliriously the small pleasures of water oases, the lightness of the fabrics dress and undress, the lethargic afternoons and the blur of clear thought. In the summer, our bodies are at their most present, yet our minds are so unsure. In England, where heat is a rarity, one feels suddenly thrown into a mirage – we see the non-existing and fail to reason what’s present.
In the countryside mansion in Atonement, such a mind belongs to 13-year old play writer Briony (young and brilliant Saoirse Ronan), who misreads the relationship she sees unfolding between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy). At the same time, a bourgeois traitor arrives in the house, but everyone fails to link the terror that unfolds in the house with the new-comer. Cecilia makes the wrong deductions and blames it on Robbie. An act that would destroy the lives of all three of them in the wake of war. And as heat befogs my own mind in this summer afternoon, I wonder if the destruction Briony caused is not a synecdoche for the decisions we made which led to the war. And who’s to blame – the actions of an adolescent mind, or those that trusted it? – – – – – Theodosia
The Wings of the Dove – Iain Softley (1997)
A clandestine love story of sorts, Iain Softley’s sumptuous, seductive period piece delivers in brooding melancholy and blooming companionship. Based on the 1902 book by Henry James, the adaptation by Hossein Amini is meticulously thought-out. Earning an Oscar nomination for Best Actress here, Helena Bonham Carter’s lead performance is painfully good. Kate is a young woman with flaws, but the British actress gives weight to the character’s misgivings and passion.
The Wings of the Dove is also a story of envy, and potential loss. Amidst her secluded love affair with Merton (Linus Roache), Kate’s outlook is shaken by the friendship she forms with the American Milly (Alison Elliott). In fact, as good as Bonham Carter is, the terrific Elliott in support is something of a revelation, squeezing every ounce of virtue and emotion from perhaps the film’s most empathetic character and story-line. – – – – – Robin
The Lady Killers – Alexander Mackendrick (1955)
The Ladykillers is a 1955 British black comedy crime film directed by Alexander Mackendrick for Ealing Studios. American William Rose wrote the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the BAFTA Award. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film, and merely had to remember the details when he awoke. The film follows a gang planning a ‘job’, who find themselves living with a little old lady called Mrs Wilberforce, who thinks they are musicians. When she starts asking too many questions, the gang set out to kill Mrs Wilberforce, and they run into one problem after another, getting what they deserve.
It’s a marvel to watch how Katie Johnson manages to balance the act of a sweet old lady who is respected, yet still patronized, with the toughness of a strong woman who upholds moral justice. The rest of the cast display their usual talents, the wonderfully dry Alec Guinness, the fumbling Cecil Parker, and the mean looking Herbert Lom. It’s also interesting to see a very young Peter Sellers, who would become a huge comedic star just a few years later. The dark lighting and moody scenes are perfect for this comedy, and are very typical of British films of the era, so the look is familiar right away as you begin to watch. Good, solid entertainment all around! – – – – – Bianca
Stay tuned for for the second part. In the meantime leave your comments below.