So what do the next seven British films have in store for us? The perverts and the pits make themselves heard. Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall tell fibs and keep secrets. Stalin dies. Gemma Arterton disappears in her breakout role. Dave Johns writes a letter to the government, on a wall. Bond starts again at twenty-one. I mean, that’s not even the half of it. Well, that’s six references, so more than half. Oh, you know what I meant.
Pride – Matthew Warchus (2014)
A perfect title for such a film. Exploring the days of the early 1980s, with the British minors’ strikes, the catapult into the limelight of the homosexual community, but also the pride of a nation rectifying their repression and aggression. Pride was an instant audience-pleaser. And understandably so. At Cannes, the film won the Queer Palm, the Hollywood Foreign Press loved it enough for it to make a Best Comedy or Musical Picture nominee, and as nods for Best British Film, and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, at the BAFTAs. Based on real events, surrounding the gay and lesbian activists who helped raise money for the miners and their families during the difficult times.
The Gay Pride Parade in London is a household name nowadays, as are police being a laughing stock as they mock what is unfamiliar to them. But this is not really a moral message about crime and punishment. Pride is a heart-warming, social drama, dipping its toes in the realms of discrimination, the importance of community, self-worth, reconciling or even standing up to family members. Never overdoes it, scatters plenty of light-hearted, accessible humor into proceedings, all the while telling a story that sees characters utilizing their strengths of hearts and minds. And as a result, winning ours over. – – – – – Robin
Belle – Amma Asante (2013)
Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. The fact that the movie was based on a true story just made it even more impactful.
Belle’s story occurs at a time in history when wealth and social standing could not overshadow the fact that she was a mixed race, illegitimate child. This is a deeply compelling film, which observes the racism and sexism plaguing the British society at the time. The class separation is starkly portrayed, as well as the plight of women who have no inheritance and must find a husband in order to survive. It also challenges the audience over the value of human life, the way we view others of different color, and the bravery of men and women who worked on bringing about social change. Belle is beautifully layered with the issues of equality and slavery, and shows how the matters of the heart can’t be prevented by the colour of your skin. – – – – – Bianca
Secrets and Lies – Mike Leigh (1996)
The conceit of a secret from one’s past re-emerging unexpectedly is a cornerstone of dramatic cinema. Few things in film can create tension and drama quite like a giant revelation involving the lead character. In Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies this takes form in the return of an unwanted child desperate to find her birth mother. In a twist on this well-worn tale, that child is a well-educated middle-class black woman named Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who is staggered to discover her biological mother is a working-class white woman named Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn).
As Cynthia attempts to keep her little white lie from her wildly dysfunctional family, the mother and daughter being to develop a deep connection and understanding of the total stranger sitting across from them. Leigh employs an almost-documentary style here, with several long, unedited sequences capturing the true emotion of his film. Blethyn is a revelation as the beleaguered and floundering Cynthia, typified by a deeply powerful telephone scene where Hortense first makes contact. It’s a performance without a shred of glamour, and Blethyn is downright stunning. The film was rightfully rewarded with five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, as well as the prestigious Palm D’Or at Cannes, and it’s not hard to see why. – – – – – Doug
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp – Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (1943)
One of most magical aspects of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, is how well the satire translates to the big screen. Of course, there is no Colonel Blimp in this story, no, that title is taken from the comic strip, and adapted for cinema. And quite a spectacle it is. Expertly crafted by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film is as lavish as they come, production values so high it likely gets more impressive as the years pass by. How immersive it must have been 70 years ago, when Technicolor cinematography was something very, very new.
The film follows significant parts of the life of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), journeying in flashback to tell the tales via three wars – Boer War, World War I, and II. Frank conversations between enemies, not just the matters of war, but mere difference of opinions or an ear for advice. The repetition, in the opening moments as Candy is captured, of “War starts at midnight!”, sets the witty ball rolling. Even under such serious subject matter. Furthermore, characters spill out dialogue much more taboo these days – “If anything happens to him, I’ll blow up your embassy”. Indeed, how times have changed. Deborah Kerr turns up as three different characters, one for each chapter – Edith, Barbara, and Angela – the resemblance of which plays into the film’s romantic segments. Good show! – – – – – Robin
Prevenge – Alice Lowe (2016)
Writing, directing, and playing the lead role herself, Alice Lowe has achieved a one-of-a-kind with Prevenge – a no-holds-barred revenge movie that is genuinely funny. Darkly funny, sure. And I say revenge, Lowe’s pregnant protagonist takes it upon herself to lash out at various characters that make her detest list (no spoilers here, go see for yourself). You’ll laugh, you’ll wonder why, you’ll enjoy the ride with way.
The motives for such hasty acts may even ring a bell with all of us. Lowe is terrific throughout, be it deadpan, attempts at being scary, or simply questioning the strange procedures life throws at us. As an actress we have seen plenty of the edgy British humor from Lowe, and adding eerie and impulsive to the mix, makes for a killer combination. Prevenge is bizarre, very funny, and a riot in all. —– Robin
I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach (2016)
An Italian Neorealist director once said that Neorealism does not offer solutions because neither does life. With a slight rephrasing, this can also be said for all works of realism. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is one of Britain’s examples of this. Daniel is a 59-years old carpenter in Newcastle, who has recently survived a heart attack. Even so, he is deemed fit to work by the healthcare professionals in a local recruitment office. We follow Daniel in the aftermath of this decision, as he struggles in his search for justice in the hopeless labyrinth of Kafkaesque bureaucracy.
Daniel meets Katie – a young mother of two on the verge of starvation, and sees meaning in taking care of her family, while his own situation worsens every day. Scarce on hope and offering no resolutions, Ken Loach throws us in a hopeless void of despair where life never gets better. The film perhaps evoked more backlash than a revolution, yet nevertheless succeeded in making so many of us understand and feel understood. – – – – – Teodosia
The Disappearance of Alice Creed – J Blakeson (2009)
Did you hear about The Disappearance of Alice Creed? The film opens with two men, Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston), kidnapping a young woman named Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton). They take her to an abandoned, soundproof apartment. Wearing masks to conceal their identities from their victim, Vic and Danny bind and gag Alice. Their plan is simple – coax Alice’s millionaire father to fork over a sufficient amount of cash in exchange for the young woman’s safe release. However, one thing that Vic and Danny have not counted on is Alice’s sheer determination to foil their supposedly fool-proof plan, entering into a battle of wills that strains the already fractious relationship between the two men.
Director J Blakeson throws the audience into the deep end, without so much as a warning. And suspense seethes through every scene courtesy of Blakeson’s tight filmmaking style. He does not waste any time to kickstart the action, there is very little exposition, this is a tale of survival of the fittest after all. Blakeson manages to weave this complex narrative with delicate precision, building dramatic tension as he goes. Both the male actors deliver strong performances, but this is really Gemma Arterton’s film, which she dominates with her presence. A tough watch, but worth checking out for it’s twisting narrative alone. – – – – – Bianca
Clockwise – Christopher Morahan (1986)
Parts of this were filmed in my very own home town. I can stand triumphantly, chest swelling with an abundance of civic pride, on the very spot were a minor part actress delivered her lines. She now acts as a professional bearer of women’s opinions and cook on lunchtime television. She has lovely corkscrew curled hair and is called Nadia and is part of small acting dynasty and is quite lovely.
Hull has only recently made its comeback on film. This was nothing to do with Clockwise though, which remains great. Cleese at his parochial, officious best, snapping at errant students and other humans alike. Before having trouble with the space time continuum. Or something. Wouldn’t a remake of Being John Malkovich with this character instead be good? No, bad idea. – – – – – Stephen
The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci (2017)
Set in early-1953 Moscow, during the Great Terror’s heavy cloak of state paranoia, the ever-watchful Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), collapses unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage. Inevitably, when his body is discovered in the following morning, a frenetic surge of raw panic spreads like a virus in the senior members of the Council of Ministers, as they scramble to maintain order, and ultimately, take power. But in the middle of a gut-wrenching roller-coaster of incessant plotting, tireless machinations, and frail allegiances, absolutely no one is safe; not even the feared chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria. In the end, who will prevail after the death of Stalin?
With a great performances from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Paddy Considine and Jeffrey Tambor (among others), you will be wiping tears of laughter away from your eyes. Simply put, this is an excellent film, and its treatment of the Stalin Era of the Soviet Union is both darkly humorous and actually very unflinching in its depicting the monsters and their monstrosities for what they were. It could have been ever so easy to glossed over just how monstrous the key characters actually were, but Iannucci shows us the warts and all, making for a dark, delightful comedy. Although Stalin would probably be less than amused! – – – – – Bianca
Casino Royale – Martin Campbell (2006)
The twenty-first James Bond film practically resets the template of the British spy film series. A brand new Bond, in Daniel Craig, and we’re taken right back to the start of the agent’s career. Not exactly a rookie, but Craig’s 007 has a certain vulnerability. The do-or-die attitude, as well as going against protocol, is all evident – but is this agent ready for his official MI6 appointment? Hired to defeat terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a poker game at the Casino Royale hotel in Montenegro, this Mr. Bond is physically equipped to put up a fight when ambushed, and stay calm and collected during a high pressure card game.
The true high-stakes for James Bond, really come to fruition when he meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) on the train. She’s a treasury representative who turns out to be the one employed to fund the secret agent’s poker game. It is, though, the emotional side to Bond, which we have rarely seen so candidly in fifty years. Scenes of such powerful affection, a stunned Vesper as she witnesses Bond kill in self-defence, or that she saves his life in the nick of time when he is poisoned. As fate would have it, Bond’s love for Vesper alters his plans to work for MI6, before forcing him to return with a dented heart, but stronger will. Craig makes for a pensive Bond, one we actually feel close to. And in Green, a remarkably poignant turn, an iconic Bond girl is born – the first, and perhaps most momentous. – – – – – Robin