The British movie industry has produced many of the greatest movies of the past century; from small budget cult films and comedies to magnificent dramas and epic fantasy. This article takes a brief look at a handful of movies that perfectly capture the spirit and style of the British movie.
Kind Hearts and Coronets
One of the quintessential movies of its time, this comedy is famous not only for its timeless feel but for the remarkable performance of Alec Guinness. The future knight played no fewer than eight leading roles in the movie; he portrayed each member of the D’Ascoyne family that is being systematically murdered by Dennis Price’s inheritance-seeking Louis.
Lawrence of Arabia
One of the most epic films ever created; this sprawling 1963 movie stars Peter O’Toole as the titular T E Lawrence. Over three and half hours of moviemaking, it describes the rise of Lawrence from an ambitious intelligence officer to general of a guerilla army in the Arabian desert, and ultimately to his drift into obscurity. Featuring some of the most ambitious and breath-taking movie set locations ever devised, Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps the iconic British movie of the 20th Century.
Based on Scottish writer Irvine Welsh’s novel, Trainspotting is the story of a drug-addled group of Scots and their complex and often disturbing lives in Edinburgh’s seedy underworld. With a gloriously iconic soundtrack and stellar performances from the likes of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, Danny Boyle’s movie is a stunning achievement, and one which focuses keenly on a culture and way of life.
Chariots of Fire
Perhaps best remembered for the famous Vangelis soundtrack and the memorable – and often parodied – beach scene, Chariots of Fire tells the story of two young athletes and their contrasting battles to compete in the 1924 Olympic Games. Eric Liddell’s Scottish Christian must fight theological and ethical barriers, while Harold Abrahams is a young Jewish athlete seeking to cement his status in Cambridge society. David Puttnam’s movie deservedly captured four Oscars, including Best Picture, in the 1982 Academy Awards.
This is another comedy, and the subject of a much-inferior Hollywood remake in the 21st Century, The Ladykillers again features British legend Alec Guinness. In this classic 1955 offering, five common thieves take up residence in the home of an elderly landlady; although they pretend to be musicians, they are actually planning a bank robbery. With a lively supporting cast including Peter Sellers, this is one British comedy that has stood the test of time.
Although not strictly the first movie to feature Ian Fleming’s James Bond, this is the movie that set the tone for over five decades of movies for the British super-spy. Introducing the relatively unknown Sean Connery as 007, Dr No featured many of the elements that would make the Bond series so memorable: fantastical locations, glamorous women, gadgets, and intrigue – all infused with tongue-in-cheek British humour and a healthy dose of irony.
With a cast reportedly containing over a million extras, Sir Richard Attenborough’s stirring and moving 1982 portrayal of Mohandas K Gandhi defined a generation. The powerful story of a peaceful man leading his country to revolt against British oppressors won eight Oscars in 1983, including Best movie, Best Director and of course Best Actor for Ben Kingsley’s astonishing portrayal of Gandhi.