The British Are Coming! 8 Movies from the UK That You Probably Missed
Guest post by Ygal Kaufman of In the Can: a podcast about movies
I’m going to limit this list to the last 5 years, because opening it up beyond that would just be too much for my colonial brain to handle. But I’m not going to genre restrict this one, so there’s a little bit for everyone to enjoy. Here are 8 flicks from across the pond that will have you clamoring for taxation without representation.
The Damned United (2009)
Before Tom Hooper became the new stereotype of British filmmaking with The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, he made this absolute gem of a sports biopic. I didn’t even know who Brian Clough was, or what “football” referred to when said with a British accent (turns out they just mean soccer…) before I saw this. The telling of Clough’s tumultuous coaching career is funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully acted. I’m a sucker for a sports flick, and this one is one of my all time favorites. Peter Morgan’s script expertly bounds between past and present and gives the wonderful cast room to make it their own, which can often be a challenge in a biographical adaptation. Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent are all fantastic in the lead roles.
44 Inch Chest (2010)
This gripping drama is more of an exercise in acting than in story telling. The incomparable Ray Winstone leads a pack of England’s best actors (including Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane and the legendary John Hurt) in a sharp edged morality tale about a cuckolded husband contemplating revenge. This was written by the same writing team behind Sexy Beast, another uniquely hard edged Ray Winstone vehicle. And it feels like they’ve come a long way with a much more challenging premise; 44 takes place almost entirely in a single room with the actors. At some points it feels like the director just let the actors go bananas and see who could be the most gnarled, middle aged badass. It’s a tie. This movie would make an interesting double feature with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You’ve just been dumped, your choices are: 1) erase your memories, 2) find the new guy, tie him to a chair and let your friends torture him.
Perrier’s Bounty (2009)
This little seen Irish crime comedy is just a pleasure to watch. Available on Netflix Instant, it stars Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, and the great Brendan Gleeson in a hilarious little tale of small time criminals and their small time problems. I love this movie as much for its portrayal of Ireland as for its story. You can tell the director has nothing but love for his home country. It also features some of the most talented actors alive turning a simple story into a downright clusterf*ck. Written by playwright Mark O’Rowe, who burst on the scene with 2003’s Intermission (another quirky Irish crime comedy), Perrier’s Bounty has the feel of a play, but in a way that doesn’t stick out, like early Sorkin or Mamet scripts tend to. This film as well as the next on the list, are big reasons why Ireland is so hot right now.
The Guard (2011)
Sure, you saw In Bruges, why wouldn’t you? It was only the best movie of 2008. This one flew a little bit more under the radar. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (the brother of the writer/director behind Bruges) this one was the best of 2011. Don Cheadle is an FBI agent in a fish out of water (no offense, Ireland) tale sending him to the little town of Connemara, Ireland to help stop a gigantic shipment of drugs. He’s partnered with the politically incorrect, drug experimenting, hooker patronizing, connect-the-dot (literally) maestro Sergeant Boyle, played to perfection by Brendan Gleeson. This movie has a lot of the same feel and sharp writing as Bruges, but I liked it even better. It is hilarious and a great little thriller to boot, but also has surprising depth. McDonagh’s script is confident, and plays with language barriers in a way that doesn’t seem tired. It also has great actors in nearly every part, especially the trio of murderous but hyper literate drug dealers played by Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot and the always wonderful Mark Strong, as well as Fionnula Flanagan as the good sergeant’s ailing mother. McDonagh’s follow up, Calvary, is due later this year, also starring Gleeson.
5 Minutes of Heaven (2009)
This British/Irish coproduction flew way under the radar on its release. Thankfully it’s now available on Netflix Instant. It deserves to be seen. Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, two of Ireland’s deservedly most popular actors, square off in a breathtaking emotional drama about loss, redemption and living after tragedy. The topic matter is highly sensitive, and I can only imagine its reception in Ireland and England must have been pretty divisive. Neeson and Nesbitt play mortal enemies who are brought together, ostensibly, for a face to face meeting and publicity stunt. But both of them have more in mind. It’s a huge challenge for a screenwriter to fill 2 hours with so little action, and yet stay compelling, even thrilling, the whole time. Screenwriter Guy Hibbert manages to do just that. I don’t normally endorse putting 2 acting heavyweights in a room together and just letting them carry a simple story, but this is an example of it done right. Like My Dinner with Andre, if Wallace Shawn’s plan all along was to pull a knife before desert and cut Andre Gregory’s throat.
Attack the Block (2011)
Think Menace to Society meets The Watch, only you know, in England. Now throw that conception out the window, because this sharply written comedy/scifi piece is so much more. Complete with shallow social commentary, political satire and a healthy dose of alien killing action, this one should have gotten the love that Shaun of the Dead did here in the states. It’s not as good as that, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Nick Frost, also of Shaun, is the only big name in this one, and he earns his paycheck as the neighborhood pot dealer. The kids of the eponymous Block are largely unknowns who turn in great performances as the unlikely heroes of planet earth. Writer/director Joe Cornish is pals with one of my favorites, Edgar Wright (they even co-wrote The Adventures of Tintin), and this movie will probably draw a lot of comparisons with Wright’s work, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The writing here is more understated, and the comedy more subtle. Not too subtle though. This would make a great finale to a triple feature along with Don’t be a Menace to South Central…, and Starship Troopers.
If you were looking for a biopic of legendary actor Charles Bronson, or less legendary actor Bronson Pinchot, keep moving. If you were looking for arguably the best young director and actor in the world flexing their not inconsiderable chops, then you’ve come to the right place. This is the story of Charlie Bronson. Not to be confused with the actor, this Bronson is the British inmate and celebrity who has been in solitary confinement off and on for the last 40 years for his extreme violence and antisocial behavior. Basically every time they let him out of solitary, he starts a riot. Oh and he also writes poetry, paints and makes workout routines from his tiny cage. Tom Hardy should already be on your radar as one of the hottest actors in the world (can’t wait to see him next year as Mad Max) and absolutely kills it as Bronson. Director Nicolas Winding Refn should already have his name tattooed on your butt, at least if you saw Drive, and his work here is just as polished and impressive. Refn co-wrote the script with Brock Norman Brock, and as someone who is familiar with the writings and rantings of the real Bronson, I can tell you they capture his personality brilliantly. This combustible biopic is also notable for the way it manages to be non-judgmental, without apologizing for the crimes of a misunderstood lunatic.
British horror master Neil Marshall put his name sharply in the horror fan’s hall of fame with Dog Soldiers and The Descent, two wholly original action/horror classics. This movie was something totally different for him; a completely derivative tribute. But if you’re going to make a movie paean to someone, who better than the master of horror himself, John Carpenter? As a Carpenter fanatic (I even watched all of The Ward) somebody trying to “do Carpenter” would normally set off red flags all over the place. But when it’s done right, it’s done right. This schizophrenic action/horror/scifi mindf*ck hits everything right on the head. The credits, music and look of the camera work is all spot on. If you came in half way through, and didn’t know what you were watching, you’d be sure it was Mr. Halloween himself at the helm. The story is utterly preposterous, but who cares? Marshall wrote it as wide open as possible, a great premise to do Arthurian legend, Mad Maxian dystopia and Stallonian gunfights all in the same movie. It’s basically Escape from New York mixed with Assault on Precinct 13 and just a dash of Ghosts of Mars. Oh yeah, and this time Snake Plissken is a woman. Confused yet? Just go see it. Marshall also scores extra points by casting great actors in all the supporting roles. The legendary and sadly retired Bob Hoskins is the most notable, but Malcolm McDowell (who also played Dr. Loomis in the Halloween remakes, hmmm… coincidence?), Alexander Siddig and Adrian Lester are also wonderful.
Got all that? Now the next time someone asks you what the best of the UK in the last 5 years is, you’ll have to actually pause before you say In Bruges.