Hold your horses. We have our own civil war in Great Britain, to rival any of yours. Between the Southern Fairies and the Northern Monkeys. You think we’re a united nation. Ha. Up north we have scraps, spice, or cheese on our chips, whereas down south they walk up and down the apples and pairs. Go figure. Let’s take a look at ten more movies from the British Isles.
Red Road – Andrea Arnold (2006)
Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator in Glasgow’s working-class Red Road estate. Each day she watches over a small part of the world, protecting the people living their lives under her gaze. One day a man appears on her monitor, a man she thought she would never see again, a man she never wanted to see again. Now she has no choice, and she is compelled to confront him. We don’t know the relationship between the protagonist and the man she has discovered through the CCTV, but we are caught up in this mystery.
This is a thriller, but it is also a drama full of realism, with all its crudeness. The interpretations by the actors are truly brilliant. The slowly unraveling character and background of a CCTV operator form the plot of this gripping and unsettling, low-budget, yet very professionally made film. The background to the creation of Red Road is that it forms part of a project called Advance Party. Lone Scherfig and her collaborator, in accordance with the experiment, presented the fully fledged characters to director Andrea Arnold who then wrote the plot around them. They have a life of their own instead of being altered to fit a story-line. In the hands of Oscar-winning director Arnold, we again see art and new creative processes forcing their head through the much-abused medium of cinema. – – – – – Bianca
Billy Liar – John Schlesinger (1963)
Keith Waterhouse’s novel translates to the big screen rather have well. Especially given the wave of British talent on the working classes and striving for better things. John Schlesinger was a big part of the film industry’s revival in the 1960s, and the inspirational Billy Liar is one of the director’s landmark films. Set in the hearty homelands of Yorkshire, this entry into the kitchen sink drama of the period, should also be tagged with the comedy card. As is life, Billy Liar demonstrates the wit of the English as well as their conformism to an everyday, lesser world.
A rather splendid Tom Courtenay is in his element here, as Billy Fisher, a young fellow with itchy feet, and a habit for the fantasy life he likely will never have. I mean, he sees himself marching as a military hero on his head, and in reality appears to have little qualms about dangling three girls on the end of a string. His talent for make believe comes in handy, when he has to swap a ring from one girl’s finger to the other when he double-proposes. A constantly funny set-up, much of the comedy comes from the verbal tensions at home, Billy lives with his parents and grandma. Julie Christie, as old flame Liz, is the only one who has Billy figured out. But will she devote herself to him? And is he man enough to take the plunge? – – – – – Robin
Ex Machina – Alex Garland (2015)
British director Alex Garland made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, a fact that makes its impact even more awe-inspiring. Garland weaves many ideas into this story about a lonely programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who meets a tech billionaire named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his reclusive estate. Caleb is to perform a Turing test on an artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander). This story makes us contemplate the way we manipulate one another, and even what it means to be human. There is certainly an element to the story that encourages us to consider the rightful place in our society, that is to be afforded for our creations, particularly our technical and digital ones.
This is also a film that is written, and shot incredibly well. The screenplay was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects that year. The technical elements support the film’s story powerfully. There is so much converging in this film, it is almost like the intersection of a busy city-scape that the film uses as such a wonderful metaphor. I very much look forward to watching this film again soon. – – – – – Aaron
Room at the Top – Jack Clayton (1959)
Laurence Harvey plays an ambitious young man called Joe Lampton, who leaves a squalid industrial town somewhere in England, for a good job in a nicer city. He immediately makes friends in the office, and joins an amateur theater group when he learns that a pretty rich girl, Susan (Heather Sears), is a member. He also meets an older French woman (Simone Signoret), who he starts an affair with, all the while blatantly pursuing the rich girl. Much to the dismay of her parents. Her father is a coarse, but self-made man; the mother is a snooty society woman.
Even in post-World War II England, the “class system” is very evident. Harvey’s attempts at being upwardly mobile are constantly shot down. The film is very naturalistic, with stunning black and white cinematography. Background music is nondescript and unimportant, this is all about the drama and the dialogue. The most significant element of the film, perhaps, is the high quality of acting. Both Donald Wolfit and Hermione Baddeley as the mother of Susan Brown give really fine performances in support roles. Signoret won the best-actress Oscar (and just about every acting award that year), for her work here is magnificent. – – – – – Bianca
Vera Drake – Mike Leigh (2004)
British cinema has a particular knack for delivering films which manage to completely obliterate your heart. Such is the case with Mike Leigh’s devastating Vera Drake, a film which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and, had it not been for Hilary Swank, likely would have won Imelda Staunton an Academy Award for Best Actress. Staunton is astonishingly good as the titular character, a sweet and doting middle-aged wife and matriarch of a working-class family in 1950s London. While Vera spends her days cleaning houses and taking care of all those around her, this cheery housewife is also hiding a deep secret – she’s illegally performing abortions for young women with nowhere else to turn.
These women can’t afford to receive an abortion the “right way,” leaving Vera to crudely “help” the only way she knows how – a syringe and some soapy water, resulting in a miscarriage. When one of her “patients” falls gravely ill and almost dies, Vera’s shameful secret is out, and the consequences she must face will cause devastation to this once sweet-natured woman, and her shell-shocked family. Leigh’s skill to elicit a brilliant and compelling performance from his actors is again on show here, with Staunton’s beautifully emotive face displaying the full gambit of emotions within her deeply layered performance. Leigh consistently films Staunton in tight close-ups, resulting in a deeply affecting portrayal of a woman who’s witnessing her entire world collapse around her. Watching Vera’s kind and caring expressions be replaced with utter fear, genuine panic, and tragic shame, is gut-wrenching stuff. It’s a tour-de-force performance which is truly unforgettable. – – – – – Doug
Goldfinger – Guy Hamilton (1964)
Goldfinger could best be described as the quintessential, definitive Bond film, the first of the series to set the necessities of the entire saga in motion. It is also the best of the Bond movies, arguably the most suave and sophisticated. Released in 1964, forty years later it stands as one of the most risqué Bond films to date. Especially for its time, there is brief nudity during the opening credits, sexual scenes, constant innuendo (including a Bond girl named “Pussy Galore,” played by Honor Blackman) and implications of lesbianism.
Galore’s sexual orientation is not delved into as deeply and explicitly as it may be dealt with in today’s day and age, but the inclusion exists. Bond struggles verbally with Galore, trying to seduce her, and she subtly implies from their very first meeting that she will not be seduced. Claiming it is impossible for Bond to get very far with her, thereby insinuating that she is, in fact, a lesbian. According to the director of the film, Guy Hamilton, the entire situation is given much more emphasis in the novel by Ian Fleming, but it was simply too foul a subject for audiences back in 1964. Surprisingly, the verbal exchanges and implications behind the subject matter are much more effective. – – – – – Bianca
The Wind That Shakes the Barley – Ken Loach (2006)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley finally rewarded the legendary British director Ken Loach with the illustrious Palme d’Or in 2006. For three decades, Loach had been showcasing his great work at the festival. His mighty, but intimate war drama, focusing on the wars in Ireland, and the growth of the Irish Republican Army, in the early parts of the twentieth century. Two brothers from Cork, with very different views on the world and their heritage, step foot into the political, patriotic landscape of war. Inevitably, the siblings will find themselves on opposing sides, with pride and strength their greatest weapons.
Paul Laverty’s screenplay immaculately captures the relationship between the brothers, all the while shedding light on their dilemmas in these troubled times. Loach directs with his usual greatness for the somber and the real. With this picture, the director also manages to portray a land of beauty and opportunity, even if the mortals within it takes a bleaker path. As the stronger-willed, more rebellious brother, Cillian Murphy proves himself a compelling leading man. His fellow actor, Pádraic Delaney, as the brother who stands by his duties, rather than his heart, gives a bittersweet turn. – – – – – Robin
The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan (2008)
The Dark Knight, a ferocious, stylish re-hash of the Batman-on-film collection, does not exactly scream wholesome British story-telling. That said, Christopher Nolan’s second, and easily the best, of his Gotham City vigilante trilogy, is a British-American co-production. Famous in large part for the breathtaking performance of the late Heath Ledger, as the dark knight nemesis, The Joker. Also a fresh take on the villain, Ledger brought a sinister, unpredictable aura to the creepy bad guy – the actor was unrecognizable. Ledger was an absolute certainty to win the Best Supporting Actor prize at the Academy Awards. And deservedly so.
With eight nominations for The Dark Knight, and two wins, in most years, with those figures, you are likely a successful runner-up at the Oscars. Not this time. The film was already a loser when the nominations were announced. No Director nomination. No Picture nomination. Those who don’t follow the awards race won’t know that The Dark Knight was saved a Picture spot by the pushing and praising by fans, critics, bloggers, awards people. It was a refreshing and exciting choice. And the voters failed to make that choice. The Reader came hurtling in at the last minute, for various reasons, other than that it was better than The Dark Knight. It most certainly was not. – – – – – Robin
Attack the Block – Joe Cornish (2011)
Perhaps known more for his part in the TV comedy duo of ‘Adam and Joe’ some years ago, Joe Cornish adds his name to the British folk that took to filmmaking with a bang. Inspired by sci-fi movies and the mystery of aliens, Cornish wrote and directed Attack the Block with some gusto. The film also boasts such talent as Steven Price, the composer who would bag an Oscar two years later, and now house-hold names in the acting ranks, Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega. The film was also partly backed by Big Talk Productions, where Nira Park and Edgar Wright have accomplished much.
What starts out as a kind of troublesome youths depiction, in the seedy, dark council estate of South London, Attack the Black throws your perceptions from the top floor balcony. When Samantha (Whittaker) is almost mugged by a teenage street gang, headed by Moses (Boyega), they are all interrupted by a possible meteorite. As strange events develop, Samantha is forced to accompany the kids in what turns into a battle against numerous killer invaders. Creatures resembling large apes, perhaps, but covered in pointy fur, large claws, and a set of sharp monster teeth, that appear to glow in the dark. The enigmatic aliens claim much of the wow factor here, a film with enough energy and spooks to last the whole night through. – – – – – Robin
Four Lions – Chris Morris (2010)
Despite being made just eight years ago, I don’t think Four Lions could be made today. In fact, I can’t believe it got made, but I’m glad we have this black comedy from the deranged mind of Chris Morris. This is very much a social commentary on terrorism, and how seemingly ordinary people are roped into the act of terrorism. And it’s quite funny because it seems so absurd. The actual terrorists are inept, and have no real grasp of what they are trying to do. We follow them making plans, and deciding that they want to strike the London Marathon. The question being asked all the time is, can a film about suicide bombers ever be funny? Well, the answer, is yes, because these individuals are so bad at what they’re trying to do, that we can’t help but find it amusing.
Yes, the humour can get quite dark and sick at times, but not so much that it isn’t funny nonetheless. In my point of view, no subject should be off the table when it comes to comedy, as it is perhaps the most accessible genre to a wide audience. The film is taboo busting in many ways, as it deals with the subject of Jihad, but it also approaches the subject of Islam in a sensitive manner without ever being disrespectful or deliberately insensitive for the sake of it. Riz Ahmed is our main character, who is well developed, fleshed out, and quite likable; he isn’t a monster, but has decided to become monstrous by his susceptibility to corrupt teachings. Four Lions should be seen by as many people as possible, because it’s just that funny! – – – – – Bianca