10 to try: British films

A Richard Curtis comedy is the quintessential British film. Check out our selection of ten more favourites

Whenever a new Richard Curtis film is released you expect certain standards. It seems likely there will be a familiar face or two (Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant and more recently Bill Nighy have all benefited) character comedy seems assured and there is likely to be a liberal sprinkling of farce.

The Boat That Rocked is released in the Middle East this week (see our review here) and the powers of the Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Love Actually writer have been called into question.

It seems assembling an all star British cast and letting them loose on a charming script is no longer a guarantee for success. British films are going to have to try a lot harder to impress audiences. Time Out looks for inspiration in the archives and selects ten very British affairs for you to try.

Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix: British author, British director, British cast, set in Britain. There is no way that this film does not qualify as British. It even has Emma Thompson in it – films don’t get any more British than that. Yes Warner Brothers funded it but this just feels like a Brit-flick. Right down to the quiet cul-de-sac where Harry lives and the very British court room scenes.

Goldfinger: For the purposes of this list we’ve only included one film from any given series so that means just one Bond film. While we love the long overdue injection of life that Daniel Craig gave the series we have to go back to Sean Connery’s Goldfinger to really celebrate the Britishness of the series. Bond himself, of course, would gloss over the fact that it is directed by a Frenchman and concentrate on the fact that this was Brit author Ian Flemming’s finest creation and an iconic moment in the history of the secret service on film.

Kes: Bleak, bold and beautiful – the heart of the working class north of England is captured in this masterpiece. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll want everything to be alright for young Billy before the film ends. Anybody from outside the county of Yorkshire might want to switch on the subtitles. This is as far from the usual drama school polish as is possible to get while still being a Brit flick and the acting is all the better for it.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Does for cockney wideboys what The Godfather did for murdering New York gangsters: makes them lovable. The inspired casting of soccer hardman Vinnie Jones was just one moment that gave the film a grizzly authenticity to go with the crime caper plot. Too violent to be considered an Ealing comedy update and too funny to be considered an out-and-out action film it has what every great British film has had: style, swagger and a side order of sarcasm.

The Italian Job: A film as stylish as The Italian Job is rarely as good. But 40 years on the film that inspired a pointless remake and an opportunistic video game is still a veritable classic. This is what Ocean’s 11 would be like if the protagonists spent less time in Vegas casinos and more time playing bingo in a village hall. Sharp suits, slick driving and a healthy respect of for the Queen of England guarantee the gangsters a place in British hearts. Has there ever been a gang leader quite like Noel Coward’s Mr Grainger?


Trainspotting: Heroin addiction is not funny. Nor is it glamorous or cool. But during the mid-90s when the film industry wanted to join rock and roll aboard the good ship cool Britania it was a handful of junkies in the Danny Boyle-directed Trainspotting that were defining style. Audiences who had only ever seen the castles, lochs and rugged isles of Scotland were dragged kicking and screaming into the city centres. All the principal players went on to do wonderful things in America (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Kelly McDonald have flirted with Hollywood royalty) but they have all retained their British roots as well.

Full Monty: This little film was up against the might of Titanic at the 1998 Oscars. It didn’t conquer but, as the production team doubtless said, it was an honour to even be nominated. It cost just $4million to make (as opposed to the $200m James Cameron splashed out on Titanic) but was a commercial and critical hit around the world. Remarkably the heartwarming cast was lead by the same Robert Carlyle who repulsed audiences the year before as Begbie in Trainspotting. While the film could not be more different to Trainspotting it did take the lead from its predecessor by realizing the importance of a great soundtrack to the popularity of a film.

Withnail & I: Lovers of British films will no doubt be remarking on the lack of Carry On films anywhere on this list. There is good reason: they’re just not funny. The saucy seaside postcard humour and double entendres do not represent the finest moments in the island’s cinema history. Withnail & I, on the other hand, is remembered as fondly 20 years on as when it was first released. The script is good, the casting inspired and the performance unparalleled. Richard E Grant’s Withnail is a beautifully observed comic creation who goes down as one of the vilest and funniest from either side of the Atlantic.

The Third Man: Orson Welles was a cinema genius. Directing, writing and starring in the American Film Institue’s (AFI) best film of the twentieth century was not enough for him. He had to follow up Citizen Kane by heading to Britain to star in the British Film Institute’s (BFI) best film of the twentieth century as well. That he received his double-whammy more than 50 years after the films were made is evidence of his lasting appeal. But the American auteur was also a master collaborator and it is his work on the very British thriller The Third Man that we are remembering him here.

Four Weddings and a Funeral: The Boat That rocked is ultimately disappointing, but the achievements of Richard Curtis should not be forgotten. British television audiences adore him for work on sitcoms such as Blackadder and Mr. Bean and his film credits include Bridget Jones, Love Actually and Notting Hill. Obviously Hugh Grant has a debt of gratitude to him and that was cemented by Four Weddings and a Funeral. This is the film that made Grant’s reputation as a bumbling Brit with floppy hair and toffish charm. Condense all 10 series of Friends into a couple of hours and move the entire cast over to England and you just about have it.

For the purposes of this list we’ve defined a British film as one with a predominantly British cast, a British writer or director and based in Britain.

Do you agree with our list? Have we missed out a classic? Should Slumdog Millionaire be on this list? Or Carry On Camping? How about Shakepeare in Love or The English Patient? Let us know what you think. Leave a comment below and suggest your favourites?

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