The 100 best British films

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Time Out counts down the best British films, as chosen by the film industry

By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston and David Jenkins, with Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Adam Lee Davies, Gareth Evans, Paul Fairclough and Wally Hammond. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.

5

The Red Shoes (1948)

Dirs Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring)

‘Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on…’

The rise of The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, might be the big story in this new list of the 100 Greatest British Films. Their presence was, of course, felt in a similar 1999 BFI list: ‘The Red Shoes’ placed in the top ten, with three other films (‘A Matter of Life and Death’, ‘Colonel Blimp’ and ‘Black Narcissus’) and Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’ lurking further down the list. This latest poll has added only two new titles (‘A Canterbury Tale’ and ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’), but it’s the change in rank which is astonishing: not one of these films has fallen outside the top 30, with two in the top ten and another three in the mid-teens. Considering that their votes were split seven ways, The Archers have received far more votes than any other director on the list.

The increased availability of their work on DVD will have played a major role here, particularly in the rediscovery of the two new titles. But there’s been a shift in critical fortunes, too, beginning before the BFI round-up but gathering pace since: while the gritty heavy-handedness of the Angry Young Men has begun to seem increasingly irrelevant, the emotional richness, subtle wit and visual inventiveness of The Archers’ films seems ever more enchanting and poignant.

And the pinnacle of their achievements remains ‘The Red Shoes’: investing an old story with freshness and vigour and revelling in unabashed emotional excess, this is the absolute peak of Powell’s visionary tendencies as a director, a flawless blend of cinema and dance, animation and music, narrative rigour and experimental freedom, without doubt the most breathtakingly beautiful film ever to come out of these isles. TH

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