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The 100 best British films

We spoke to over 150 movie experts and writers to put together this definitive list of British films

By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins, Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, Wally Hammond, Alim Kheraj and Phil de Semlyen |
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100 best british films

Never mind the stereotypes, there’s much more to British films than foppish romcoms written by Richard Curtis. Not that there's anything wrong with those, it’s just that Britain has produced some of the worldÆs greatest pieces of cinema. From the comic genius of ‘Monty Python’ to the devastating horror of ’Don’t Look Now’, British films are responsible for some iconic moments across all genres, from science-fiction to romance, historical epic to .

To celebrate all things British cinema, we polled over 150 actors, directors, writers, producers, critics and industry bigwigs from the likes of Wes Anderson, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Sam Mendes and Terence Davies, David Morrissey, Sally Hawkins and Thandie Newton to put together a definitive list of 100 of the best British films ever made.

Recommended: London and UK cinema listings, film reviews and exclusive interviews.

100
in this world
Film

In This World (2002)

Director Michael Winterbottom

Cast Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah

The first of three films by the prolific Michael Winterbottom on this list, ‘In This World’ is the best example of the director’s urge to explore contemporary issues on screen and to employ cinema as a sideways view on current affairs. This, ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’, ‘Road to Guantanamo’ and A Mighty Heart were all films discussed on news pages as well as in arts reviews. ‘In This World’ is admirable as a feat: Winterbottom cast two Afghan refugees in Pakistan and with a small crew shooting on digital cameras took them on a journey west over land, through Iran, Turkey and Europe, eventually arriving in London. At a time of headlines about immigration and political trouble in Afghanistan, the effect was to offer an alternative spin on the news and to do it in a manner that made clear the often terrible realities of being a refugee. DC

99
railway_5.jpg
Film, Family and kids

The Railway Children (1970)

Director Lionel Jeffries

Cast Dinah Sheridan, William Mervyn, Jenny Agutter

As warm and cosy as a cup of Horlicks, Lionel Jeffries’s 1970 adaptation of E Nesbit’s Edwardian children’s novel centres on a well-to-do London family torn apart when its patriarch is arrested on suspicion of treason. With a sudden urge to start life over in the country, the remaining family members – mother Dinah Sheridan and her three children – up sticks and settle alongside a quaint Yorkshire railway line where the film slowly begins to work its very English charm. Jenny Agutter and little Sally Thomsett are the film’s cornerstones, but a special mention to Bernard Cribbins’s archetypal British stationmaster. Naturally, the film won’t play well with today’s digital generation – it’s far too fusty and polite in both tone and colour – but it still has the capacity to generate fond childhood memories. Nice to see it make the list, albeit in the penultimate spot. DA

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Railway Children’

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98
Dunkirk
©DR
Film, Drama

Dunkirk (2017)

Director Christopher Nolan

Cast Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Harry Styles

Never has a military defeat looked so victorious as in Christopher Nolan's trifecta of interlocking vignettes in this old-school-feeling epic. Entitled 'Land', 'Sea' and 'Air', they offered three pulse-ratcheting perspectives on the British desperate retreat from France in 1940. Tom Hardy's RAF pilot gets the hero moments, but kudos to Nolan for unearthing a bunch of talented relative unknowns too. We reckon that Harry Styles guy has a future. PDS

Buy, rent or watch ‘Dunkirk’

97
28 Days Later
Film, Horror

28 Days Later… (2002)

Director Danny Boyle

Cast Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson

The first scene in Danny Boyle’s symbolic UK-set zombie fest is hairy in more ways than one: a group of animal activists descend on a biological vivisection centre and release a chimpanzee infected with rage, a contagious rabies-like virus. Cut to 28 days later and Cillian Murphy’s cycle courier awakens from a hospitalised coma to find a near deserted, dystopian London populated by violent rage victims. The zombie segments, while tense, violent and gruesome, are a sideshow to the story’s main thrust: our predisposition towards outright selfishness and savagery when even our most basic of needs are whipped from beneath our feet. There have been similar plague-based apocalyptic films both before and after – 1971’s ‘The Omega Man’ and its 2007 offshoot ‘I Am Legend’, for instance – but this one is especially poignant for British viewers, if only because the unfolding events are so much closer to home. This is the first of only two Boyle films to feature in this list. DA

Buy, rent or watch ‘28 Days Later...’

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96
Theatre of Blood
Film, Horror

Theatre of Blood (1973)

Director Douglas Hickox

Cast Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry

Vincent Price adopts the more psyched-out style of British horror in the ’70s in this serial-killer romp that gives the great man a crack at the Shakespearean roles he felt cinema had denied him. As Edward Lionheart, Price plays a ham passed over for the award he most cherishes: Best Actor as voted by the Critics’ Circle. His years of dedication to the Bard are dismissed by his beret-wearing tormenters but prove inspirational when he plots their murders: each is to be despatched in the manner of a Shakespearean death, from ‘Julius Caesar’s’ gang- knifing to a grisly rewriting of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and the hard-to-swallow cuisine of ‘Titus Andronicus’. It’s a gory, funny trip, as Price dons a series of preposterous disguises to entrap his victims through their own foibles. His post-homicide delivery of Shakespeare will surprise anyone who bought his popular image as a one-dimensional hack, adding yet another layer to a film that satirises both its stars and audience without ever sacrificing its disconcerting edge. PF

Buy, rent or watch ‘Theatre of Blood’

95
London to Brighton film - best British films

London to Brighton (2006)

Director Paul Andrew Williams

Cast Lorraine Stanley, Johnny Harris, Georgia Groome

The post ‘Lock, Stock…’ landscape is littered with the corpses of a thousand pretenders to the mockney gangster pic throne. Remember ‘Rancid Aluminium’? ‘Love, Honour and Obey?’ ‘The 51st State’? ‘Rise of the Footsoldier’? Aside from Jonathan Glazer’s eminently stylish ‘Sexy Beast’, only Paul Andrew Williams’s pithy and relentlessly entertaining debut has managed to poke its head above the sea of mediocrity. A rape, revenge and road movie (in that order) about a distressed young girl (Georgia Groome) helped by a prostitute (Lorraine Stanley – stunning) to flee a gang of tinpot hoods, it’s a film where no shot, line and character is wasted. Williams claims to have written the film over one weekend, and both the clamp-like tightness of its structure and the bracingly realistic progression of its characters – if you get hurt, you stay hurt – make that entirely believable. DJ

Buy, rent or watch ‘London to Brighton’

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94
24 Hour Party People
Film, Drama

24 Hour Party People (2002)

Director Michael Winterbottom

Cast Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Ron Cook

In a national cinema prone to self indulgent rock follies (‘Tommy’, ‘The Wall’, ‘Give My Regards to Broad St’), the best British music films are those which refuse to take their subjects as seriously as themselves. A perfect case in point is the disconnect between Anton Corbijn’s mournful, largely forgettable 2007 kitchen sink biopic ‘Control’, which placed Ian Curtis on a tortured-artist pedestal, and Michael Winterbottom’s lurid, lively Madchester romp ‘24 Hour Party People’, which presented the Joy Division frontman as a sadistic, sarcastic Tory loudmouth: hell to live with, perhaps, but painfully human. The film remains one of the purest pleasures in modern British cinema: scrappy, inconsistent, inventive, insightful, heartfelt and wickedly funny. TH

93
zulu, best netflix movies
Film, Action and adventure

Zulu (1964)

Director Cy Endfield

Cast Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Michael Caine

‘Zulu’ may take a few liberties with the exact levels of Welshness on show during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, but – Richard Burton, Catherine Zeta-Jones and gold-standard Richard Burton impersonator Anthony Hopkins notwithstanding –Welsh film fans have never had all that much to cheer about. So we’re keeping this one! An account of the South Wales Border Regiment’s seemingly hopeless last-ditch stand against the massed ranks of the Zulu Nation, it’s a massively successful enterprise – especially from first-time producer (and star) Stanley Baker and a director previously known chiefly for low-budget noirs. That it still stirs the blood and moistens the eye proves that few films manage to be as expansive and yet so intimate as this. ALD

Buy, rent or watch ‘Zulu’

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92
Dead Man's Shoes
Film, Thrillers

Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

Director Shane Meadows

Cast Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell

Shane Meadows’s fourth film shows the importance of staying true to your instincts. The Midlands director’s third film, ‘Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’ had seen him working with a bigger budget and a more recognisable cast (Rhys Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson, Robert Carlyle, Kathy Burke) and the result, if amiable, was much less raw, personal and anarchic than his first two features and earlier shorts. ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ was an uncompromising and successful attempt by Meadows to rediscover his old voice. He cast old pal Paddy Considine, who had been gripping as a volatile loner in ‘A Room for Romeo Brass’, and went for the jugular with this tale of a man who seeks and dishes out violence in revenge for something terrible that happened in his family’s past. Considine is terrifying, and Meadows pulls no punches in painting a portrait of just how low men can go – for fun and for love. DC

91
Land and Freedom - best British films
Film, Comedy

Land and Freedom (1995)

Director Ken Loach

Cast Ian Hart, Icíar Bollaín, Tom Gilroy

Ken Loach’s 1995 film about fatal splits on the Left during the Spanish Civil War – told from the viewpoint of David (Ian Hart), a Liverpudlian Communist who travels south to Spain to join the cause – achieved an epic look and feel while remaining committed to the cut and thrust of ground-level debate. It remains one of Loach’s most ambitious and important films both for its raw combat scenes and for the way it shines a light on a crucial moment in twentieth-century history. The focus of Jim Allen’s script on one group of militia allows for strong personalities with varying motivations and ideas to emerge, while the book-ending of the story with the discovery in the present of David’s letters by his granddaughter gives it a powerful immediacy. The film doubly confirmed Loach’s return from the wilderness in the 1980s and set a precedent for his later films exploring global stories in Nicaragua, Los Angeles and Ireland. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘Land and Freedom’

90
Blue - best British films
Film

Blue (1993)

Director Derek Jarman

Cast Tilda Swinton, John Quentin, Nigel Terry (voices)

‘My mind is bright as a button, but my body is falling apart.’ It’s rare that a ‘last film’ is conceived as such, but Derek Jarman knew he was dying from Aids-related illnesses when he made ‘Blue’ in 1993 – a film simultaneously broadcast on television and radio months before his death in 1994 at 52. It was his encroaching blindness, much referred to in the voiceover read by several actors, which gave Jarman the idea to apply words to an unchanging, blue screen for 76 minutes. The voiceover is a mix of diary and poetry, relating variously to Jarman’s illness, art and the colour blue. It’s a bold, moving work, but it’s Jarman’s ability to conjure up such a unique, experimental event as ‘Blue’ that we must remember and honour – the way that, with this avant-garde work, he drew attention to him, his work, sexuality and illness and made an unembarrassed, deathbed claim for art itself. DC

89
The Go Between - best British film
Film

The Go-Between (1970)

Director Joseph Losey

Cast Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Dominic Guard

‘The past is another country. They do things differently there’: one of two Joseph Losey-Harold Pinter collaborations to feature in our poll (the other is ‘The Servant’) is this radiant and evocative adaptation of LP Hartley’s tale of thwarted love and class prejudice set against the halcyon British summer of 1900. It was dumped initially by MGM because of its supposed ‘difficulty’ but was subsequently the winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or and a box-office and critical success in the US. The reputations of both the film and late-career Losey went into decline in Britain (if not elsewhere) by the mid-1990s – in 1994 The Independent’s Anthony Quinn, typically, thought this film ‘overrated’ and part of Losey’s decline. But its complexity of feeling, the undoubted chemistry of its reunited stars Julie Christie and Alan Bates, the lushness of cinematographer Gerry Fisher’s Norfolk landscapes and the critical late-1960s sensibility provided by the acute eye and complex psychological insight of Losey – plus the revelatory use of time-frames, flashback and point-of-view in Pinter’s script – guarantee its lasting appeal. WH

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88
This is England
Film, Drama

This Is England (2006)

Director Shane Meadows

Cast Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley

You could hear the British film industry breathe a collective sigh of relief when writer-director Shane Meadows got the breakthrough hit he so richly deserved after much critical but little commercial success with his previous films. Clearly ripped from his own experiences, this rite-of-passage tale sees a naive, isolated youngster (Thomas Turgoose – a revelation) scooped up by some friendly skinheads and introduced to the joys of young love, ska, short hair and oversized, steel toe-capped Doc Martens. But Meadows’s film shows that this initially benign enclave was very different to the growing ranks of supporters of the National Front, even if their appearance was similar. The film established Meadows in a league of his own when it comes to naturalistic, comic dialogue and wringing sensitive performances from young cast members. It also confirmed him as a director whose predominant interest is in contrasting the invigorating highs and vicious lows of English working-class life. DJ

Buy, rent or watch ‘This Is England’

87
Night and the City
Film, Thrillers

Night and the City (1950)

Director Jules Dassin

Cast Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers

London noir may have been more of a literary movement than a cinematic one, but its undoubted pinnacle – both on the page and screen – is ‘Night and the City’. The film may bear little relation to Gerald Kersh’s far nastier (and more grimly believable) source novel, but Jules Dassin’s stark, unforgiving direction, Max Greene’s oppressive monochrome cinematography and Richard Widmark’s twitchy central performance give the movie a paranoid power all of its own. The centrepiece scene remains the staggering, emotionally draining wrestling match between avuncular old-timer Gregorius and new-fangled masked avenger The Strangler, arguably the most punishing fight ever committed to celluloid, five unforgiving minutes of sweat, muscle and dogged determination. TH

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86
The Bridge on the River Kwai, 100 best action movies
Film, Drama

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Director David Lean

Cast Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins

Not even the breeze coming off his twirling moral compass can keep Alec Guinness’s stiff upper lip from wilting in the maddening Burmese heat during David Lean’s truly epic – as opposed to simply lengthy – meditation on the possibilities of humane behaviour in wartime. Guinness is otherwise in fine form as a captured British colonel overseeing Allied troops charged with assisting the Japanese war effort by building said bridge across said river. William Holden’s engaging, wiseacre American GI, on the other hand, is quite unshakeable in his belief that the war would get on quite well without him thank you very much, and spends an enviable amount of the film goosing the nurses in a Ceylon military hospital. Ultimately, both men’s attitudes are compromised to the greater good as the bridge comes crashing down in a riveting scene of unbridled catharsis. ALD

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’

85
Film, Drama

God's Own Country

Director Francis Lee

Cast Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

To label Francis Lee’s feature directorial debut as Yorkshire’s answer to ‘Brokeback Mountain’ does the film and its actors a disservice. While both films feature the farming of sheep and two men who, while camping in the hinterland, share an intense sexual and romantic bond, the similarities end there. ‘God’s Own Country’ is more of a quiet love story that avoids melodrama for internal struggles with isolation, loneliness and the stark circumstances of hard rural lives. The inability of protagonist Johnny Saxby to open up is delivered with piercing melancholy and palpable physical frustration by Josh O’Connor. This is contrasted with Alec Secareanu’s portrayal of the thoughtful Gheorghe, who exudes a gentle sensitivity. Their unlikely love affair will melt even the most jaded of hearts. AK

Buy, rent or watch ‘God's Own Country’

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84
746.fi.x491.fishtank.jpg
Film, Drama

Fish Tank (2009)

Director Andrea Arnold

Cast Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender

The director of the most recent film on our list, former kids’ TV presenter Andrea Arnold, 49, came to attention in 2005 when she declared live on television that it was ‘the dog’s bollocks’ to be awarded an Oscar for her short film, ‘Wasp’. Since then, she has made two features, ‘Red Road’ and ‘Fish Tank’, both of which triumphed at Cannes. Like ‘Red Road’, ‘Fish Tank’ intimately explores the life of one female character on a housing estate, this time potty-mouthed teen Mia (Katie Jarvis), who falls into a relationship with her mum’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). The beauty of Arnold’s films lies in their poetry and brilliance at expressing interior feelings through quiet observation. Arnold was awarded an OBE at the end of 2010 and is now finishing a version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ populated by little-known actors. We suspect – and hope – that Arnold is not about to cross over to the mainstream any time soon. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘Fish Tank’

83
A Cottage on Dartmoor - best British films
Film, Thrillers

A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

Director Anthony Asquith

Cast Hans Adalbert von Schlettow, Uno Henning, Norah Baring 

Better known for his sterling Terence Rattigan adaptations ‘The Winslow Boy’ (1948) and ‘The Browning Version’ (1951), Anthony Asquith’s recently re-appraised silent melodrama is totally deserving of its place on this list and is perhaps the biggest reminder of how much the age of the DVD has allowed us better access to such hidden gems. Edited with the quick-chopping fury of a Darren Aronofsky movie, this pacy and occasionally very funny film looks at a love triangle forming at a busy barber’s shop: hairdresser Joe (Uno Henning) is madly in love with manicurist Sally (Norah Baring) but can’t quite seal the deal, a fact of which Dartmoor farmer and regular customer Harry takes full advantage. As Joe’s jealousy escalates, Asquith’s direction takes on more weird and wonderful forms, referencing silent comedy, German expressionism and Russian montage, sometimes all in the same scene. When violence erupts, it’s swift and brutal, but the film’s main pleasure is its pragmatic handling of the central romance. DJ

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82
Orlando
Film, Fantasy

Orlando (1993)

Director Sally Potter

Cast Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, John Wood

Tilda Swinton is said to be planning a collaboration with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of ‘Uncle Boonmee…’, and if the Thai dreamweaver is in any doubt about casting her in one of his metaphysical opuses, he need only watch Sally Potter’s Jarmanesque time, space and gender-switching adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, ‘Orlando: A Biography’. What’s clear from the off is that Swinton and Potter possess an acute understanding of the droll subtleties of the text about an immortal nobleman who leaves his stamp on various points in modern history and then transforms from man to woman. The film is not merely about the strictures of gender through the ages, but also an essay on the nature of evolution (the Godardian final shot even switches from film to video) and it scores points through knowing casting (Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I!) and production design that’s just jaw-droppingly plush for what must’ve been a modest budget. DJ

Buy, rent or watch ‘Orlando’

81
migrate.44016.jpg
Film, Action and adventure

Dr No (1962)

Director Terence Young

Cast Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman

It might look fresh today, but ‘Dr No’ must have seemed like ‘Avatar’ to post-war British audiences. A transgressive explosion of colour, exoticism, modernity and impetuous sex, James Bond’s first mission sees the imperious Sean Connery saunter through an overripe cocktail of Caribbean intrigue abetted by Jack ‘Hawaii Five-O’ Lord as his shifty CIA opposite number Felix Leiter and Ursula Andress as racy cockler, Honey Ryder, all of whom are variously hot under the collar for the bionic hide of Dr Julius No – major player in the Spectre spy organisation we shall become all-too familiar with in further instalments. The bad doctor is the first of many Bond supervillains to crave global domination, but when ‘Dr No’ made its million-dollar budget back 109 times over, it was immediately clear that 007 had come out on top – and would be back for more. ALD

Buy, rent or watch ‘Dr No’

80
best British films
Film

Under the Skin (1997)

Director Carine Adler

Cast Samantha Morton, Claire Rushbrook, Rita Tushingham

Women directed only four of our top 100 films, although perhaps we should celebrate that all four of those are from the last 20 years, which might suggest the gender gap in cinema is gradually closing. (When the BFI organised a similar poll in 1999, not one director on their list was a woman.) That said, the careers of two of those four directors, Lynne Ramsay and Carine Adler, have stalled in recent years and only Andrea Arnold seems able to move easily from film to film. So far Adler’s 1997 film ‘Under the Skin’ is her one and only feature, but it still remains rare for offering a female writer-director’s view on a woman’s extreme sexuality as a young Liverpudlian woman Iris (Samantha Morton) embraces promiscuity and a heightened sexual awareness as part of the grieving process in the wake of her mother’s death from cancer. Adler might not have fulfilled her promise – but this film launched Morton as one of our most bold and smart young actresses. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘Under the Skin’

79
the offence
Film, Drama

The Offence (1972)

Director Sidney Lumet

Cast Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant

American filmmaker Sidney Lumet brought a keen outsider’s eye to this deliriously depressing slab of British noir. Sean Connery is at his cruel, bullying best as an immoral police detective on the trail of a child molester – a mission that leads to a harrowing, tragic face-off with grateful suspect Ian Bannen and to a long, dark night of the soul in which all the horrors, mis-steps and dismembered bodies Connery has psychically stockpiled over 20 years on the force coalesce into a grisly butcher’s bill that he has no hope of meeting. The film displeased United Artists – who funded it as a thank you to Connery for wigging his way through the previous year’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, and who didn’t want 007 to be viewed as any more of a pitiless shitbag than strictly necessary – and went unreleased in many countries. But it’s outstanding quality remains undeniable. As does its capacity to unsettle. ALD

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Offence’

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78
billy liar
Film

Billy Liar (1963)

Director John Schlesinger

Cast Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Wilfred Pickles

Few films exemplify the fearsome contradictions inherent in British filmmaking better than ‘Billy Liar’. Is it better to dream of a better world, or to keep both feet planted firmly in the real one? Is escapism a creative act, or an indulgence? Is social class really the thing that keeps us apart, or is it just a convenient distraction? And is London really the promised land, or just a place to ‘lose yourself’? While director John Schlesinger and writer Keith Waterhouse don’t really come up with much in the way of actual answers – perhaps there is no satisfactory solution to Billy’s dilemma – they do a superb job of asking the right questions. Tom Courtenay is unforgettable in the title role, and Julie Christie’s fleeting, flitting presence is as convincing a ‘star is born’ moment as British film has to offer. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘Billy Liar’

77
Piccadilly - best British films
Film

Piccadilly (1929)

Director EA Dupont

Cast Anna May Wong, Gilda Gray, Jameson Thomas

The oldest movie on our list – pipping at the post-Hitchcock’s ‘Blackmail’ by less than a month – is this glorious silent-era melodrama set mainly in London’s West End in the late 1920s but which takes detours to the slums of Limehouse and to the showbiz world’s less glamorous nooks and crannies. Made on the cusp of the sound era (and a ‘talkie’ prologue exists as an extra on the BFI’s recent DVD), the film has a vibrant, jazz-age energy to it that takes its cue from the dance scenes on the floor of Valentine Wilmot’s (Jameson Thomas) Piccadilly Club – where Charles Laughton has an amusing cameo as a disgruntled diner. Anna May Wong gives an empowering performance as the dancer Shosho and her first appearance, dancing on the sideboard in the club’s scullery, feels as luminous and provocative today as it surely must have in the late 1920s. For us, the film is also a thrilling imagining (almost entirely studio-shot, of course) of a long-gone city. DC

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76
penda's fen
Film, Drama

Penda's Fen (1974)

Director Alan Clarke

Cast Spencer Banks, John Atkinson, Ian Hogg

This remarkable feature-length television film – commissioned for the legendary 1970s ‘Play for Today’ single drama series – is often described as a step ‘off piste’ for its director Alan Clarke. That’s a misleading reading, however. The work’s qualities of resistance, questioning and personal and public transformation are entirely in keeping with the normally urban-centric filmmaker’s milieu. But the real credit lies with its writer David Rudkin. An astonishing playwright with a visionary reach and a genuine sense of ‘deep England’ and its radical potential, Rudkin here crafts a multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed – and prescient – ecological awareness, ‘Penda’s Fen’ is a unique and important statement, rumoured soon – finally – to be available on DVD. GE

75
A Room for Romeo Brass
Film

A Room for Romeo Brass (1999)

Director Shane Meadows

Cast Paddy Considine, Andrew Shim, Ben Marshall

The importance of imperfection cannot be overlooked in British film: while there’s plenty to be said for the studied slickness of Hitchcock or Lean, I’ll take the shaggy-edged, off-kilter unpredictability of ‘A Canterbury Tale’, ‘Kes’ or ‘Romeo Brass’ any day. This was Meadows’s second film, his trickiest, his loosest and perhaps his best. It marks the debut screen appearance of Paddy Considine, and though it’s easy (and probably appropriate) to refer to him as our De Niro, it took Bob five years to get to Johnny Boy, while Paddy knocked it flat first time in the ring. The edge-of-your-seat savagery of his performance, contrasted with the sweet-natured, bucolic nature of the central friendship, makes for a more honest and believable portrayal of the shift into adulthood than 100 prim and polished pretenders. TH

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74
Comedy films: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Film, Comedy

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Director Mike Newell

Cast Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas 

The film that set Hugh Grant on the road towards ‘Notting Hill’ and a varied career as Britain’s jester of romcom. Using one of Richard Curtis’s less cheesy screenplays, director Newell fashioned a richly rewarding and funny microcosm of various relationships centred mostly around Grant’s likeable bachelor, Charles. The film benefits from a raft of well-observed moments – the subtle comedy of Rowan Atkinson’s tongue-tied vicar, for instance – yet emotions are cleverly twisted once we attend the funeral and the film’s sole serious moment. It’s this scene alone – in which John Hannah reads WH Auden’s poem ‘Funeral Blues’ – that cast the greatest influence over audiences. Emotionally honest and full of human warmth, ‘Four Weddings…’ stands out as one of the most enjoyable of British romcoms. And what’s more, it’s the only film in this list to open with the word ‘fuck!’ DA

Buy, rent or watch ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’

73
The Man in the White Suit
Film, Comedy

The Man in the White Suit (1951)

Director Alexander Mackendrick

Cast Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker

The price of progress

Of all the top-rank Ealing comedies, ‘The Man in the White Suit’ is the one which least deserves the tag, partly because it’s not meant to be funny, and partly because it diverges so much from the Ealing template: it’s not set in London, it doesn’t feature wisecracking criminals, plodding bobbies or apple-cheeked tykes, and it eschews good-natured patriotism in favour of a rather cold, even misanthropic view of class-obsessed workers and short-sighted bosses. Alec Guinness’s blinkered scientist Sidney is every bit as irksome as Professor Marcus in ‘The Ladykillers’, but quieter, subtler and less flashy, and while gravel-throated Joan Greenwood and simpering beau Michael Gough feel like a stereotypical Ealing couple, there’s something pathetic about the way they’re so powerless to affect the course of events. The result is a genuinely unusual film: part political treatise, part social satire, even part science fiction, all building towards a magnificently unsettling climax of mob justice. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Man in the White Suit’

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72
Leigh McCormack, center, in The Long Day Closes
Film, Drama

The Long Day Closes (1992)

Director Terence Davies

Cast Marjorie Yates, Leigh McCormack, Anthony Watson

It’s clear Davies believes we are shaped by the movies we watch. If Fellini saw life as a circus, then Davies sees life as a cinema. Young Bud (Leigh McCormack) is his alter ego, and this is a rhapsodic scrapbook of memories from a working-class Liverpool childhood accompanied by dispatches from the wireless, popular songs and rousing classical standards. Davies rejects a linear narrative in favour of creating layers of emotion through a succession of detached scenes such as Bud’s attempts to get into a cinema and his presence at a drunken family sing-song. But first and foremost this is a film which weighs up the consolations of cinema against the consolations of religion, and – if we are to read anything into the final shot of Bud and a friend watching a film of clouds drifting by starlight as Arthur Sullivan’s song ‘The Long Day Closes’ plays in the background – cinema wins by a mile. DJ

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Long Day Closes’

71
Edvard Munch - best British films
Film, Drama

Edvard Munch (1974)

Director Peter Watkins

Cast Geir Westby, Gro Fraas, Iselin von Hanno Bart

Left-leaning director Watkins is most famous for the challenging, innovative, vérité-style docs he made in the mid-1960s for the BBC (see ‘Culloden’, above). The negative reaction to – and 20-year banning of – his exposure of the threat of nuclear war in ‘The War Game’ (1965) led him into self-imposed, globe-trotting exile and obscurity. Even his masterpiece, ‘Edvard Munch’ – a beautiful, heartbreaking and extraordinarily empathetic three-and-a-half hour meditation on the life and work of the Norwegian painter describing ‘the illness, insanity and death’ that pre-occupied the artist’s life – was largely unavailable for 20-or-so years. It’s surprising therefore to see a place in this poll for a hitherto neglected classic of British cinema, as well as further testament to the power and necessity of DVD revivals. WH

70
Bad Timing
Film

Bad Timing (1980)

Director Nicolas Roeg

Cast Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel

It might have divided the critics with its disturbing notions of sexuality on its release, but ‘Bad Timing’ has grown in reputation to be counted amongst Nicolas Roeg’s best. His mastery of kaleidoscopic inter-cutting techniques – though subdued here – has never found better employment than the chronological quick-step and intersecting flashbacks he uses to reveal the psychosexual labyrinths of a fateful off/on love affair between Theresa Russell’s free-spirited boozehound and Art Garfunkel’s collected, monopolising, Malboro-smoking psychoanalyst. Set amid the icy old-world charm of Vienna, the fragmentary romantic drama builds into a hallucinatory thriller, as Harvey Keitel’s police detective – sans accent but with killer shoulder-length John the Baptist locks – begins to question Garfunkel over Russell’s abortive suicide attempt and forces us to reconsider all that’s gone before. ALD

Buy, rent or watch ‘Bad Timing’

69
i2-Oliver!A.jpg
Film, Drama

Oliver! (1968)

Director Carol Reed

Cast Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed

For someone who couldn’t play a note of music, Lionel Bart sure knew how to pen a memorable ditty. ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ and the title song are all up there with the best in the musical genre. Carol Reed’s 1968 film is essentially a watered-down, family friendly reworking of Dickens’s oft-adapted novel. But with its dark, grimy Dickensian squalor (courtesy of one of Shepperton Studios’ most authentic sets – now sadly dismantled), Oliver Reed’s memorably chilling arch crim Bill Sikes, and at least one shocking murder, the film also displayed a level of foreboding darkness capable of scaring the bejesus out of younger viewers. The rest of the casting, too, is mostly spot on, none more so than Ron Moody’s iconically OTT performance as slimey child-gang leader, Fagin. A fabulously entertaining family musical, then, but one that, I suspect, is on this list for nostalgic value alone. DA

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68
dead_of_night.jpg
Film, Horror

Dead of Night (1945)

Directors Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Cast Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver 

Modern audiences heading into Ealing’s portmanteau chiller keenly anticipating the film Martin Scorsese picked as the fifth scariest movie ever (and also inspired Fred Hoyle to formulate his ‘Steady State’ theory of cosmological expansion, science fans) may find themselves wondering, for a while, what all the fuss was about. The framing narrative, set in a delightful country house populated by jolly upper-crust eccentrics, is more cosy than creepy, the first three episodes – the psychic racing driver, the Victorian children’s party and the haunted mirror – while increasingly ominous, are hardly hair-raising, while the fourth is intentionally funny. So it’s upon Cavalcanti’s closing tale that the film’s reputation rests: the story of a disturbed ventriloquist – or a possessed dummy – has been done so often that one might expect the thrill to have gone. Not so – the final 15 minutes of ‘Dead of Night’ remains the pinnacle of pre-Hammer homemade horror, a truly disturbing flight into the arms of madness. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘Dead of Night’

67
whiskey_2.jpg
Film, Comedy

Whisky Galore! (1949)

Director Alexander Mackendrick

Cast Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Jean Cadell

In the post-war years, a number of films were made on both sides of the Atlantic intended to extol national virtues, restore civic pride and celebrate those values which make us who we are. But while the Yanks were busily indulging their national tendency towards flag-waving, pie-making, gingham-sewing and casual racism, we Brits were more likely to sing the praises of pastimes such as authority-baiting, petty larceny and the simple pleasure of drinking to the verge of blindness. ‘Whisky Galore’ is an unashamed celebration of alcoholism: the magic liquor greases the social machinery, gets communities communicating, even cures a bedridden geriatric of all that ails him. But it’s also a celebration of bloody-minded Britishness (or at least Scottishness) and the rebel spirit which, according to Ealing, showed Gerry what for. TH

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66
wonderland_homepage.jpg
Film, Comedy

Wonderland (1999)

Director Michael Winterbottom

Cast Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson, Molly Parker, John Simm

Now 49, Michael Winterbottom has been making almost one film every year for the past 15 years, most of them broadly well liked, so it’s not surprising that three films by the versatile, Blackburn-born, Oxford-educated director have made it on to our list. This is his highest-placed film, which may have something to do with just how real and recognisable Winterbottom and writer Laurence Coriat’s vision of London is as he tells of one Bonfire Night weekend in the lives of three variously troubled sisters, played by Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson and Molly Parker. The relationships and events amount to a credible portrait of modern city and family life, but it’s the intimate, improvised shooting style (16mm, natural light, all on location) and Michael Nyman’s evocative, memorable score (this often feels like a film made to music) that define the film and give it the sense of immediacy and compassion that make it so enduring. DC

65
migrate.34657.jpg
Film, Horror

Dracula (1958)

Director Terence Fisher

Cast Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough

Hammer stalwart Fisher delivered this rum and rather gory (for the time) take on Bram Stoker’s horror classic of the battle of wills between a devilish, blood-sucking Transylvanian count and his bookish slayer. It helps that Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula are both on top scenery (and in the case of Lee, neck) chewing form, while you also watch in amazement at how they managed to make such a lavish film on the near-pittance of £81,000. Of course, you can titter at the gothic excess of the production design, how po-faced the whole enterprise is (with its lithe hotties darting around in lace negligees) and the cheapo effects, but the subtext of the story about the tragedy of addiction and the transmission of disease remains deadly serious. DJ

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64
Topsy-Turvy - best British films
Film, Drama

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Director Mike Leigh

Cast Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Timothy Spall

Notwithstanding ‘Naked’ and the second half of ‘Another Year’, Mike Leigh’s in some ways most atypical film – it’s a period drama, with song and dance, and rather longer than usual – is also his finest. About Gilbert and Sullivan responding to withering criticism of ‘Princess Ida’ by making a comeback with ‘The Mikado’, it’s the kind of film that perhaps shouldn’t work but does – magnificently, thanks to a clutch of great performances and unshowy but precise direction, which ensures the movie succeeds on three levels: as an illuminating, partly self-reflexive meditation on the creative process; as an unusually vivid insight into just how different the world was as recently as the 1880s (all that wariness of the newfangled telephone!); and as witty, touching, utterly engrossing entertainment. GA

Buy, rent or watch ‘Topsy-Turvy’

63
The 100 best comedy movies, Nuts in May
Film

Nuts In May (1979)

Director Mike Leigh

Cast Roger Sloman, Alison Steadman

Judging by its surprise inclusion in this poll, this second episode in Mike Leigh’s ‘Play for Today’ TV series has remained one of the director’s most fondly remembered early features. Originally broadcast in 1976, it centres on a Dorset camping trip embarked upon by bearded, anally retentive and suffocatingly authoritarian husband Keith (Roger Sloman) and his hippy-drippy, plain-Jane wife Candice-Marie (Leigh’s ex-wife Alison Steadman). Leigh’s crafty powers of societal observation are very much to the fore as we witness a gradual breakdown in relations between middle-class Keith and a noisy young fellow camper who refuses to turn his radio off. That Candice-Marie appears to be showing sympathy towards the other party only serves to inflame the situation… It’s a film of so many memorable moments – from Keith’s cringeworthy grovelling when a policeman questions the roadworthiness of his beloved Morris Minor to Candice-Marie’s hilariously lispy vegetarian folk song. DA

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62
John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher in Deep End
Film, Comedy

Deep End (1970)

Director Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast Jane Asher, John Moulder-Brown, Diana Dors

One of the all-time great London movies, the splendidly sleazy ‘Deep End’ definitively proves that it takes an outsider’s eye to really capture the true textures of a city. Written and directed by Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski (who cut his teeth co-writing Polanski’s masterful debut ‘Knife in the Water’), the film captures the sexual shenanigans of the staff and clientele of a squalid South London swimming bath. Naive teen Mike (John Moulder-Brown) is the new kid, and – amid much inappropriate bum-pinching and his near-rape by regular bather Diana Dors (who else?!) – he falls madly in love with his coquettish manager Susan (a stone-cold tour de force from Jane Asher – who else?). But from its ‘Carry On’-ish opening, the film morphs into something much more sinister, even segueing into ‘Peeping Tom’ territory, as Mike’s love turns to violent fixation. Plus, its ultra-seedy depiction of Soho nightlife is the sort of thing you might find nowadays in a Gaspar Noé movie. DJ

61
Walkabout
Film, Action and adventure

Walkabout (1971)

Director Nicolas Roeg

Cast Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, Lucien John

In which Nicolas Roeg generously invents our one-time colony’s national cinema for it. As reported in the terrific 2008 Ozsploitation doc ‘Not Quite Hollywood’, Australian cinema in the late ’60s was non-existent. You can argue the importance of tax breaks, TV training and the burgeoning counterculture, but it’s hard not to see Roeg’s haunting Outback tragedy as a breakthrough moment. Other directors, notably Peter Weir, would refine what would come to be known as the landscape movie, but few would capture the desolate wilderness on every Aussie’s doorstep more convincingly. Remembered chiefly for Jenny Agutter’s borderline inappropriate only-just-of-age nude swim, ‘Walkabout’ possesses innumerable charms, not least David Gulpilil’s heartbreaking performance, an astonishing opening scene and of course Roeg’s ravishing photography. TH

60
the long good friday
Film, Thrillers

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Director John Mackenzie

Cast Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson 

That electro-synth score! Bob Hoskins wandering in close-up through Heathrow! The Docklands as the future! And the actor Derek Thompson, whose movie career was stalled by 25 years of playing Charlie in ‘Casualty’! Some of it might look like old episodes of ‘Dempsey & Makepeace’, but John Mackenzie’s gangster thriller still has great energy and momentum and isn’t a patch on recent pretenders to its throne. In retrospect, it’s the location shooting, especially around the docks – post-industry but pre-development – that resonates the most, as well as writer Barrie Keefe’s capturing of the Thatcherite zeitgeist in the person of gangster Harry Shand (Hoskins), who declares ‘I’m not a politician: I’m a businessman with a sense of history, and I’m also a Londoner’ from the back of a yacht cruising under Tower Bridge. Shand’s criminal network and its involvement with the Mafia and the IRA aren’t at all believable, but Keefe’s portrait of corruption and racism among white males in the underworld, police and local governent certainly is. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Long Good Friday’

59
Blackmail
Film, Thrillers

Blackmail (1929)

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Cast Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, John Longden

Which film do you want? The silent version or the more familiar, partly reshot movie that was Britain’s first talkie feature? It doesn’t matter that much, really, since the stylish, occasionally Langian visuals already present in the first cut are still there in the second one, though it’s fascinating to hear Hitchcock’s engagingly experimental, at times even playful approach to sound echoing the elements of expressionism to be found in some of the imagery: the scene in which Anny Ondra’s heroine, having recently stabbed a lecher in self-defence, listens in to a conversation (somewhat improbably) full of references to knives is rightly famous. But, as Tony Rayns has argued, it’s also of interest for its intriguing narrative structure, shifting from a straightforward, rather detached police procedural to something altogether more intimate and messily involving, while the set pieces also display the level of expertise Hitchcock had attained during the silent era as a manipulator of audience emotions and a showman entertainer: the British Museum climax remains a classic sequence. GA

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58
Romantic movie: Gregory's Girl
Film, Comedy

Gregory's Girl (1981)

Director Bill Forsyth

Cast John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Claire Grogan

Of all the British filmmakers who, flush with the success of their first few homegrown efforts, decided to go and seek their fortunes across the pond, the tale of Bill Forsyth is the most cautionary. Forsyth’s first ‘proper’ feature following the youth-theatre experiment ‘That Sinking Feeling’, ‘Gregory’s Girl’ is as flawless an example of personal cinema as this nation has to offer: witty, insightful, beautifully observed and heartbreakingly accurate, it says everything there is to say about suburban lust, adolescent romance, the pressure to fit in – truly, all of teenage life is here. The dialogue is poetic but wholly believable, the cast is note-perfect, the characterisation is broad but distinctive and the photography is simple, unfussy and real. None of which made a blind bit of difference when Forsyth tried to take Hollywood by storm and found himself on the sharp end of studio recuts with his career-ending four-year folly ‘Being Human’. Ignominious doesn’t begin to cover it. TH

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57
2001: A Space Odyssey
Film, Science fiction

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director Stanley Kubrick

Cast Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester

Okay, so the director, money and most of the cast are American, but it was shot here, dammit, so we’re claiming ‘2001’ as our own. True, the same could go for most of Hollywood’s bigger-budget ’70s and early ’80s efforts (‘Star Wars’, ‘Raiders’, ‘Aliens’…), but none of those films feels remotely British whereas, in a strange way, ‘2001’ does. Perhaps it’s the fact that Kubrick had, by this point, become an honorary Englishman, or the influence of co-writer Arthur C Clarke (himself, ironically, an expat). Perhaps it’s the fact that the groundbreaking effects were, to a large extent, designed and built by British crews, or simply that the film feels so resolutely un-Hollywood in tone, structure and impact. Personally, I attribute the film’s Britishness to the roughly three-minute appearance of Leonard Rossiter: even though he’s supposedly playing a Russian scientist, with Rigsby’s arrival it feels like a little piece of northern suburbia has been transplanted to earth’s orbit. TH

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56
caravaggio.photo04.jpg
Film, Documentaries

Caravaggio (1968)

Director Derek Jarman

Cast Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton

The late Derek Jarman took the same anachronistic liberties in depicting the life of his subject – Italian, seventeenth-century painter Caravaggio – as the painter himself did with his subjects. Little-known actor Nigel Terry is great as the violently impulsive title character, and the film comprises flashbacks over his life as he lies dying. Specific focus is given to his fraught relationships with two of his models: Sean Bean’s muscular Ranuccio Thomasoni and Tilda Swinton’s Lena. But this is no cut-and-dried biopic, as Jarman frames the drama within ornate tableaux and honours the complexity of the emotions by reining in the melodrama and telling the story through the stresses of his camera and glances of the actors. As you’d expect from a from a film about a painter, it’s a visual marvel made from very spare ingredients and with the help of a discerning and intelligent director. DJ

55
Radio On, best British films
Film

Radio On (1980)

Director Chris Petit

Cast David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer, Sandy Ratcliff

Few British feature film debuts come as distinctive – or as quietly influential – as former Time Out Film editor Chris Petit’s Europhile mission statement. Not quite a road movie – England’s not large enough – Petit’s film takes the aesthetic and social imperatives of Wim Wenders’s luminous monochrome and his continental enquiries, transplanting them to the fields and motorways of southern England. A nominal plot – the strange death of a brother in Bristol – prompts a journey west from London into a place beyond narrative cinema. Utterly cinematic, powered by a startlingly resonant late ’70s soundtrack (with Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ the ironic turntable centre) and with an acute sense of transformative hybrid landscapes as equal players in the film’s unfolding sensibility, ‘Radio On’ sits, quite literally, on the precipice between a failing post-war reality and the coming abyss of Thatcherism. More relevant than ever, Petit’s essay on existential enquiry in an English setting remains critical viewing. GE

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54
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Film, Comedy

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)

Directors Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones

Cast Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle et al

It’s a miracle this film got off the ground. According to interviews given on the most recent DVD release, the production of the Pythons’ first properly scripted feature was not only dogged by differences between its co-directors Terry Gilliam (who was more interested in camera positions and framing) and Terry Jones (who felt they should focus more on performances) but also by Graham Chapman’s alcoholism – he played most of his parts under the influence. But none of this matters one jot: an absurd and very loose conjoining of the Arthurian and Holy Grail legends, the film remains one of the Pythons’ most memorable piss-takes. Soused or not, Chapman is superb in his tailor-made role of a slightly effeminate King Arthur, and who could forget John Cleese’s neatly carved Black Knight (‘It’s just a flesh wound’) or his similarly hilarious abusive French guard (‘You don’t frighten us, English pig-dogs. Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person’)? Priceless. DA

53
ThisSportingLife07.jpg
Film, Drama

This Sporting Life (1963)

Director Lindsay Anderson

Cast Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts

In Lindsay Anderson’s first feature, Richard Harris grimaces and bellows as a miner hired by his local rugby team and condescended to by the club’s management while juggling a difficult home life as the tenant of a widow and single mother. The film didn’t emerge from Tony Richardson and John Osborne’s Woodfall Films, which produced ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, ‘A Taste of Honey’ and ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’, but it was very much part of the same movement of filmmakers coming to drama from documentaries and theatre, and looking to represent the lives of young working-class men and women more truthfully. There’s been a backlash against these films in recent years (partly levelled at the public school, Oxbridge provenance of the filmmakers), but the fact that most of them ride high on this list suggests they’re still credited with initiating a new age of storytelling in British cinema, both in terms of the range, social and geographical, of subjects and a style of filmmaking that honours realism above all else. DC

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52
Robinson in Space
Film, Documentaries

Robinson In Space (1997)

Director Patrick Keiller

Cast Paul Scofield (voice)

The late actor Paul Scofield returned to lend his acerbic narration to the middle chapter of Patrick Keiller’s singular ‘Robinson’ trilogy, which began in 1994 with ‘London’ and was completed recently with ‘Robinson in Ruins’. Static, wittily composed images (vaguely reminiscent of the photography of Martin Parr) of buildings and places of natural interest are harmonised with quotations, music and discourse. Here, the dangerously inquisitive Robinson has been tasked with solving the ‘problem of England’ and takes that as his cue to circumnavigate these hallowed isles and pontificate to his heart’s content. As with ‘London’, Keiller’s Daniel Defoe-inspired script seeks to investigate the social, political and economic present by looking back at the historical and literary origins of numerous venues, which mostly include factories, dockyards and, of course, pubs. It’s ruthlessly intelligent stuff, and the conclusions are strangely prophetic. DJ

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51
Local Hero 3.jpg
Film

Local Hero (1983)

Director Bill Forsyth

Cast Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson

Cockle-warming comedy can be a tough sell in serious film circles – note that ‘The Ladykillers’ and ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ made this list while the likes of ‘Passport to Pimlico’, ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Billy Elliot’ are nowhere to be found. But there remains a small handful of crowd-pleasers guaranteed to tickle the toes of the most hardened cynic, and ‘Local Hero’ is a prime example. Taking his inspiration from Powell and Pressburger, notably ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ (see no. 26), Forsyth built on the goodwill engendered by ‘Gregory’s Girl’ to craft another tale of life’s better possibilities, not overlooking the chance of disappointment but refusing to submit to easy cynicism. The result is richly emotional without ever spilling into outright schmaltz (well, hardly ever), as what could have been a slushy tale of hugging, learning and growing is tempered with healthy (and often hilarious) sarcasm and a deep understanding of humanity’s capacity for goodness. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘Local Hero’

50
culloden420.jpg
Film

Culloden (1964)

Director Peter Watkins

Cast George McBean, Alan Pope, the people of Inverness

Produced as a softer option after the BBC thought his blunt atomic-age satire ‘The War Game’ too harrowing by half, Peter Watkins’s remarkable reproduction of the 1746 Battle of Culloden stands up as a true one-off of both TV and cinema. Initially coming across like a documentary of your average Sealed Knot weekender, the film delivers a minutely detailed chronicle of the battle via the ingenious method of modern TV news reporting: only the rank odour of the battlefield itself is missing. Grunts from both sides sound off directly to camera, political intrigues are speculated upon by the anchor, and we even get to witness the hordes of malnourished Jacobite rebels being torn apart by the power of the English musket. What’s even more interesting is that Watkins chooses to trace the legacy of the battle, patiently observing as the English army wade across the Highlands slaughtering women and children in the name of communal cleansing and retaining the authority of the British monarchy. It all looks scarily familiar. DJ

49
gallivant.jpg
Film

Gallivant (1996)

Director Andrew Kötting

Cast Andrew Kötting, Eden Kötting, Gladys Morris

The incomparable Andrew Kötting – artist, filmmaker, performer – took his eight-year-old daughter Eden and 80-something grandma Gladys on a tour of the British coastline for this anarchic travelogue which turns out to be both a snapshot of the country and a self-portrait of this unlikely trio on an equally unlikely adventure. Kötting’s highly original methods of storytelling mean that ‘Gallivant’ looks nothing like most docs: he mixes formats, throws in archive footage and has much fun with the sound and picture edit. ‘He’s being silly, isn’t he? As daft as they make them,’ says Gladys of her grandson as he swims fully clothed somewhere off the coast of Scotland, having put behind them Sussex, Devon, Cornwall, Wales and the various, illuminating personalities they meet on the road. It’s rare that experimental filmmaking is this humane and enjoyable. The unique result is a work that is both formally radical and eminently accessible and entertaining. DC

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48
703.film.x600.hunger.jpg
Film

Hunger (2008)

Director Steve McQueen

Cast Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham

Steve McQueen’s first feature film is not even three years old and yet it ranks in the top half of this list, which is a mark of the impact the film made in 2008, when it won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for best debut. The Turner Prize-winning video artist turned to the incarceration and death in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) for his first, full-length work and showed remarkable assurance behind the camera, avoiding all conventional tropes of the biopic genre to craft a raw, visual portrait of life inside a prison that doesn’t honour Sands above other prisoners and doesn’t avoid the essential realities of Sand’s dirty protest and starvation either. A talky, two-hander scene between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham) is all the more hard-hitting because it emerges suddenly in the middle of a film which foregrounds images over chat – but the entire film is full of such surprises. DC

47
Blow-Up, best British films
Film

Blow-Up (1966)

Director Michelangelo Antonioni

Cast David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Bowles

‘Blow-Up’ sees swinging London transformed into a sprawling, alienating crime scene where brusque Notting Hill, ahem, ‘fashion’ photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) believes that while idly snapping away in a South London park, he’s captured a homicide in mid flow. Antonioni’s attitude towards the hippy-dippy cultural revolution taking place in the city during the 1960s is ambivalent at best. When he takes us on a detour through a Yardbirds gig, it’s left to us to decide whether we’re in heaven or in hell. Yet, his film has a more cynical edge than only being about the sensations of a city. As Thomas’s grasp on his investigation becomes more tenuous, Antonioni twists his film to be about the nature of making, collecting and editing images, also suggesting that – try as we might – life is a first-hand experience that no camera can ever really capture. And to sate the cabaret set, it’s all topped off with some mimed tennis. Splendido! DJ

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46
migrate.13595.jpg
Film

The Fallen Idol (1948)

Director Carol Reed

Cast Ralph Richardson, Michèle Morgan, Bobby Henrey

Given his reputation as a novelist, it’s easy to forget how major a force Graham Greene became in post-war British cinema, and how many key aspects of national life became cemented in the public consciousness as a result of his extraordinary run of work between ‘Confidential Agent’ in 1945 and ‘Our Man in Havana’ in 1959. ‘The Fallen Idol’ is primarily a film about class, which even then was nothing new. But it’s Greene’s approach to his topic which sets the film apart: by viewing the social hierarchy through a child’s eyes, the author allows us to view the matter afresh, an approach which would bear fruit again in films as diverse as ‘The Spanish Gardener’, ‘The Go-Between’ and ‘Atonement’. But ‘The Fallen Idol’ is the best of the bunch, and indeed one of the finest British films about children, about the ways they can be manipulated and betrayed, their loyalties misplaced and their emotions toyed with. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Fallen Idol’

45
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, repulsion
Film, Horror

Repulsion (1965)

Director Roman Polanski

Cast Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux

Emeric Pressburger, Karel Reisz, Joseph Losey, Stanley Kubrick… This list isn’t short of writers and directors who brought an outsider’s sensibility to British cinema. The young Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski came to London to make his second film – and first in English – and cast 21-year-old Catherine Deneuve as Carole, a fragile young Belgian woman living in South Kensington with her sister and working in a local hairdressing salon. When her sibling goes away for a few days with a boyfriend, Carole’s nervousness and discomfort with men descends into full-blown paranoia, illustrated subtly by Polanski with sparing but sinister visual tricks such as cracking plaster and even hands emerging from walls. The film remains influential on both horror directors and those looking to represent mental breakdown on film (look at D