100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century

by the British Film Institute

Part 3

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

100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century
(part 3, ranked)

51. Tom Jones (1963), directed by Tony Richardson
Joyous and well-received adaptation of Henry Fielding's tale of a young man's bawdy adventures in 18th century England. Albert Finney romps through proceedings as the high-spirited Tom who eventually marries the squire's daughter, while Lynne Redgrave makes her film debut way down the cast. Richardson's completely disarming direction won an Oscar; it also won for Best Picture, John Osborne's screenplay and composer John Addison.

52. This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson
A brutal film, starring Irish-born Richard Harris as a miner who becomes an aggressive rugby player, and Welsh-born Rachel Roberts who impresses (and won a BAFTA award) as the woman suffering from his inarticulate passions. Hailed at the time as one of the best films made in England, Anderson's rugby sequences are uncompromising and explicit (similar to the boxing in Scorsese's Raging Bull). The script was by David Storey, based on his own novel.

53. My Left Foot (1989), directed by Jim Sheridan
This uplifting film features a tour-de-force performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as the strident Irish artist-writer Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy. Director Sheridan in his debut film (he co-wrote alongside Shane Connaughton) handles the mixture of emotion, humour and drama perfectly, and extracts remarkable performances all round, especially from Hugh O'Connor as the young Christy. Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, who plays Christy's mother, both won Oscars.

54. Brazil (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam's dazzling examination of a 1984-like future society swirls between the bleak reality of the life of hapless clerk Sam Lowry (the excellent Pryce) and his confused dreams. The screenplay, by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, allows for wildly imaginative production design and some rich, dark comedy. Robert DeNiro crops up as a grinning freedom fighter, and Katherine Helmond (from TV's Soap) is Sam's bizarre mother. The film was initially cut by some 11 minutes for its US release and became the subject of a campaign to have the full version screened.

55. The English Patient (1996), directed by Anthony Minghella
An epic, moving adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's acclaimed novel which beautifully recounted tragic relationships against the backdrop of a confused ending to World War II. Director Minghella, who wrote the screenplay with Ondaatje, crafted a film that allows for glorious acting against stunning vistas (the desert has not burned the screen like this since Lean's Lawrence of Arabia), and proved that epic cinema still had a place in the '90s. Excellent, romantic performances from Fiennes and Scott-Thomas, while Juliette Binoche, who won one of the film's nine Oscars, created the perfect balance to their story.

56. A Taste of Honey (1961), directed by Tony Richardson
Classic, offbeat British drama from the early '60s, based on Shelagh Delaney's London and Broadway stage success. An ordinary teenager in Salford (Rita Tushingham) has an affair with a black sailor, becomes pregnant and ends up being cared for by her homosexual friend (played by Murray Melvin). A poignant film, with fine central performances and a subtle script by Delaney and director Richardson. It scooped four BAFTA awards, including Best British Picture and one for Dora Bryan, who made Tushingham's mother a memorable character.

57. The Go-Between (1970), directed by Joseph Losey
An intriguing, moody picture, made by the combined talents of Joseph Losey (directing) and Harold Pinter (screenplay). Based on the story by L.P. Hartley, it tells of a 12 year-old boy, Leo, who carries love letters between farmer Ted Burgess (Bates) and beautiful aristocrat Marian Maudsley (Christie). A richly textured Edwardian England is re-created and elegantly filmed; the film is full of subtle nuances, as well as fine performances.

58. The Man in the White Suit (1951), directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Brilliant comedy from the talented Alexander Mackendrick (directing and co-writing), with Alec Guinness at his best as the innocent, idealistic inventor who devises a revolutionary piece of cloth that will always stay clean and last forever. This, of course, upsets the textile factory owners and workers, who suddenly see no further use for their businesses. Guinness's mild-mannered performance is finely balanced by the terrific Joan Greenwood who schemes with gentle charm. The gurgling noises from Guinness's experiments were later set to music and released as 'The White Suit Samba'!

59. The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie
First of the Harry Palmer spy series, produced by Harry Saltzman and based on Len Deighton's thrillers. Michael Caine's myopic crook-turned-agent offered the perfect antidote to the suave elegance of Bond and the film was a big success. Here, Palmer becomes involved in a number of nasty killings linked to mind control torture as he tracks a scientist who disappeared on a train. Two sequels followed (Guy Hamilton's Funeral in Berlin and Ken Russell's Billion Dollar Brain), and the Palmer character has been revived in the '90s, with Caine again taking the role.

60. Blow-Up (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Classic '60s cinema from Italian director Antonioni, starring David Hemmings as a hip fashion photographer who discovers that he has accidentally photographed a murder in a park. The murder plot is the link to take viewers through 'swinging' London, dabbling with hash, sex and fashion in equal measures. A fascinating look at a currently cool age, with impressive performances from the young Redgrave, Birkin and Hemmings himself. Adapted by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra from Julio Cortazar's short story, with English dialogue by Edward Bond.

61. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), directed by Tony Richardson
At the heart of this Woodfall production lies a BAFTA award-winning performance by Tom Courtenay as a rebellious young man chosen to represent his reform school in a long distance race. As he trains, he recalls events from his life. Out of the screenplay by Alan Sillitoe, based on his own story, Yorkshire-born director Richardson created one of the most powerful dramas of the '60s. Long Distance Runner was subsequently the title of Richardson's autobiography.

62. Sense and Sensibility (1995), directed by Ang Lee
Taiwanese director Ang Lee does a wonderful job of bringing Jane Austen's novel to the big screen, assisted in no small measure by leading lady Emma Thompson's Oscar-winning script. Set in 18th century England, two newly impoverished sisters - one, Winslet, spirited and flirtatious, the other, Thompson, repressed and sensible - have to deal with society and men. Performed with distinction all round, but perhaps a special mention for Alan Rickman's loyal and solid Colonel Brandon.

63. Passport to Pimlico (1949), directed by Henry Cornelius
Enchanting, whimsical comedy set shortly after the Second World War. An old royal charter which cedes Pimlico to the Dukes of Burgundy is found in a shell hole, and the locals declare themselves an independent state in the heart of London. Full of charm and flavour, the film was cleverly written by Ealing regular T.E.B. Clarke, and features fine performances from the likes of Margaret Rutherford, Stanley Holloway and Hermione Baddeley.

64. The Remains of the Day (1993), directed by James Ivory
Absorbing and moving Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, with fine central performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Hopkins is the so-proper butler of a baronial country home and Thompson is the head housekeeper. Though they clash on certain matters, there are clear signs of an unstated romance. Meanwhile, the manor itself plays host to various intrigues as the naïve owner (Fox) forms relationships with Nazi sympathisers.

65. Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), directed by John Schlesinger
A complex, intelligent and remarkably well constructed film by John Schlesinger which explores the relationship between three people and the break-up of two love affairs. Peter Finch plays a homosexual doctor in his 40s and Glenda Jackson an employment counsellor in her 30s. Both are in love with Murray Head's boyish sculptor; he divides his attentions between both of them without showing a preference. Great performances all round.

66. The Railway Children (1970), directed by Lionel Jeffries
A true children's classic - a much-loved adaptation of E. Nesbit's novel about three children living with their mother in the Yorkshire countryside after their father has been sent to prison, charged with espionage. They are determined to clear his name, but at the same time become obsessed with the local steam railway, eventually helping to prevent an accident. Charmingly performed and constantly heart-warming.

67. Mona Lisa (1986), directed by Neil Jordan
Sharp, stylish drama from Neil Jordan (who wrote the screenplay with David Leland). A small-time criminal (Hoskins, in excellent form), newly released from prison, is given a job driving a high-priced call girl around London. As their relationship deepens, the oddly naïve Hoskins is drawn into an increasingly nasty underworld of drugs and violence. Cathy Tyson made an impressive debut as the call girl, while Michael Caine is suitably slimy as the evil crime boss.

68. The Dam Busters (1955), directed by Michael Anderson
A finely understated World War II drama about the development, and eventually successful use, of bouncing bombs to destroy the Ruhr dams in Germany in 1943. Michael Redgrave is perfect as the driven scientist Dr. Barnes Wallis who invented the bombs, while Richard Todd is also on good form as the pilot who drops them on target. Excellent model work makes for a terrific - and exciting - patriotic movie.

69. Hamlet (1948), directed by Laurence Olivier
Olivier produced and directed this handsome version of Shakespeare's play from an adaptation by Alan Dent. Certain characters are omitted, but this is a vital, fluid and witty treatment with terrific performances; Stanley Holloway stands out as the Grave Digger. Best Picture trophies were scooped at both the Oscars and BAFTA. Olivier, who also won the Best Actor Oscar, played the title character (as did Kenneth Branagh almost 50 years later) as a platinum blond.

70. Goldfinger (1964), directed by Guy Hamilton
The third 007 film, seemingly finding the perfect balance between the real and the ridiculous, established Bond as a cinematic phenomenon. Connery is on excellent form, equally skillful at gunplay and golf, Harold Sakata's Oddjob, with the razor-brimmed bowler hat, is unforgettable, and Shirley Eaton, who dies gilded in gold, became one of the most photographed actresses of the '60s. Ken Adam's Fort Knox sets, built at Pinewood, continue to dazzle, and Q-Branch's modified Aston Martin DB5 makes its first appearance in the series. Shirley Bassey's title song, written by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, remains an evergreen classic.

71. Elizabeth (1998), directed by Shekhar Kapur
Dark, engrossing film, shot on location at the castles of north-east England, with a towering central performance by Australian actress Cate Blanchett in the title role. Elizabeth's ascendancy to the throne is a story of palace intrigues, executions and attempted assassinations, as she tries to find balance, in a country divided by faith, between Protestant and Catholic. Shekhar Kapur does a wonderful job in creating a rich, potent atmosphere and extracting fine performances from his varied cast. Watch out for footballer Eric Cantona as a French courtier.

72. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), directed by Sam Wood
Robert Donat won a well deserved Oscar for his performance as the shy schoolmaster Mr. Chips, whose whole life is teaching 'his boys' until in later life he encounters love in the form of Greer Garson. Based on James Hilton's novel, the film manages to balance sentiment with drama, and Garson, making her film debut, became an overnight star. Re-made as a musical in 1969 with Peter O'Toole in the lead role.

73. A Room With A View (1985), directed by James Ivory
An elegantly presented adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel about a young woman's awakening while on a chaperoned trip to Florence, while at heart dealing with British manners. Helena Bonham Carter impresses as the young woman, Miss Honeychurch, though the strength of the film is the superb band of supporting players, ranging from Judi Dench, Denholm Elliott and Maggie Smith, through to Daniel Day-Lewis's hilarious performance as Bonham Carter's prissy suitor. The film won three Oscars: Best Screenplay (by Merchant-Ivory regular Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), Art Direction and Costume Design.

74. The Day of the Jackal (1973), directed by Fred Zinnemann
A densely plotted, adult thriller with an almost documentary quality. Fox is the 'Jackal', a professional killer whose real identity is unknown, hired to assassinate the French President de Gaulle. As he meticulously plans the execution, the French police learn that an attempt is to be made and have to track the possible killer with precious little information. Based on Frederick Forsyth's best-seller, the film contains some marvellous performances, including Cyril Cusack's as a gunman who produces a very special weapon.

75. The Cruel Sea (1952), directed by Charles Frend
Based on Nicholas Monsarrat's best-seller (published the previous year), with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Eric Ambler, this is an exceptionally well made drama about the battles in the Atlantic during World War II. The crew are brave and determined but, as the film ably presents, war is dreadful and the ultimate enemy is the cruel sea. A great box-office success, with fine performances from Hawkins, Sinden and Baker.

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