10 Classic British Movies
It's difficult to choose the best classic British movies simply because there are so many movies to choose from. This is a category dominated by film legends like David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock.
"The Third Man" (1949), Director: Carol Reed, Starring: Orson Wells The ultimate classic British film, "The Third Man" still resonates with audiences today. Thanks to the screenplay by Graham Greene, the film is atmospheric and filled with suspense typical of British films. The cinematography is flawless and the cinematographer won an Oscar for it.
"Brief Encounter" (1945), Director: David Lean This poignant drama is set on a railway platform in northern England. It is a sensitive portrayal of little England and the characters to be found there. The restraint in Lean’s fil mirrors the restraint in the lead characters and is underpinned by "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Rachmaninov.
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), Director: David Lean, Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness This film set the highest standard for epic filmmaking. The setting sand theme of the film represents a side of Britain abroad during an era of colonial expansion and gives the film a definitive British flavor despite being set in Egypt. The film was justly recognized, receiving an Oscar and BAFTA for Best Picture.
"The 39 Steps" (1935), Director: Alfred Hitchcock This film, one of Hitchcock’s best, has all the subtle tension that Hitchcock and British cinematography are renowned for. Considering that there is no graphic representation of the sexual tension between the lead characters, Hitchcock’s feat of representing the passion is even more impressive.
"Great Expectations" (1946), Director: David Lean Another David Lean film, this adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel by the same name is a beautiful blend of emotion, passion and anticipation. The gravitas of the theme in the novel of childhood love modulating into adulthood frustration is perfectly maintained in the film.
"Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949), Director: Robert Hamer This dark comedy set in Ealing allies the audience with a killer about to begin his work. The film is both elegant and sharp.
"Kes" (1969), Director: Ken Loach. The first in what was to become a British film sub-category, this is the tale of a working class boy struggling with the dull opportunities afforded to him. He overcomes his boredom and frustration by training a kestrel. The film is a serious critique on the struggles of the working class, but true to British form the film never becomes self-pitying or melodramatic.
"Don’t Look Now" (1973), Director: Nic Roeg, Starring: Donald Sutherland Set in Venice, this horror film about a British couple trying to cope with the loss of their daughter and the possibility that she is sending them messages from the afterlife is chilling to the bone. The film reserves a restraint typical in British films that makes it all the more terrifying.
"The Red Shoes" (1948), Director: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger This fantasy film centers around a Hans Christian Anderson story adapted into a ballet. The story is about a cobbler who gives a pair of shoes to a young woman. However she soon realizes that the shoes are enchanted and won’t let her stop dancing until she eventually dies of exhaustion. The film cleverly works this theme into the backstage relationship between the ballet director and his prima donna.
"Trainspotting" (1996), Director: Danny Boyle, Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle The most famous British film in recent years, Trainspotting is one of the most harrowing and controversial films ever to come out of the United Kingdom. Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, the film centers on the lives of a group of young Scottish junkies and is extremely candid about the debased lives they lead.