With Hollywood blockbusters often dominating the big screen, raking in those record breaking profits and generally providing an all matter of entertainment, it can be all too easy to forget about home-grown talent and the brilliance in the humble British film.
In the last decade alone, British cinema has opened up to the masses, reaching a worldwide audience that thrives off of its raw and honest conventions. The variety one finds within British cinema is what makes it stand out from other forms of visual art, leaving it to rule the independent film sector, while slowly taking over mainstream cinema.
With big players like Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle paving the way for a Brit-style takeover, British cinema isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of explicit violence, fierce love and charmingly traditional humour. Whether it’s a director, cinematographer, source material or location; the talent within British film is only growing and when done right, a Brit film can bring out a whole new perspective on cinema.
This being said, whittling down the list to a mere ten wasn’t an easy task and there’s no doubt the next wave of British film makers have some serious keeping up to do. So, don your tweed hats and make up a builder’s brew; here are the 10 British films that changed everything.
10. The Full Monty
Peter Cattaneo’s surprise hit of 1997 attempted to destroy the preconceived notions of Britain’s class system in the most hilariously charming way. Telling the story of six unemployed steel workers who turn to male stripping to earn some cash, The Full Monty mixed a traditionally gritty way of shooting with a quintessential British humour that made for a heartwarming and cheeky story of men getting their kit off.
With a script from the supremely talented Simon Beaufoy, The Full Monty was wonderfully successful in tackling class and poverty issues in a subtly hard hitting way, using down to earth humor to sooth its audience into pondering the lengths those will go in order to support their families.
With great performances from the likes of Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Addy, The Full Monty looked at male friendship and nudity in a refreshingly new way, attempting to open up a fairly cosmopolitan humor for working class men.
The sheer diversity in characters was also impressive, with men of working class background, middle class men, family men and gay men all being fairly and charmingly represented. The Fully Monty left audiences feeling part of a wider. if not slightly less-clothed, family.
Not to mention the famous last scene, where the brave boys agreed to do one take of the true Full Monty, removing all their clothes in the last strip sequence; proving that a bare arse is still something to be laughed at.
9. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Guy Richie’s unique style of film making is one that has seemingly carved him out to be a pioneer for British directors, rocketing him into the world of mainstream cinema with universal hits like Sherlock Holmes and his up and coming Knights of The Round Table flick.
Still, before he began telling stories of legends and mastermind detectives, Richie indulged in a brilliant mix of laddish humor and tough-man violence to create a sub-genre of Brit-Grit that shot him to auteur standards. His 1998 gangster romp Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels mixed weed, firearms, thugs and a hell of a lot of cash to weave a cracking back-street London adventure!
There’s something profoundly whimsical about Richie’s standout flick, paving the way for the London gangster genre that has been so eagerly repeated over the years. With career blooming performances from hard men Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng and Vinnie Jones; Lock Stock is a recognisably British movie, with follow up flicks like Snatch and RocknRolla continuing to improve Richie’s trademark style.
8. A Clockwork Orange
Despite director Stanley Kubrick having been born across the pond, his 1971 mind-bending movie is an adaptation of Brit born Anthony Burgess’ novel about a futuristic Britain. With intentions of saving the UK’s crime problem, the government gets charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge to volunteer for an experimental aversion therapy. What followed is a shocking visual journey of sheer horror and absolute debauchery; all neatly wrapped up in a spectacularly shot realist style nightmare.
This wonderfully twisted film caused quite the social outcry and helped change the way violence in British films was shown.Some of the most shocking scenes in cinema reside within its narrative, from a horrific home invasion to scenes of gang rape and physical torture; ensuring that A Clock Work Orange truly pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable viewing.
The incredible Michael McDowell played the central character in this dystopian horror and received exceptional critical acclaim for his efforts. The script is still something that major movie buffs find themselves quoting, with “the old in-out” being a particularly um- charming expression.
7. Secrets & Lies
Mike Leigh’s bitter sweet story of family is one that packs an emotional punch in such a subtle way. Being one of Leigh’s first films that set him apart from other British film makers, the flick told the story of successful black woman, Hortense, who seeks to find her birth mother, tracking her down as working class white woman, Cynthia.
The two women clash as Cynthia denies her maternal responsibility, leading them both to learn some harsh truths about their families. With wonderful performances from the likes of Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Brenda Blethyn, Clair Rushbrook and Marianne Jean-Baptiste; Secrets & Lies really did have a smorgasbord of British talent at its very core.
While there are indeed secrets and lies held within the narrative of Leigh’s film, it’s the simplicity of the story that truly marks its importance within the British film movement.The beauty of family, in all its diversity and trauma is something that Leigh so skillfully marked out for British cinema; creating a wave of nostalgia weaved within everyday delights.
6. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone
Who knew back in 2001 that this movie would be the start of one of Britain’s biggest film franchises, with the entire seven movies raking in a whopping $10 billion at the global box office.
It all started when fresh faced Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson bagged the roles of Harry, Ron and Hermione in the adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s magical novel. Kids and adults around the globe became instantly enthralled by the wizarding world of Hogwarts and the adventure of Harry Potter- the boy who lived.
While British cinema had toyed with the fantasy genre before, under Chris Columbus’ helm, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone blew it wide open for contemporary viewers. It took the essential codes and conventions for your typical British kid flick and married them with an outrageous sense of wonderment to create a hit.
The films have since gone on to create an entire world of fandom; making serious money from theme parks, merchandise, DVD packages and not forgetting the good old books. Wait- do kids still read?
Cinema doesn’t get much grittier than Danny Boyle’s 1996 drug fueled romp; which paved the way for some unbelievably honest and shocking realism in a hostile and dangerous setting. Adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel, Trainspotting tells the story of heroine addict Renton who, despite the allure of his toxic friends and hard core drugs, desperately tries to clean up his act and give up the drugs for good.
Performances from the likes of Ewan McGregor are so outstanding that you can go from hysterical laughter to feeling cripplingly uncomfortable in a matter of mere moments. The sheer honesty of such issues as the comedowns and the casualties of these drug habits are explored with perfection thanks to Boyle.
Not only did the general narrative open up British cinema’s wonderful potential, but the sophistication of the cinematography was great also. With Brian Tufano creating suitably trippy art through cinematography, audiences are pulled into this sinking world of drug addiction; proving that gritty narrative can also be some visually amazing too.
4. 28 Days Later
The zombie genre has blow up as of late but it was over ten years ago that Boyle expanded the world of Brit zombie flicks in this post-apocalyptic world of flesh eating madness! Cillian Murphy wakes up in a hospital bed only to find that a mysterious, incurable virus has spread across the UK, leaving its victims hankering for an arm or two.
Boyle really knows how to pick his creative team as again his style of shooting is second to none; with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle assisting in the remarkably realist visual effects. Boyle’s zombie nightmare did so well in pacing it’s narrative, exploiting the audiences’ fears in order to ensure their film making is at its most effective.
Having taken this primarily Hollywood genre, Boyle opened the door for other Brit filmmakers, ensuring them that flesh eating isn’t just for mainstream cinema. If anything, the gritty traditions that come with British film often enhance the true horror of the genre.
3. Four Weddings And A Funeral
Is there anybody more British than Hugh Grant? Along with director Mike Newell, that floppy haired gent set to create a new wave of 90’s romantic comedies. Staring alongside token American Andie McDowell, Grant plays a committed bachelor who, over the course of five social occasions, must come to terms with the fact that he has fallen in love.
This winning formula has gone on to inspire a whole heap of romantic comedies and Grant himself became the go-to bloke for the bumbling Brit who falls in love with an American girl. Films like Notting Hill, Micky Blue Eyes and Two Weeks Notice have helped marked out Grant’s career as the Rom-Com King.
The mix of Grant’s charm and the traditional British sense of humor made for a winning formula that continues to inspire, not only Brit films, but American romantic comedies also.
2. Shaun Of The Dead
Edgar Wright has quickly become a pioneer for contemporary British comedy and this 2004 flick helped open up a brilliant, semi-parody genre of comedy that has seemingly engulfed the entertainment sector in the last ten years.
With his faithful duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost by his side, Wright weaves a hilarious zombie apocalypse movie that tells the story of Shaun, your everyday man who decides to win back his long-suffering girlfriend but is rudely interrupted by a zombie invasion. With his best friend Ed, Shaun goes on a mission to push past the neck biters and gather his loved ones to hit the pub and “wait for it to all blow over”.
Wright’s mix of mild yet genuine horror and slick, contemporary humour spoke to a younger fan base but had enough narrative pull to bring in a wider audience of flesh eating fans. Wright has taken this sub-genre and run with it, toting Pegg and Frost with him, and made the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’; including Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The Worlds End.
1. This Is England
Shane Meadow’s incredible, emotional drama blew fans away with this shocking story about troubled youngster, Shaun, growing up in 1983 England. When Shaun comes across a few skinheads, he quickly forms an unlikely but genuine friendship but when the extreme Combo returns from prison and joins in on the fun, Shaun’s life takes a dramatic and dangerous turn.
While the film its so beautifully shot and bravely executed, it takes its place as a truly iconic moment in the development of the British film industry thanks to the honesty of its narrative subject and the wonderfully cathartic way in which Meadows approaches his work.
Based loosely on Meadows own experiences; the film takes a honest look at racism, class issues and social conventions of British life in 1983. Young star Thomas Turgoose gives an outstanding performance as Shaun, while joined by the likes of Stephen Graham, who took such a difficult role and made him so multi-layered.It is so rare that a film with such violence and disturbing content can reach such a wide audience, with Meadows helping put contemporary, edgy British cinema on the map.