10. Trainspotting (1996)
Director Danny Boyle
Cast Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller
Trainspotting is the film that would make a household name of director Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor. Based on Irwin Welsh’s novel of the same name, it is an adrenaline-fueled watch from start to finish. The film is highly original in its viewpoint and paints a dark portrait of the drug culture.
9. If… (1968)
Director Lindsay Anderson
Cast Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick
In at number 9 is one of the most radical films of the 1960s. Sure, a look into life in a British boarding school sounds like a conservative topic, but British director Lindsay Anderson manages to turn it into a masterpiece.
The film is an attack on tradition and authority undoubtedly encapsulated and tapped into the counter-cultural mood of the time – but its themes of community, leadership, oppression, and rebellion, as well as its edge of comic surrealism and weird fantasy, continue to endure more than forty years later.
The mischievous face of Malcolm McDowell as rebellious sixth-former Mick Travis is, in retrospect, an obvious predecessor of his character in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, not least when he appears wearing a fedora and with a scarf wrapped around his face to conceal a mustache.
8. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Director Robert Hamer
Starring Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwoodte, Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of the most romantic literary films in British history. The plot concerns a poor protagonist called Louis Mazzini D’Ascoyne, played by Dennis Price, who finds himself having to avenge the death of his mother.
What makes this film so beautiful is how simply one can detach oneself from the horrors of a man on a murderous rampage and instead sympathize with him.
7. Performance (1970)
Directors Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell
Cast James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg
Subjecting the audience to 105 minutes of violence, sex, drugs and Mick Jagger in a dress is one way to land a review in the LA Times as ‘the most worthless film I have seen’.
‘Performance’ seems to remain confrontational and relevant, where other works of the time seem re now embarrassing out-dated. But as the story fragments into numerous surreal subplots, the viewer is forced to find meaning in the bizarre series of events that unfold.
6. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cast David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey
Powell and Pressburger are two greats of British cinema. A Matter of Life and Death makes it to 6th place as what is widely regarded as Britain’s most successful fantasy film. It features spectacular visuals, wit, and romanticism in an examination of life and death.
The film takes place in a semi dream world, a physical realization of a poet-pilot’s consciousness in a state of shock after he unexpectedly survives a fall from his flaming cockpit.
5. The Red Shoes (1948)
Directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cast Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring
It may surprise you to find this at number 5, let alone in the top 10 of British films in history, but Michael Powell’s and EMeric Pressburger’s 40s blockbuster is a true great of cinema.
This film is the absolute peak of Powell’s visionary tendencies as a director, a seamless marrying of cinema and dance, animation and music, narrative rigor and experimental freedom, without a doubt, the most breathtakingly beautiful film ever to come out of the British Isles.
4. Kes (1969)
Director Ken Loach
Cast David Bradley, Lynne Perrie, Freddie Fletcher
At the tail end of the 1960s, the realists were ready to make a breakthrough. Sitting among them was, and still is, Ken Loach. Our number 3 pick was Loach’s second full-length film.
His work tells the stories of relationships, trapped souls and the acceptance of human failure, all set to the backdrop of a dull 60’s England.
This isn’t, however, the true depressive aspect of the film, because he isn’t suggesting that the main character of Billy’s fate is inevitable but necessary- to survive in the harsh, cold and concrete world.
3. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
Director Terence Davies
Cast Pete Postlethwaite, Freda Dowie
Often accused of telling the story of the working class from a removed and somewhat supremacist view, ‘Distant Voice, Still Lives is one of the greatest British films ever made. Blowing traditional assumptions about the working class out of the water, Terence Davies directs this masterpiece. In a very personal and poetic recollection of childhood in a post-war, working-class Liverpool home we see a glimpse into the lives of him and those around him.
2. The Third Man (1949)
Director Carol Reed
Cast Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alide Valli
The film is a masterpiece. Holly Martins, a writer of westerns, and Harry Lime, a bootlegger whose latest hustle has landed him in an early grave (or so it may seem in the beginning), tell the story of a world tainted by corruption and evil in post-war Vienna.
As original and exciting the story may be, the film really shines in its cinematography, original music score and its depiction of a world so torn by corruption and the ravages of war.
1. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Director Nicolas Roeg
Cast Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland
Sitting comfortably at number one is the trippy adaptation of a story about a young couple, played by Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, who find themselves in Venice after the drowning death of their daughter.
Its soundtrack, mise on scene, editing, and shocking ending make it one of the most popular films in British history.
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