100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century

by the British Film Institute

Part 4

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

100 Favorite British Films
of the 20th Century
(part 4, ranked)

76. Billy Liar (1963), directed by John Schlesinger
Tom Courtenay is terrific as Billy, the ambitious but intently lazy young man who escapes from the dull routine of his job by entering a fantasy world, making some comments along the way about Britain's middle class life. Based on the novel by Keith Waterhouse, and scripted by Waterhouse and Willis Hall (who also wrote the stage version together), this remains tremendous, well-acted entertainment.

77. Oliver! (1968), directed by Carol Reed
Rousing, constantly enjoyable musical version of Dickens's Oliver Twist from Lionel Bart, with a memorable central performance by Ron Moody as Fagin. In fact, every part is well cast, with Mark Lester and Jack Wild also excellent as Oliver and the Artful Dodger respectively, and Oliver Reed finding a perfect role as the vicious Bill Sikes in a film directed by his uncle. Oliver! won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Director, along with a special prize to Oona King for her inspired choreography. The marvellous sets are by John Box, who designed several films for David Lean.

78. Peeping Tom (1960), directed by Michael Powell
Michael Powell's notorious Peeping Tom was so vilified by the British critics when first released that it was swiftly withdrawn and the episode almost ended Powell's career. It was later re-evaluated and perceived as a creepy, frightening picture about a very disturbed mind. Carl Boehm (whose cool Teutonic looks work very well for the title role) plays the cameraman who films his victims' murders, while Anna Massey is the innocent girl downstairs who becomes his confidant. It is certainly disturbing cinema, perhaps ahead of its time, and remains a powerful visual document.

79. Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), directed by John Schlesinger
Beautifully shot film version of Thomas Hardy's much-loved (and much-studied) novel about Bathsheba Everdene (the excellent Julie Christie) and her three suitors - wonderfully played by Peter Finch (as the wealthy landowner), Alan Bates (as the lowly but honest farmer) and Terence Stamp (as the dashing officer). This is thoroughly enjoyable, classic cinema, packed full of incident, intelligently directed by Schlesinger, who displays his ability to get the best out of his actors.

80. The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), directed by Peter Greenaway
Writer-director Peter Greenaway's clever, mannered film is set on an English estate in the summer of 1694. A draughtsman (Higgins) is working on images of the landscape, but gets attacked by those whose love is property. He is teased and tormented by the excellent Janet Suzman, while as usual Greenaway constructs his images with clinical precision. Made by the BFI, the film was a popular and critical success.

81. A Clockwork Orange (1971), directed by Stanley Kubrick
At the end of the century, Kubrick's notorious film is still unavailable for screening in the UK at the request of the film-maker himself. But despite, or perhaps because of, that, it retains an enduring underground popularity. This adaptation of Anthony Burgess's celebrated novel is truly harrowing, disturbing cinema. It traces the anti-social antics of Alex (the excellent Malcolm McDowell) and his gang as they make their violent way around the city. Eventually captured, he is made 'safe' - a 'clockwork orange', healthy and whole on the outside, but what of the inside?

82. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), directed by Terence Davies
Filmed in two distinct parts, and with a considerable time between the two shooting periods, this is a magnificent evocation of working class life in England during the '40s and '50s. Family members are all damaged in some way by the irrationally cruel father, while the cheerful lyrics of popular songs act as a balance to their dour lives. Davies, working from his own autobiographical script, presents the ordinary lives beautifully and conjures up memorable imagery. The Long Day Closes was a sequel.

83. Darling (1965), directed by John Schlesinger
Julie Christie won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the young woman who transforms her life by switching from an ordinary lifestyle to marrying an Italian noble; in between, there are plenty of love affairs. Frederick Raphael's script is excellently constructed - trendy, cynical and very 1960s - and a perfect vehicle for Christie. Raphael and costume designer Julie Harris also won Oscars for their work on the film.

84. Educating Rita (1983), directed by Lewis Gilbert
Memorable two-hander based on Willy Russell's play, directed with a knowing touch by Lewis Gilbert (who collaborated again with Russell later that decade on Shirley Valentine). Julie Walters, who also played the role on stage, is the Liverpudlian hairdresser who signs up for an Open University English course; Michael Caine is her drunken college tutor. They set about changing each other over the period of the course - she wanting the education he thinks worthless; he relishing her lust for life. Beautifully acted and very entertaining.

85. Brassed Off (1996), directed by Mark Herman
It is 1992 and the miners of Grimley Colliery are in trouble. The pit is under threat of closure and the Colliery band is about to call it a day. Then Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) arrives and has a profound impact on the lives of the band members, the miners and their families. This is a moving film with a cutting social edge, full of hilarious lines (scripted by the director, Mark Herman, who later filmed Little Voice). The sequences of the brass band in the national competition are very stirring.

86. Genevieve (1953), directed by Henry Cornelius
The 'Genevieve' of the title is a classic car - a 1904 Darracq - to be driven by John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan in the London-to-Brighton motor rally against the smug Kenneth More and the trumpet-playing Kay Kendall in a 1904 Spyker. Seemingly effortless, perfect comedy, with the two drivers genially and gloriously slugging it out on the road. The harmonica music is by the legendary Larry Adler.

87. Women in Love (1969), directed by Ken Russell
The never less than interesting Ken Russell directs this adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel, essentially tracing two love affairs. There are fine performances all round, but perhaps best remembered is the nude wrestling scene between Reed and Bates. Glenda Jackson won her first Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Gudren Brangwen. In Ken Russell's The Rainbow, a sort of prequel to Women in Love, made 20 years later, Jackson played the mother of her character in this film.

88. A Hard Day's Night (1964), directed by Richard Lester
This Beatles vehicle was stunningly successful, mainly because it allowed the 'fab four' to romp about, largely playing themselves. This is Richard Lester's idea of a typical day in the life of the Beatles: they head to London with Paul's grandfather (Wilfrid Bambell) in tow, and get into all sorts of trouble before eventually just making it to the studio in time for a television performance. Very amusing, with a great soundtrack (including Can't Buy Me Love), the film allowed all the Beatles to stand out as personalities. The following year, Lester directed them in the even more frantic Help!

89. Fires Were Started (1943), directed by Humphrey Jennings
Documentary: An astonishing portrait of the work of firemen during the London Blitz. Directed and scripted by Humphrey Jennings, it was originally intended as a training film, but had a general release to help boost morale. It is an elegant, almost poetic, documentary which proves to be an intimate portrait of a country besieged. The firemen were all real firemen, but the scenes were re-enacted.

90. Hope and Glory (1987), directed by John Boorman
John Boorman's autobiographical tale (he also scripted and produced the film) of a young boy's experiences during the early years of World War II proved a great success with audiences, who appreciated the humour and emotion as well as the rich detail. Boorman skilfully re-creates the atmosphere - a mixture of excitement, danger and boredom - of the London air raids, while always looking at the experiences through a boy's eyes. Charley Boorman, who starred in The Emerald Forest for his father, appears here as a German pilot who is shot down.

91. My Name is Joe (1998), directed by Ken Loach
Moving and funny in equal doses, this is a Glasgow-set drama by director Ken Loach, working from a great script by Paul Laverty. Peter Mullan gives an award-winning performance as Joe, a reformed alcoholic who tries to make ends meet by doing a little decorating, while also running a rag-tag football team. He falls in love with a social worker (Goodall), but his compassion for his friends leads him into conflict with a local drug dealer (menacingly portrayed by Hayman).

92. In Which We Serve (1942), directed by Noel Coward, David Lean
A masterful story of men at war, co-directed by Noel Coward and David Lean, receiving his first directing credit. Coward, who also wrote and scored the film, stars as Captain Kinross, leading his men on board a World War II battleship. The under-stated patriotism is what is most moving as the story unfolds via flashbacks. The film offered debuts to Celia Johnson, Richard Attenborough (as an inexperienced stoker), young Daniel Massey and even an infant Juliet Mills.

93. Caravaggio (1986), directed by Derek Jarman
Writer-director Derek Jarman crafted an imaginary biopic of Italian painter Caravaggio, who died in 1610, with emphasis on beautiful male models, court scandals and humorous moments of anachronism. Fabulous production design by Christopher Hobbs and impressive cinematography from Gabriel Beristain added immeasurably to a film shot on a very modest budget. A popular success on release, this retains today a cult appeal.

94. The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), directed by Frank Launder
The first and best of the film versions of Ronald Searle's cartoons about a crazy school for girls. The priceless Alastair Sim plays twin roles - as the school's headmistress Millicent Fritton and as Clarence Fritton, her bookmaker brother, who wants to use the school in a scam. Also on hand are Joyce Grenfell as an undercover policewoman and George Cole with his memorable portrayal of well-meaning spiv Flash Harry. Great comedy which spawned several sequels.

95. Life is Sweet (1990), directed by Mike Leigh
Wonderful Mike Leigh comedy, dwelling on a working class couple, Wendy and Andy (played to perfection by Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent), their oddball twin daughters (one of whom, played by Jane Horrocks, is filled with self-loathing) and their friend (Timothy Spall), a would-be restaurant owner. The humour is often bitter-sweet, but then, as always, Mike Leigh's work reflects life in all its darkness and light.

96. The Wicker Man (1973), directed by Robin Hardy
A haunting, harrowing chiller scripted by Anthony Shaffer which has gained cult status over the years. Woodward is the Scots police sergeant who visits an isolated island to investigate the disappearance of a local child. He is drawn into local rituals, often eerie and erotic, eventually discovering an awful pagan rite which involves himself. The film offered a change of horror style for Christopher Lee after multiple appearances as Count Dracula.

97. Nil By Mouth (1997), directed by Gary Oldman
Stunning directorial debut by actor Gary Oldman (who also wrote the script), featuring searingly honest performances from Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone. An unsparing account of life in the underbelly of London, where the only escape from depression is to take drink or drugs and occasional brutal violence. Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for her role.

98. Small Faces (1995), directed by Gillies Mackinnon
Written by MacKinnon and his brother Billy, this is a semi-autobiographical film about three brothers growing up on a Glasgow housing estate in 1968. Well acted by a largely unknown cast, it is full of humour and pace as it tackles gangs, girlfriends and family troubles along the way. From an early career in television, MacKinnon progressed to make a variety of feature films, including Regeneration, based on Pat Barker's Booker Prize-winning novel. Small Faces is an unsentimental and thoroughly enjoyable gem.

99. Carry On Up The Khyber (1968), directed by Gerald Thomas
British India, 1895. The Burpas are revolting and Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond is trying to prevent the Khasi of Kalabar from inciting a full-scale rebellion. The Third Foot and Mouth regiment are keeping the British end up in the Khyber Pass - actually filmed on a mountainside in Wales, of course. This entry, coming about half way through the series, is one of the very best Carry Ons, offering more action than usual. The Peter Rogers productions, based at Pinewood Studios and all directed by Gerald Thomas, remain a splendidly vulgar British institution, concerned with saucy puns, over-the-top spoofs and bodily functions. Here, the regular cast give their usual broad, endearing performances.

100. The Killing Fields (1984), directed by Roland Joffe
A moving directorial debut for Roland Joffe, with a terrific script by Bruce Robinson, based on the memoirs of a New York Times reporter who remained in Cambodia after the American evacuation, thereby putting his local assistant and translator Dith Pran in grave danger. There is a wonderful performance by Ngor (who had lived through the situation in real life) as Pran, as the second half of the film traces his experiences in Cambodia. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in this Lord (David) Puttnam production; Oscars also went to cinematographer Chris Menges and editor Jim Clark.

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