100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century

by the British Film Institute

Part 2

UK-British Films
Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century
(part 2, ranked)

26. The Crying Game (1992), directed by Neil Jordan
An impressively original film from writer-director Neil Jordan, produced by Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell, that proved to be a significant critical success and intrigued audiences with its clever plot twists. Stephen Rea is an IRA man who befriends a captured British soldier (played by American actor Forest Whitaker) and eventually heads to London where he gets involved with the soldier's lover Dil (extremely well portrayed by Jaye Davidson). Jordan shows great command of his material and justly won an Academy Award for his screenplay.

27. Doctor Zhivago (1965), directed by David Lean
A sprawling, visually stunning epic from David Lean, based on Boris Pasternak's massive novel. Sharif is the Russian doctor-cum-poet who marries Geraldine Chaplin, but later falls for the beautiful Lara (Julie Christie). The film takes in World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, and its stunning set-pieces include the huge crowd scenes in Moscow, the train sequences and the beautiful snowy vistas. Oscars were given to Robert Bolt's screenplay, Freddie Young's cinematography, Phyllis Dalton's costume design, the art direction / set decoration by John Box and Terry Marsh, and Maurice Jarre's sweeping music score.

28. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), directed by Terry Jones
Classic Monty Python material - perhaps the best of their feature films - which caused the obligatory outrage, being charged as blasphemous by some who couldn't see the humour. It tells the story of Brian (Chapman), a man whose life vaguely parallels that of Christ, and manages both to pack in the jokes and make some very shrewd points along the way. Some of the lines are quite wonderful ("Blessed are the cheese-makers"?), some of the scenes surreal, and the final song - 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' - remains the perfect joke.

29. Withnail & I (1987), directed by Bruce Robinson
Dark, dyspeptic humour from writer-director Bruce Robinson that has achieved cult status. At the end of the swinging '60s, two wannabe actors in a dismal and dreary London are suffering from cold and lack of alcohol and money. They head for the countryside, only to be followed by Withnail's amorous Uncle Monty (the wonderful Richard Griffiths) who is keen to romance Marwood (the 'I' of the title, played by Paul McGann). This is grim humour, splendidly played and a great antidote to the sweetness of so many other comedies.

30. Gregory's Girl (1980), directed by Bill Forsyth
In this funny, moving and totally charming piece, Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth explores the innocence of adolescence - how teenage boys know nothing, how girls are so much shrewder, and how young love never seems to work out quite right. Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is the gangling teenager who loses his place in the school football team to the lovely Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). He falls for her but finds nowhere to turn for advice - his mates know as little as he, and his younger sister is just interested in ice cream. Almost twenty years later, director and star reunited for a sequel.

31. Zulu (1964), directed by Cy Endfield
An epic account of the true story of under-strength British forces defending an isolated African mission at Rorke's Drift against hordes of Zulu warriors. Stanley Baker (who also co-produced with director Cy Endfield) impresses as the officer in charge, whilst a then scarcely known Michael Caine adopts an upper-class accent. The spectacular second half of the film is almost totally taken up with the battle, as the Zulus look to overpower the mission and reclaim their land. The stirring music score is by John Barry, the narration by Richard Burton.

32. Room at the Top (1959), directed by Jack Clayton
A remarkable screen adaptation of John Braine's novel, with Laurence Harvey perfectly cast as the young man determined to break social barriers and get ahead by marrying the factory boss's daughter. Jack Clayton did a marvellous job of pulling the film together, though Oscars went to Simone Signoret, for her performance as the older woman thrown aside as Harvey plots to move onwards, and screenwriter Neil Paterson.

33. Alfie (1966), directed by Lewis Gilbert
A tour-de-force performance by Michael Caine, who brilliantly brings to life Alfie, the swaggering Cockney romeo out to charm as many 'birds' as possible. Caine narrates directly to camera as he sets about his cold-hearted romancing of a marvellous cast of actresses. Adapted from his own material by Bill Naughton and well directed by Lewis Gilbert in his first collaboration with Caine, Alfie boasts a terrific score by Sonny Rollins.

34. Gandhi (1982), directed by Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough's epic film traces 56 of the 79 years of Gandhi's life, showing his transformation from the passionate young lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi into the spiritual and political leader of India, who became a symbol for peace around the world. Ben Kinglsey, in his first leading film role, gives a remarkable performance as The Mahatma, and Attenborough handles the scale of his long-cherished project with skill, especially perhaps the vast funeral sequence. The film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay (by John Briley). Low down the cast is a young Daniel Day-Lewis, playing 'Colin', one of three youths who grab Gandhi in the street.

35. The Lady Vanishes (1938), directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Another terrific Hitchcock, this time also blessed with a deliciously witty script by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat. Shot entirely at Gainsborough, this is a perfect comedy-mystery, taken from Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins. Dame May Whitty is Miss Froy, the elderly woman who disappears, Lockwood and a young Redgrave the couple who team up to find her, and the fabulous Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne are the cricket-mad eccentrics Charters and Caldicott who help in their own sweet way. A dizzying and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

36. The Italian Job (1969), directed by Peter Collinson
A highly entertaining caper movie, recently re-released on its 30th anniversary, which reached cult status thanks to Michael Caine, a trio of Mini Coopers and a sense of '60s fun that is back in fashion. Caine plays Charlie, a petty criminal who inherits the plans to a $4 million gold bullion robbery in Turin. Masterminded by the patriotic Mr Bridger (Coward) from his prison cell, Charlie's men create the biggest traffic jam ever seen. Their getaway across the piazzas and rooftops involves wild car chases (stunt driving was supervised by Remy Julienne, who later worked on several Bonds), followed by a much-imitated cliff-hanger ending.

37. Local Hero (1983), directed by Bill Forsyth
Magical, moving comedy-drama from writer-director Bill Forsyth, working again in his native Scotland. An ambitious young executive (Riegert) from Texas-based Knox Oil & Gas is despatched to a small Scottish village to negotiate the purchase of the whole place as the location for a new refinery. But the residents are wily Scots, who resolve to hold out for a high price. Unfortunately for all, the beach is owned and inhabited by old Ben (Mackay), so the Knox chairman (a lively, if eccentric, Lancaster) flies in to take over negotiations himself. This is a gem of a film, full of gentle humour, perfect performances and thoughtful insights, with an atmospheric music score by Mark Knopfler.

38. The Commitments (1991), directed by Alan Parker
Alan Parker's funny and extremely satisfying story of a group of young Dubliners who form a band determined to sing '60s soul music. They are gathered together from all walks of life by the ambitious Jimmy Rabitte (Atkins): perhaps the finest scene is the procession of wannabes who come to his front door for interviews. The real discovery, though, is the amazing vocal talent of Andrew Strong, who plays the heavyweight singer Decco Cuffe. With a script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, based closely on Roddy Doyle's novel, the film is full of great music and great characters.

39. A Fish Called Wanda (1988), directed by Charles Crichton
Inspired farce from John Cleese (who stars and wrote the script) which combines moments of Python-style outrageousness with the structure of a classic Ealing comedy. Veteran director Charles Crichton (who made The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt) also deserves credit for this story of a British barrister (Cleese) who gets involved with a sexy con artist (Curtis) and her mindless roughneck boyfriend (Kline) and their robbery plans. Full of wonderful moments, with Kline earning his Oscar for an hysterical, over-the-top performance.

40. Secrets & Lies (1996), directed by Mike Leigh
The film that finally secured recognition for Mike Leigh in the international market place. It gained Oscar nominations and acclaim around the world as once again Leigh used his considerable talents to marshal a fine cast of actors to tell what is on one level a simple story, but on another an honest look at the complexity of human relationships. Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste received much of the acclaim, but topcast Timothy Spall's performance also deserves attention. Moving and funny in equal measure, Secrets & Lies remains a remarkable film.

41. Dr. No (1962), directed by Terence Young
The first James Bond film, made by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman's Eon Productions, which was shot on location in Jamaica and looked far more expensive than it actually was (production budget: $1 million). The hi-tech sets (by Ken Adam), main title sequence (by Maurice Binder) and fast-paced editing style (by Peter Hunt) all became hallmarks of the 007 series and their influence on the action film genre endures today. Opinion varies, of course, as to who is the best Bond and which is the best film, but this one certainly helped to make an international star of Connery and a screen icon of Ursula Andress.

42. The Madness of King George (1994), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Impressive screen version of Alan Bennett's clever play, with Nigel Hawthorne reprising his stunning performance as England's eccentrically benevolent late 18th century King. When George becomes ill and shows signs of mental instability, Parliament and the Court start intriguing, whilst his son (a fine Rupert Everett) makes plans to usurp the throne. Bennett himself can be glimpsed in a brief cameo as a member of Parliament near the end of the film.

43. A Man For All Seasons (1966), directed by Fred Zinnemann
Visually stunning film of Robert Bolt's play, tracing Sir Thomas More's conflict with Henry VIII when the King plans a split from the Pope and the formation of the Church of England. Paul Schofield gives a wonderful (Oscar-winning) performance as More, while Robert Shaw, who developed successful careers as both an actor and an author/playwright, is no less impressive as Henry. In all, this vivid, powerful film won six Oscars (also Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Costume Design and Cinematography).

44. Black Narcissus (1947), directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Sumptuous and powerful adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel about a group of nuns who struggle to establish a mission in a remote part of the Himalayas. The film is distinguished by Jack Cardiff's Oscar-winning colour cinematography, which adds visual impact to the drama, although it was shot entirely in the studio. The nuns face emotional and physical challenges, and the final sequences remain stunning, with Deborah Kerr giving a fine performance as the Sister Superior. Art Director Alfred Junge also won an Academy Award.

45. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Sentimental, though exceptionally shrewd, tale of a staunch and often misguided British soldier, tracing his life from the Boer War through to World War II. The character is supposedly based on David Low's caricature buffoon, though Roger Livesey's doddery yet patriotic soldier shows only a loose connection. Best of all is Deborah Kerr's terrific performance as the three different women in Blimp's long and varied life.

46. Oliver Twist (1948), directed by David Lean
Wonderful version of the Dickens classic, which Lean made shortly after he completed Great Expectations. He again used Alec Guinness, still in the early stages of his acting career, heavily disguised this time as Fagin. In a similar way to Great Expectations, Lean's dramatic scenes are very powerful; especially memorable is the sequence of Sikes (the terrifying Robert Newton) killing Nancy (Kay Walsh) because she had helped Oliver, while Sikes's dog scratches at the door. An outstanding cast includes Diana Dors in an early role, and then child-star Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger. John Howard Davies, in the title role, later enjoyed a successful career as a television producer.

47. I'm All Right Jack (1959), directed by John Boulting
Splendidly entertaining and accurate comedy about the relationships in the '50s between businessmen and their workers. Nice-but-dim Ian Carmichael goes to work for his conniving uncle and after causing all sorts of problems with industrial relations, unwittingly upsets a crooked business scheme. Sellers is outstanding as union leader Fred Kite, while Attenborough and Price are excel as the oily businessmen. Scripted by Frank Harvey, John Boulting and Alan Hackney from Hackney's novel Private Life.

48. Performance (1970), directed by Nicolas Roeg, Donald Cammell
Roeg and Cammell's extraordinary Performance has received cult status for its portrayal of a strange and dark London underworld of gangsters and pop stars. Jagger, of course, is the pop star who has 'retired' to a hedonistic world of sex and drugs, while Fox is the gangster who initially hides out in Jagger's house, but gets drawn into a psychedelic whirlpool. Often disconnected and at times edited in a jagged manner, this remains a fascinating glimpse into a bizarre world.

49. Shakespeare in Love (1998), directed by John Madden
Popular and thoroughly enjoyable tale of William Shakespeare (Fiennes) suffering from writer's block. He just can't finish his latest play, Romeo and Ethel - the Sea Pirate's Daughter, but when he meets Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow), who appears disguised as a man to act on stage, he is inspired to write again. The film received seven Oscars, including Best Actress for Paltrow, Best Supporting Actress for Dame Judi Dench's Queen Elizabeth, and Best Original Screenplay, rewarding Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's marvellously witty script. Rupert Everett appears unbilled as rival playwright Christopher Marlowe.

50. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), directed by Stephen Frears
Low-budget film-making from a young Channel Four that helped to inspire the British film industry and show that small pictures could work in a larger market place. Daniel Day-Lewis, then still in his 20s, appears in his first major role as the punk Johnny who eventually falls for Omar (Warnecke). An entertaining and shrewd look at both race relations and the economy of Britain in the mid-1980s from the young playwright Hanif Kureishi.

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