Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson) & Trevor Howard (Dr. Alec Harvey)
El periódico The Telegraph publicó esta lista de las mejores películas británicas de la historia. No sabemos por qué han omitido "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Lolita", "Fahrenheit 451", "Henry V", "The Servant" o "Room at the Top". Incontestables. Pero como nunca llueve a gusto de todos, ahí va este ranking, discutible pero coherente.
75 films that could only have been made in Britain
Hollywood brings glitz, glamour and big budgets to movie-making; France has avant-garde artistry. But what about Britain?
Looking at our selection of the 75 greatest British movies of the past century, you'll find that Britain excels at genres you'd expect (kitchen sink and period drama, class-obsessed satire) and plenty you wouldn't (strange sci-fi, blood-freezing contemporary horror). Ahead of this year's Baftas, here are the essential home-grown films to watch, listed in the order they were made:
1. The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933)
The film that made Korda the leading producer-director of his era and Charles Laughton into an Oscar-winning international star, this is how period biopics should be done: with comic vim, unbridled theatricality and a cavalier jauntiness, thumbing its nose at history. Catherine of Aragon is omitted entirely for being too dull; step forward Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn and Elsa Lanchester as a hysterically gawky Anne of Cleves. It still has satirical entertainment value that’s not far off Blackadder-esque.
2. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)
There have been four major film versions of Scottish author John Buchan's 1915 thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps but the best of the quartet is Alfred Hitchcock's marvellously inventive 1935 film. The story – about an innocent man accused of murder being pursued by both the police and a deadly spy ring – appealed to Hitchcock's love of paranoia and the man on the run.
3. Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936)
Hitchcock took a great Edwardian novel, about an inept terrorist and his credulous wife, and boiled it down to 76 breakneck minutes. The result is a zinging enigma of a movie, punctuated with disquieting images and haunting snatches of speech.
4. The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938)
The film that catapulted Hitchcock to Hollywood was the second-to-last, and perhaps also the very best, that he made in Britain. In this lightning-witted comic thriller, Margaret Lockwood and Michael Henderson’s travellers-in-arms comb their train for a disappeared fellow passenger everyone else insists they never saw – a riveting core mystery from which Hitchcock allows all kinds of secrets and deceptions to spider-web out.
5. Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson, 1940)
When MGM remade this four years later in their George Cukor/Ingrid Bergman version, Louis B Mayer tried to buy up and burn all prints of the British film, lest it court invidious comparisons. Thankfully, he failed.
The underrated Dickinson, much-championed by Martin Scorsese, did a far more tense, terse and economical job with the Patrick Hamilton play about a devious husband trying to drive his wife insane. As an elegant suspense picture, it holds its own with prime Hitchcock: Diana Wynyard’s fine-tuned distress and Anton Walbrook’s unforgettable portrait of cunning marital sadism make it a keeper.
6. That Hamilton Woman (Alexander Korda, 1941)
Alexander Korda's high–gloss 1941 weepie about the relationship between Horatio, Lord Nelson, and Emma, Lady Hamilton was supposedly Winston Churchill's favourite film. As a bonus, it boasts the tragic romance between Vivien Leigh and her husband Laurence Olivier in their final screen pairing.
Beyond that, Leigh gives her most under–regarded performance in That Hamilton Woman by playing the tragic victim wonderfully at the film’s climax: listening to Hardy's account of Trafalgar stricken with horror at the news he is so clearly holding back. Rainy Sunday afternoons should have all this within easy reach.
7. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1943)
Forty years of love and war take their toll on a man and his nation in Powell and Pressburger’s masterful comic drama about a Boer War hero (Roger Livesey) whose elegant ideals become increasingly at odds with the world he’s fighting to defend. Pilloried on release at the height of the Second World War, it’s fitting that perhaps the greatest film ever made about the ebb and flow of history has been so thoroughly vindicated by it.
8. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to weep at the end of Brief Encounter, Lean's tale of the oh-so-terribly British – and painfully unconsummated – love affair between repressed middle-class housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) and Dr Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), a stranger she meets by chance at a train station. The script, based on Noel Coward's a one-act play Still Life, is infused with a poignant, pointed delicacy, evoking the way in which people not used to giving in to feelings can suddenly find themselves overcome. But the film really belongs to Johnson: it's her beautifully expressive (and these days almost comically refined) voice, and huge, eloquent eyes that really hammer home the gut-wrenching emotion.
The wind-stung beauty of the Scottish islands provides a suitably mythic backdrop for this wise and wonderful romantic comedy from Powell and Pressburger: the missing link between the directors’ more realistic wartime films and the lush, lyrical marvels that would follow. Wendy Hiller plays the social-climbing city girl who becomes stranded on the Isle of Mull shortly before her marriage to a wealthy industrialist, where she discovers, with the help of Roger Livesey’s affable young laird, that not all riches are material.
10. Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)
Right from the desolate establishing shots of the Kentish marshes - Guy Green's glorious cinematography won one of two Oscars - David Lean's approach here is all contrasts: innocence versus experience, light against dark. The screenplay is a marvel of narrative economy, with just the right amount of enriching voiceover from John Mills's adult Pip, but not so much that the importance of telling the story visually is ever neglected.
11. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1946)
Powell and Pressburger’s 1946 masterpiece: David Niven is the Walter Raleigh-quoting Second World War bomber pilot facing certain death with a stiff upper lip (“So long Bob, I’ll see you in a minute”), who falls in love in his final moments with American radio operator June (Kim Hunter), cheats death temporarily and faces a trial in the afterlife as to whether he be allowed to remain on Earth. Jack Cardiff’s luminous cinematography and startling special effects, such as the moving escalator to the “other world”, make this romance as odd and enchanted a piece of film-making as you are likely to see.
12. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
Fifty Shades of Grey can only dream of being as erotic a work as Powell and Pressburger’s tale of repressed desire and simmering passions among a community of nuns at a convent in the Himalayas. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography, with its rich, dark interiors and mountains painted on glass, is among the most beautiful in film.
13. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Martin Scorsese oversaw the 2-year restoration process for the ecstatically received new print of one of British cinema’s great wonders, Powell and Pressburger’s hallucinatory masterpiece about dancing, death, and everything in between.
14. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a black comedy filmed in bright sunshine, a cool piece of heartlessness played for laughs, with a subplot preoccupied by love. Its elegant surface – even homicide does not challenge Louis's sartorial éclat – masks uglier motives and truths: the film dares us to disapprove. It is a work of immense sophistication that combines the startlingly modern and the obviously old-fashioned. For director Robert Hamer, it would be the one film of the handful he made that would guarantee him immortality.
15. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
Perhaps the greatest thriller to come out of postwar British cinema, Carol Reed’s adaptation of the Graham Greene novel (the second after 1948’s The Fallen Idol) shimmers with intrigue and suspense throughout. Shot on luminous black and white 35mm film, Robert Krasker's evocative camerawork highlights the back alleys of Vienna as well as a brilliant performance by Orson Welles as opportunist Harry Lime.
16. The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955)
This classic tale of British wartime valour was the most successful film at the British box office in 1955. Michael Redgrave stars as the real-life aviation designer Barnes Willis who invented the bouncing bomb that was used to breach enemy dams during night-time raids. Much though we all know how it ends, the scenes where were see the bomb in action are genuinely gripping. Richard Todd also gives a charismatic performance as wing commander Guy Gibson.
17. The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955)
American scriptwriter William Rose claimed to have dreamt the entire screenplay of this Ealing black comedy, and the plot of this hilarious London caper is certainly surreal. Katie Johnson stars as the bewildered Mrs Wilberforce, who escapes her lopsided house to tell the police of fantastical crimes. Of course, when a gang of mobsters - disguised as members of a string quartet - take up residency with her talking parrot, the bobbies don't believe her.
18. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
Alec Guinness was sensational as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, winning the Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe Best Actor awards for his 1957 performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film was directed by David Lean but it was an unhappy experience for Guinness. The pair did not speak to each other at all for a 48-hour period during filming in Sri Lanka and Guinness later wrote that Lean "surrounds himself with sycophants" and "has no sense of humour".
19. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
MR James is the greatest ever practitioner of the English ghost story: ironic, then, that it took a French director and American money to capture his spirit this well on screen, with some of the best uses of London locations since early Hitchcock. The Ring and latterly It Follows have borrowed a cue from this pass-on-the-curse plot: Dana Andrews is the sceptical psychologist locking horns with an urbane devil-worshipper (fabulous Niall MacGinnis) while a gnarled medieval demon breathes down their necks.
Wholly available to watch here.
20. Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958)
There have been countless imitations but none can lay a blood-stained glove on Terence Fisher's adaptation of Bram Stoker's chilling novel. Christopher Lee plays the blood-thirsty Count, all curdling terror and knowing humour, while Peter Cushing provides solid support as Abraham Van Helsing. A cape-tivating classic.
21. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
Critics scorned Peeping Tom when it was released, largely due to the habits of its lead character: Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), an amateur filmmaker with a compulsion to murder women and get kick from filming the horrified expressions on their faces as they come to realise their fate.
But contemporary critics may have overlooked in 1960 was that voyeurism was its central theme. But who is the voyeur? Before his death in 1990, Powell saw the reputation of Peeping Tom rise and rise. It is now regarded as a key film in British cinema history and one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
22. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
An adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents remains one of the most spine-chillingly eerie horror films ever made, as well as one of the earliest to tap into the "creepy" qualities of young children. Deborah Kerr is excellent as isolated nursery governess Miss Giddens, who begins to suspect that her dead predecessor isn't quite as dead as she seems, and that all is not as it should be with her young charges ... Sexual repression, obsession and slowly-creeping madness have rarely been so well portrayed.
23. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
There have been many attempts to portray the extraordinary and enigmatic figure that is TE Lawrence – a flamboyant young English army officer that inspired and led an Arabian army against the Turks – though none have been as successful David Lean’s 1962 classic. A debutant as Lawrence, Peter O’Toole channels a truly complex character that is ruthless, charismatic and, at times, self-hating.
24. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
Based on Alan Sillitoe’s short story of the same name, director Tony Richardson's film follows a young boy who is sent to a borstal after being involved in a bakery robbery and finds solace in his talent for long distance running. Tom Courtney is superb as the defiant Borstal boy Colin Smith and while the film is valuable as social history, it retains its vitality.
25. This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, 1963)
Lindsay Anderson’s feature debut is one of the strongest films to emerge from the kitchen-sink movement that swept across British filmmaking in the Sixties. Richard Harris stars as Frank Machin, an up-and-coming rugby league star, who enters into a fraught, agonised affair with his widowed landlady Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts). Roberts delivers the best performance of her short career, while the scrum scenes remain among the best depictions of sport ever captured on celluloid.
26. From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963)
Director Terence Young's 1963 caper was Bond's second screen outing and it remains, in many ways, the best. Generally favouring the claustrophobia of the westbound Orient Express over grandstanding set-pieces, it has a first-rate villain (Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb), henchman (Robert Shaw's Donald "Red" Grant) and girl (Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova), not to mention the mighty Connery in his pantherine prime. The plot is deliciously preposterous and that long section on the train positively crackles with tension, finally exploding in a fight-sequence that is still unmatched in the entire 007 canon.
27. Zulu (Cy Enfield, 1964)
The Battle of Rorke's Drift, in which 150 British soldiers eventually defeated 4,000 Zulu warriors, is brought to dramatic life in Cy Enfield's military masterpiece. Michael Caine is pitch-perfect as the pompous Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead but it is Stanley Baker as the heroic Lieutenant John Chard who really captures the sense of panic that rattled through the British camp that sweltering day in 1879.
28. A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
More than 50 years on, A Hard Day’s Night still feels as fresh and cheeky as when it was first released. It’s the first and best of the five Beatles films, and follows the band on a brief trip from Liverpool to London, where they play at a televised concert. The opening sequence recalls French New Wave cinema proving, once again, the Beatles’ ability to see a trend approaching, and slip in ahead of it smiling. Its visions of Britain and stardom are as peculiar and vivid as they were half-a-century ago, and it all remains roaringly funny.
29. The Ipcress File (Sidney J. Furie, 1965)
Michael Caine stars as Army sergeant Harry Palmer in this gritty espionage film that pitted itself as the antidote to the fantasy gleam of the Bond franchise. Palmer finds himself in the middle of a brainwashing plot laden with red tape, and must fight against time to save himself and his colleagues.
30. Accident (Joseph Losey, 1967)
Halfway between The Servant (1963) and The Go-Between (1970), Losey, that American ex-pat and clever dissector of the English class system, also teamed up with Harold Pinter on this prickly drama of extra-marital peccadilloes among Oxford dons, played by Dirk Bogarde and a superbly insinuating Stanley Baker. With its boldly experimental approach to form, it’s a splintered enigma of a movie about the skull beneath the skin of genteel provincial life. On each viewing it reveals new facets, like a puzzle-box gradually unlocked by giving it a different quarter-turn.
31. Far from the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967)
John Schlesinger’s spellbinding adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel rings with the rhythms of rural life. The story it tells isn’t just of Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) and her trio of imperfect suitors, but also of the frontier society that sustains all four: its songs and traditions, and bedrock-deep relationship with the landscape.
The Dorset scenery seems to glow from within (the cinematographer is a pre-Walkabout Nicolas Roeg), as do the fashionable cast – not least of all Terence Stamp’s snugly trousered Frank Troy, who’s a scoundrel for the ages.
32. If… (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
Lindsay Anderson’s anarchic vision of English public school life etches itself into the memory of even those who didn’t grow up familiar with it. In part that’s thanks to David Sherwin’s shocking, revelatory script, and in part due to Malcolm McDowell – before the stardom of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – whose disgruntled anti-hero Mick Travis prowls around the stately premises with menace and fulfills the dark fantasies of many a schoolboy.
33. Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)
Not just a nonpareil revenge-horror film but something close to a British western: there’s much spirited riding around the Suffolk countryside and a moral battle to be won at great cost. Resurrecting the fabled cruelty of 17th century witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins (an insatiable Vincent Price), then-24-year-old director Reeves, a year before his death from an overdose, whipped this up into a thunderous allegory about violence and its capacity to beget more. The insane blood-lust of the finale won’t be forgotten in a hurry. (Read Matthew Sweet on the short life of Michael Reeves here.)
34. Kes (Ken Loach, 1969)
To call Kes timeless is not quite right. For it’s a film that’s steeped in a very particular time and place. It was made in 1969 by a director credited as “Kenneth Loach”; when teenagers like its dirty-nailed hero Billy Casper (David Bradley) still read the Dandy and the most miserable fate that could befall a young adult would be to labour down the mine.
Now, it still cries its authentic song of rage. As Billy, David Bradley is eloquent when describing his kestrel and touching in his ability still to feel hurt. He is as romantic as Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel, and as enduring and vital a Northern outsider as Mark E Smith, Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker.
35. Performance (Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg, 1970)
Mick Jagger makes his acting debut in this twisted dark crime film from Cammell and Roeg, but don't expect tales of rock 'n' roll. Instead, Jagger's character Turner, a reclusive musician, becomes captor to Chas, a sadistic thug on the run from more evil villains. Drugs, sex and violence warranted mixed reviews when Performance was first released, but Cammell's death in 1996 collided with a critical reappraisal. The fact that Performance has influenced everyone from Tarantino to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has helped cement its position in British cinema.
36. Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971)
As vengeful gangster Jack Carter, Michael Caine returns to a rabbit-warren Newcastle that has ceased to exist in recent years of regeneration. There are no good guys in this quietly gripping adaptation of Ted Lewis' 1969 novel Jack's Return Home, but cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky brings out the stark beauty of the North East while capturing their attempts to kill each other.
37. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
Stanley Kubrick's dystopian crime drama, based on the novella by Anthony Burgess, is a disturbing study of juvenile delinquency. Malcolm McDowell gives a tour de force performance as the sociopathic gang leader whose violent tendencies land him in a creepy psychiatric experiment. The film was passed uncut by the British censors and was nominated for several Baftas and Academy Awards but after it was linked to a series of copycat crimes, Kubrick himself withdrew it from distribution. It was only after Kubrick's death in 1999 that the film was made available in the UK.
38. The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)
Russell was already the enfant terrible of British cinema, thanks to his mad music biopics and sexually frank Women in Love (1969). Then he dropped this whopping payload of orgiastic anarchy right in front of the establishment’s nose. Warner Brothers refused to release it uncut: out went the scene where deranged nuns sexually assault a statue of Christ, and most of the one where Vanessa Redgrave masturbates with the charred femur bone of Oliver Reed. It’s like nothing else, now restored and rightly hailed as the Russellest film of them all.
39. Bill Douglas Trilogy (Bill Douglas, 1972-8)
Scottish cinema’s Oresteia: a pinnacle, in three parts. From the raw material – as in flayed-raw – of a grindingly impoverished upbringing in 1940s Newcraighall, south-east of Edinburgh, Douglas wrought tender poetry in black-and-white, starting with My Childhood (1972) and continuing through My Ain Folk (1973) and My Way Home (1978). The fortunes of Jamie (Stephen Archibald) from ages 10 through 16 make this Boyhood with borstals: there’s grit under its nails, and a vision of neglect that won’t fade, but also sublimity in the tiny satisfactions a day can bring.
40. Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
What begins as a meditation on grief winds up one of the most chilling, devastating ghost stories in British cinematic history. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, then a real-life couple, star as the parents of a dead child who take a healing trip to wintry Venice, only to experience strange premonitions and constant reminders of their tragedy. The denouement, in particular that red plastic mac, is terrifying. Such a shame the film's being remade.
41. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
Kubrick’s adaptation of Thackeray's 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, a satirical picaresque about the fortune and status-hungry Irish rogue, pushed the director’s technical ambition to new limits. Determined to shoot as few scenes as possible without electrical light, Barry Lyndon is consciously a museum piece. Subjected to the director's infamous regime of many, many arduous takes, the actors’ faces light up the film and the era, like a series of fine, carefully hung, oil portraits. Kubrick's cast may have been required to sit for these for days and weeks on end, but no one could say the results weren't worth it.
42. Pressure (Horace Ové, 1976)
As the first member of his family to be born in Britain, teenager Tony (Herbert Norville) finds two very different worlds jostling him on either side: his Trinidadian heritage on one, the beckoning dream of English middle-classdom on the other. Horace Ové’s debut feature remains as vibrant, honest and humane an exploration of the black British experience now as it was in the mid-1970s. It’s the last great (and perhaps also most under-appreciated) film of the British New Wave.
43. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
This hysterical comedy about an accidental Messiah caused no end of controversy when it was released in 1979. It was Monty Python’s second film, released four years after The Holy Grail, and told the story of a Jewish man who happened to be born on the same day as Jesus and is later mistaken for the prophet. The film’s biting yet upbeat tone and religious satire drew accusations of blasphemy and was even banned in a handful of countries.
44. Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979)
A road trip and a mindset, a time and a place – the late 1970s, with Thatcher just in – and a hypnotic shoestring exercise that thrives on having virtually no plot at all. A DJ played by David Beames drives from London to Bristol, after his brother is found dead in a bath. Borrowing a camera assistant from Wim Wenders, Petit makes of this a resonant statement about certainties gone astray, and with Kraftwerk, Eno, and Bowie’s German version of “Heroes” on the soundtrack, it feels like an aural memory-map for its moment.
45. The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)
Anyone weary of the British geezer gangster films of the Nineties and 2000s should go back a decade to this masterly exercise in guv'nor filmmaking, which is as much a vehicle for Helen Mirren as for Bob Hoskins. There's a sleek parallel between Michelle Pfeiffer's moll in Scarface and Mirren, wife to Hoskin's gangster Harold. But where Pfeiffer came covered in cocaine and trauma, Victoria's elegant self is more than a match for Harold, an East End gangster making a very botched attempt at going legitimate. Watch out for Pierce Brosnan and Daragh O'Malley (Bond and Sharpe's Sergeant Harper) in early roles IRA hitmen, as well as the almost obligatory Dexter Fletcher child cameo.
46. Gregory's Girl (Bill Forsyth, 1981)
Was there ever a more charming film than Gregory's Girl? It may not contain many jokes, and there are only one or two laugh-out-loud moments, but almost every scene puts a smile on your face. From the opening, in which a sex-starved schoolboy faints off-camera at the sight of a nurse removing her bra, to the closing sequence, in which Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) and his new girlfriend dance in the park while lying down, the film is filled with quirkiness and, well, charm. Gregory's Girl put Scottish director Bill Forsyth on the map. He went on to make bigger films, but he never found a more engaging blend of offbeat comedy, warmth and insight into the peculiarities of the teenage mind.
47. Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, 1981)
Hugh Hudson’s Oscar-winning biopic is as sincere and courageous as the two men at its heart: Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), the Olympic runner spurred on by his Christian faith, and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), his Jewish teammate marginalised by his. Whatever the film’s nostalgic 1920s setting suggests soundtrack-wise, it’s probably not plangent electronica from Greek keyboard whizz Vangelis, but that inspired mismatch of sound and vision only reinforces the sense that the story we’re witnessing is timeless.
Spectacularly original, The Draughtsman’s Conrtact seemed to herald a thrilling new filmmaking talent from Peter Greenaway. An artist (Anthony Higgins) is commissioned to draw a 17th century estate from 12 different angles at different times of the day for a modest stipend and 12 sexual favours from Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman), the lady of the manor. But Greenaway applies a surreal sensibility to a thoroughly conventional genre format, the country-house murder mystery. The audience remain in the dark about the mystery in this minor masterpiece by a consummate English eccentric.
49. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Withnail and I are louche unemployed actors who live in squalor and drink themselves silly. Grant's delivery of mordant mutterings is superb. The lines, from Bruce Robinson's semi-autobiographical script, are an oddball joy and mostly involve drink and the inevitable hangover. An escape from urban squalor in Camden lands them in rural squalor in Cumbria. To add to the chaos, there is a scary bull, a malevolent poacher and a flirtatious Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths), who unexpectedly turns up with amorous designs on a decidedly unwilling I.
Once regarded for many years as a cult film, Withnail and I now stands as one of the finest British films of the Eighties. And what's not to like about a film with the line: "Don't threaten me with a dead fish"?
50. Howards End (James Ivory, 1992)
One of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory finest collaborations, this adaptation of EM Forster's novel about a class-obsessed family earned nine Oscar nominations. Emma Thompson, who won one for her portrayal of 'poor relation' Margaret Wilcox, carries this sumptuous film.
51. Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)
Sally Potter’s ambitious adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 darting, gender-bending journey through English history, based on the family history of her close friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, brought the story’s events right up to the film’s present day of 1992. Tilda Swinton stars as the eponymous nobleman in the Elizabethan court. The aging Queen, played by Quentin Crisp, promises Orlando a castle and land provided he “[does] not grow old.” At her command, Orlando lives on for centuries, but encounters trouble keeping the entitlement to his land when he wakes up one day as a woman.
52. The Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)
Emma Thompson was reunited with Merchant Ivory for this meticulous imagining of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name. Thompson won another Oscar nomination for her performance as sensitive housekeeper Miss Kenton, who attempts to find the human side of obsessively devoted butler Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins, also Academy Award nominated for the role). Combining impeccable acting with upstairs, downstairs and an inter-war period, it's a near-perfect British film.
53. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis at the peak of his powers, this story of a group of friends and their endless trails round dreadful Home Counties weddings is an absolute joy. Sharper, wittier and sweeter than you remember – this also applies to leading man Hugh Grant – it strikes the perfect balance between hilarity and heartbreak. As much as paean to friendship as it is to the eccentrities of British poshness, Four Weddings is one of the all-time great comedies. A sole mis-step in casting Andie McDowell as Grant's phenomenally wet love interest can be forgiven.
54. Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995)
There's lots that makes Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility one of the best Austen adaptations around, from a glittering Best-of-British cast (including Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman), to a script that retains some of the acidity of the original novel. But the most compelling reason to watch of all is Emma Thompson. Alongside Kate Winslet's impulsive Marianne, Thompson is an absolute delight as level-headed heroine Elinor, the "sensible" sister. Watching her overcome by emotion at the end of the film, when she realises that she hasn't lost her longterm love-interest for good, is pure cinematic cartharsis.
55. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)
Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. In fact, do what the hell you want but for God's sake find the time to watch Danny Boyle's hilarious, heart-breaking tale of sex, drugs (a few more drugs) and rock 'n' roll. Adapted from Irvine Welsh's novel, the film follows five party-loving wastrels trying to make sense of their dead-end existence in mid-Nineties Edinburgh. Boasting the finest soundtrack in 20 years and a cast that includes Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting is a life-affirming wonder.
56. Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, 1996)
Cannes was impressed with Brenda Blethyn’s performance in Secrets & Lies, in which she plays Cynthia, a weary, troubled, over-emotional single mother whose burden is increased considerably when the 30-ish Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) turns up out of the blue with the news that she is Cynthia’s daughter. Surely some mistake, thinks Cynthia, especially since she is white and Hortense is black. But, no, there has been no mistake. Serious issues are addressed, but – and this is typical of Leigh’s films – that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny and heart-warming, too.
57. The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997)
This gritty comedy based in post-industrial Sheffield experienced as much of a rags-to-riches journey as its characters: made with a tiny budget of £3 million, the story of former steel workers stripping for a better life captured the nation's imagination - bringing with it box office earnings of £170 million. Simon Beaufoy's script brought issues of suicide and homosexuality side-by-side with quintessentially British tokens: garden gnomes and building society books.
58. Gallivant (Andrew Kötting, 1997)
A family drive around the English, Welsh and Scottish coastlines becomes a campervan trip to the outermost fringes of Britishness in Andrew Kötting's surreal and soul-nourishing documentary. The director goes on the road with his 87-year-old grandmother Gladys and his seven-year-old daughter Eden, born with a rare and potentially life-shortening genetic disorder, for possibly the last shared journey the three will make. But though mortality looms on the horizon, the film throbs with life and fun, delighting in the songs, traditions and folklore the trio encounter on their meandering quest.
59. The Wings of the Dove (Iain Softley, 1997)
Henry James is notoriously difficult to adapt well, but this is the darkly shimmering exception, thanks to Hossein Amini’s shrewd wrangling of ambiguity in the script. Helena Bonham Carter still hasn’t topped Kate Croy, conniving but also trapped by her circumstances, as a leading role; the masquerade of her and Linus Roache's motives makes the film a psychological thriller of sorts. Softley directs the Venice sequences with bewitching gamesmanship, then tears your heart out at the end.
60. Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh, 1999)
The film no-one thought Mike Leigh could pull off has become one of the director’s defining achievements – an elegant, eccentric period drama about the making of The Mikado without a kitchen sink in sight. Jim Broadbent gives a career-best performance as the librettist W.S. Gilbert, whose creative partnership with Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) has run aground – but, inspired by an exhibition of Japanese art and culture, he sets about writing what would prove to be his masterpiece. With an enormous, uniformly wonderful ensemble cast, who perform Leigh’s dialogue like music.
61. A Room for Romeo Brass (Shane Meadows, 1999)
Director Shane Meadows proved his mettle with his second film, a seemingly lackadaisical tale of two 12-year-old Nottinghamshire lads (Andrew Shim and Ben Marshall) whose friendship is upended when unemployed sad sack Morell starts hanging out with them. Meadows coerces funny and touching performances from the two youngsters (Shim, incidentally, would go on to play the friendly Milky in Meadow’s This is England series), but it is Paddy Considine, in his first professional acting role, who shapes a thoroughly believable creation in the nasal Morell, balancing a goofy likeability with an ominous instability, and turns the whole story on a scary dime halfway through.
62. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
Lynne Ramsay's 1999 debut feature won its director the Carl Foreman Award for Newcomer in British Film at the BAFTA Awards. The film follows a 12-year-old boy, Jamie, growing up in Glasgow in 1973.
63. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)
Terence Davies’ adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel charts the unjust downfall of New York City socialite Lily Bart, played by a never-better Gillian Anderson, at devastating close quarters. Davies’ film doesn’t linger on period set-dressing: the interiors it’s more fascinated by are those of its characters, with sustained close-ups revealing what’s concealed within their souls. Very different in habitat from Davies’ early, Liverpool-set work, it nonetheless shares those films’ elegance and patience, and sharp awareness of the power of social status.
64. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)
Years before Downton Abbey took the world by storm, Julian Fellowes brought country estates, service and Maggie Smith to the screen in this successful period drama. Kristen Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and David Jacobi join Smith in an enormous ensemble cast, who are brought together in a murder mystery after an American filmmaker (Bob Balaban) arrives at Gosford to observe British aristocracy.
65. Black Sun (Gary Tarn, 2005)
The French writer and artist Hugues de Montalembert was blinded in 1978, at age 35, when a drug addict in New York threw paint-stripper in his face. “It was like falling into a pot of dark honey”, he says of slipping into sightlessness. Gary Tarn’s remarkable documentary has him recount all the adjustments he had to undergo, and his new experience of the world as a blind person. Meanwhile, every image in his film’s experimental tapestry of visuals makes us meditate on what it means to see.
(Wholly available to watch here.)
66. Deep Water (Louise Osmond, Jerry Rothwell, 2006)
Narrated by Tilda Swinton, Deep Water is a gravely compassionate and piercingly sad account of Donald Crowhurst's fate in the 1968 round–the–world yacht race. Crowhurst was a weekend sailor and amateur inventor, whose curious, reticent personality the British media took to their hearts. It quickly became clear that he hadn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning, and his best hope of coming out of the race with his pride intact was merely completing the circumnavigation as planned.
But at a certain point – was it in the Sargasso, or the Bermuda Triangle? – he couldn't face turning back. Before vanishing at sea, he scrawled more than 25,000 words in his logbook, and the window these records open on his unravelling mind is devastating.
67. Unrelated (Joanna Hogg, 2007)
Unrelated is an emotionally and sometimes wince-inducingly acute debut that looks and feels and sounds like few other British films. That's partly to do with its setting (Tuscany); its social milieu (the characters are all solidly, unashamedly middle-class); and its story (a subtle and largely internal journey on the part of a middle-aged married woman who has been invited by her oldest friend Verena to stay at an Italian holiday villa.
68. Sleep Furiously (Gideon Koppel, 2008)
Gideon Koppel’s documentary about vanishing ways of life in the remote Welsh farming community of Trefeurig is a patchwork quilt of beautiful images, snug and lovingly stitched. Two lines of sheep file across a rain-darkened field; a plump, yellow mobile library winds down valley roads; a town cryer pads along a lane, ringing his bell at no-one in particular. The title comes from a grammatically correct but meaningless sentence formulated by Noam Chomsky, and suggests a deep, underlying order to the everyday activities Koppel’s camera observes.
69. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
The 1981 Maze Prison hunger strikes, in which provisional IRA member Bobby Sands famously died, gave McQueen his first subject for a feature – as scalding, uncompromising and intellectually rigorous a debut as any British filmmaker has managed in decades. Michael Fassbender devotes himself body and soul to the role, but it’s the long-take rigour of McQueen’s directorial approach, reprised harrowingly in 12 Years a Slave, that makes you feel the slow-drip agony of solitary confinement and self-inflicted annihilation.
70. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
Andrea Arnold works wonders almost everywhere in this film: the drip-drop drabness of kitchen-sink drama is stilled, alive, and newly dangerous. Set in an Essex housing estate, 15-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) tussles with her single mother (Kierston Wareing), who wants to pack her off into juvenile care. Entering the fray is Michael Fassbender, who delivers a spellbinding turn, and the film shifts gears unmistakably whenever it’s around him.
71. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)
Easily the most authentic film in a generation about British gay life, but also a tender, open-hearted romance about sudden connection and ideas of belonging. Tom Cullen and Chris New play two young guys in Nottingham who pick each other up in a bar, and realise there’s something more between them than the usual substance-fuelled, bleary attraction. Haigh’s film captures the nervous rhythms of a new mutual crush beautifully, but also makes their pillow-talk dig bravely down into the loneliness and frustration of contemporary gay culture.
72. Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
Jay (Neil Maskell), a soldier-turned-hitman jaded by the unspecified horrors of a previous assignment, is hired to carry out a string of executions – a priest, a librarian, and an MP – although his client seems to have even bigger things for him in mind. Ben Wheatley’s blood-freezing state-of-the-nation horror film grabs hold of a familiar British kitchen-sink setting – drab housing estates, fading business hotels – and wrenches it out of its socket, creating an atmosphere of hyperreal panic and dread.
73. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)
Sound is a sacrament in the Berberian Sound Studio: it enters innocuously through the ears before transubstantiating into something more sinister. That might be the most straightforward way of describing what happens in this thrillingly unstraightforward film from the English director Peter Strickland about the odd goings-on in a fusty Italian post-production suite.
74. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, 2013)
The Selfish Giant, the second feature by the English filmmaker Clio Barnard, is a brilliant and soul-scouring fable about scrap men and scrap children; two outcast generations doomed to forever sift through life’s rubbish dump. So hauntingly perfect is Barnard’s film, and so skin-pricklingly alive does it make you feel to watch it, that at first you can hardly believe the sum of what you have seen: the astonishingly strong performances from her two young, untutored leads; Barnard’s layered script; Mike Eley’s snow-crisp cinematography that makes the streets of Bradford shine.
75. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Nine years in the making and worth every microsecond of its torturous development, Jonathan Glazer’s science-fiction horror film shows us Britain from the ultimate outsider’s perspective. Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless alien creature who’s harvesting men for their meat, seducing them into her transit van and taking them to be pulped. The early hunting scenes, shot undercover in Glasgow, have a skin-tightening coldness to them, but then the alien starts warming to her prey – a flicker of humanity that alters the course of her mission. Indelible images, sounds and ideas come in such quick succession they leave you reeling. Not that you’d ever want to, but this is not a film that can be shaken off.
Compiled by Robbie Collin and Tim Robey, with contributions from: Rebecca Hawkes, Patrick Smith, Rachel Ward, Siobhan Palmer, Peter Yeung, Martin Chilton, Alice Vincent, Chris Harvey, Mark Monahan