After my revisiting of British war movie The Dam Busters, I decided to continue with the British theme. Here are my current personal top 10 films associated with, or financed/produced by good ol’ Blighty.

10. Trainspotting [1996]

While it is undoubtedly a great film, Trainspotting makes number 10 on the list purely for being a major turning point which established the UK once more as a major player in the movie industry. It made household names of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Danny Boyle, who have all gone on to become huge stars. The film uses gritty social realism, typical of UK directors such as Ken Loach, but adds an upbeat indie flavour, a style which is now very much associated with UK cinema, and a style which Danny Boyle can largely take credit for.

9. The Holy Grail [1975]

Holy Grail

Considered by many to be Monty Python’s finest moment, the Holy Grail takes the legend of King Arthur and turns it on it’s head. Every aspect of the film seems impervious to the decay of time, largely due to the aptly period style and timeless silly British/Python humour. Every Brit over 25 can quote at least one line from this film, and if they cant, well I blow my nose at you, so-called “Arthur King,” you and all your silly English K-nig-hts!

8. Withnail & I [1987]

Withnail & I

One of the most quotable films ever made, the black comedy Withnail & I is a cult movie which portrays 2 unemployed actors as they awake from the excessive drug-fuelled 60s into the dark, economically unstable murk of 1970s Britain. The plot is simplistic, but excels due to the scarily natural performances of the 2 leads, Richard E Grant and Paul McGann. Drug-fuelled paranoia, crazy drug dealers, camberwell carrots, homosexual predators, mania and depression, the script is darker than night, yet manages to end on a touching note. GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!

7. Brazil [1985]

Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian satirical masterpiece. Calling it British is perhaps a stretch, but thanks to Monty Python it is safe to say that we consider Gilliam more British than any other “Johnny foreigner”. Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, and Ian Holm lead the Brit-dominated cast admirably.

6. A Clockwork Orange [1971]

A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s take on Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel of the same name, the film which changed the way we heard Beethoven’s 9th and the William Tell overture. The film is gifted with Kubrick’s visual flair and ear for music, as surreal set design and eerie synth music assault the senses. It is a picture which asks many questions of its viewer; the morality of personality control and how to define the many grey shades of “goodness” are issues ported squarely from the novel, and the Nadsat laden screenplay is handled with dry, darkly comic wit. Malcolm McDowell puts in the performance of a lifetime as the intelligent, dangerous and at times strangely charming Alex.

5. A Matter of Life and Death [1946]

Some slightly wooden dialogue does not harm this incredibly loveable film. Michael Powell’s “A Matter of Life and Death” is metaphysical, thoughtful and delicately directed, and inspired many films to follow. Industry-leading production design and art direction impress even today. In a move not typical of the era, the ending is rather cleverly left open to interpretation. High production values and masterful direction make this an easy choice for number 5.

4. The 39 Steps [1935]

Of the many interpretations of the 39 steps, it is Hitchcock’s that stands head and shoulders above the rest. All of the director’s trademarks are here, the everyman caught up in the wrong place and the wrong time, the knack for bypassing the censors with ambiguous innuendo, maguffins galore, the criminal with a distinguishing abnormality, exciting chase scenes and technically inspired camerawork. While many of these themes were perhaps honed and bettered in his later American films (North by Northwest’s main concept is extremely similar and borrows entire scenes with minimal alteration) it is in the 39 steps we see the Director mastering his trade. An important film for Hitch fans and the whole of the British movie industry.

3. The Red Shoes [1948]

Many of the greatest names of modern cinema have gone on record to say this is the most beautiful technicolor film ever made, and it is not without reason. The Archers (Powell and Pressberger) play once again with the line between reality and fiction, as the film’s incredible ballet centerpiece (which could stand as an accomplished ballet in its own right) becomes a visual metaphor for the situations surrounding the film’s leads off-stage. The Red Shoes deserves a place on the list for the ballet sequence alone, yet it is the deftly handled intertwining story of the ballet and the characters that elevates this to masterpiece, and it is truly one of the greatest British films.

2. The Life of Brian [1979]

Perhaps a controversial choice for second place, but in my personal opinion, the best of the Monty Python films, and the greatest comedy this country has ever produced. Not quite as silly as Holy Grail, but it makes up for it in spades with intelligent religious satire. Endlessly quoteable, with quick and clever gags, you are left thinking that this silliness could actually be an entirely plausible beginning of a worldwide fanaticism religion.

1. The Third Man [1949]

Directed by Carol Reed, uncle of loveable drunkard Oliver Reed, this British-made film noir was an easy number 1 choice for a number of reasons. The brilliant performances from everyone involved, the breathtakingly beautiful Vienna shot in stunningly lit black and white, Anton Karas’ unique zither score which stays with you for days, one of the most iconic character reveals in cinema history, and a razorsharp screenplay with a gripping finale, all add up to my quintessential British film. A must-see.

So there we have it, my current top10 British list. Yeah I know, no David Lean, no Dr No etc.. This is a highly personal list, and by this time next month it will probably change! Special mention should be made for a couple of films I really wanted to put on the list, notably the Ealing Studios production The Lady Killers, and Peeping Tom, which narrowly missed the cut. I hope you enjoyed the list, and if you haven’t seen them yet, make sure you check all these films out as soon as you can.

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