Top Ten British Directors


ritain is currently in the midst of celebrations: red, white and blue decorations are strewn everywhere; themed goodies are taking over the supermarket shelves and we’re all excited about another Bank Holiday. The Queen’s Jubilee is fast approaching, and although I’m not the most enthusiastic royalist I’m throwing myself into the midst of the patriotic celebrations with a number of features all about what is great about British cinema.

Kicking off the patriotic series of celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II being on the throne for sixty years; here is my Top Ten Favourite British Directors

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Sam Mendes exploded into the world of cinema back in 1999. Having previously focused on the West End, Mendes certainly made an impression when his directorial debut American Beauty took home five Oscars, six BAFTAs and three Golden Globes. He went on to direct one of my favourite films of 2009 Away We Go, an endearing tale of a couple expecting their first child as they search for their perfect home.

Even though I cannot really fault any of his films, Road to Perdition would be my least recommended Mendes movie. Granted, I haven’t seen it since its cinematic release so I do probably need to give it another go; I found it a little dull and tedious at times. That being said, I probably wasn’t old enough to appreciate it.

Rather excitedly, Sam Mendes is the new director to tackle Craig as 007 in the highly anticipated Skyfall released later this year. Given his track record with awards and nominations, I have high hopes for the latest Bond adventure.

What to See: Away We GoAmerican BeautyJarhead

What to Avoid: Road to Perdition

What to look out for: Skyfall

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Kenneth Branagh is quite enough to make me proud to be British. A fantastic actor (notably in My Week With Marilyn, The Boat That Rocked, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) before even exploring his directorial expertise, Branagh is one of my most treasured editions to British cinema.

I’m sure that anyone who has seen his Shakespearian background would completely agree with my decision to place him in the cream of British directors. Not only did he play the role of Benedick in the film adaptation of my favourite play by the bard, he also directed Much Ado About Nothing. Many Shakespeare adaptations really do make me nervous although I’m usually reassured by Branagh’s touch.

For people who aren’t fans of Shakespeare; please take solace in his incredible contribution to the world of Marvel and consequently Avengers Assemble: the surprisingly beautiful Thor. Although knowing that Branagh is behind this feat explains why it is so ascetically impressive.

What to See: Everything, but specifically: Much Ado About NothingThorHamlet

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Out For: Everything Branagh touches

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Gareth Edwards is the reason behind this Top Ten Favourite British Directors list, all because of his 2010 film Monsters: easily one of my favourite films by a British director. However, as it is not filmed in the UK (instead it was shot across America, Mexico and Costa Rica) and does not star British actors (the American stars are now married), it is not technically a British film. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best monster movies around – climaxing in a surreal alien sex scene that is void from most genres (whether that is a good or bad thing is debatable).

Something that sets Edwards apart from other film makers is his ability to create an amazing film on a relatively small budget compared to others in the sci-fi genre (the filming equipment for Monsters cost $15,000; the total budget came under $5000,000). Perhaps more impressively; Edwards edited over 100 hours of footage at home, by himself, creating special effects with easily accessible programmes like Adobe software. Proof that millions of dollars worth of equipment, an endless supply of minions and studios are not necessary to create a hit.

Even though Edwards only has one film out there at the moment, he is certainly a director to watch. Currently collaborating with Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, and the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as well as developing a Godzilla reboot, Edwards is certainly so hot right now.

What to See: Monsters

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Out For: Godzilla

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Before releasing his directorial debut Love Actually, Richard Curtis produced and wrote some of Britain’s fondest romantic comedies: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Sixty Six. He is also behind some of the best British television (Spitting Image, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley) making him somewhat of a national treasure.

2013 is set for a new edition to Curtis’ directorial career with About Time, a romantic comedy about time travel. Collaborating once again with Bill Nighly, staring alongside Rachel McAdams and Domhall Gleeson (Bill Weasley of Harry Potter fame, also seen in Never Let Me Go); if this film is anything remotely like The Boat That Rocked then there is no doubt I’ll love it.

What to See: Love ActuallyThe Boat that Rocked

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Out For: About Time

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Ridley Scott is probably the most influential sci-fi director of all time, repeatedly offering inspiration to a whole new wave of film makers. Like Gareth Edwards, Scott deserves to be on this list for one film alone: Alien.

To say that I am looking forward to Prometheus is an understatement. Less than a week until its release; Scott has crafted a film that the whole world is excited about. Quite a feat for a boy from South Shields. There’s also lots of buzz for his other projects in the pipeline: next year’s The Counselor marks a return of the Fassbender-Scott (hopefully) winning combination, as the director takes a break from the sci-fi world and getting his hands dirty with a drug trafficking thriller.

I cannot look through his back catalogue without having some reservations, which explains why Ridley Scott isn’t higher on the list. Hannibal was a terrible edition to The Silence of the Lambs franchise; a series that should never have happened and would have been much better left as a single film. Similarly, I’m not a fan of Legend, much preferring the far superior Labyrinth.

What to See: Alien, Blade Runner

What to Avoid: Hannibal

What to Look Forward to: PrometheusThe Counselor, new Blade Runner film

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King of British eccentricity, Terry Gilliam has made his own unique stamp on the world of comedy and surreal cinema be it with Monty Python, Time Bandits or 12 Monkeys; Gilliam’s style is instantly recognisable.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, whilst not especially critically acclaimed, it is quite an achievement for Gilliam. Following the untimely death of Heath Ledger, Gilliam had to temporarily suspend production as one-third of film had already been shot. Thanks to an injection of cash from the UK Film Council, Gilliam came up with the ingenious idea of casting a wide range of actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell) to play transformations of Ledger’s character as he travels through a dream world.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, hopefully set to be released later this year, has really struggled to come to life. Being completely re-shot following its abandonment, it has been a lengthy work in progress since October 2000. Only Robert Duvall (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) and my favourite Ewan McGregor have been confirmed to star in Gilliam’s latest endeavour. Rumours have been circulating about Johnny Depp’s appearance: a working relationship which has proved so successful from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; a role hopefully much more successful than his latest endeavours.

What to See: BrazilFear and Loathing in Las VegasThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

What to Avoid: The Brothers Grimm

What to Look Forward to: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote 

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I have been a big fan of Edgar Wright ever since his TV show Spaced debuted on Channel 4 back in 1999. I remember staying up late to watch it every Friday night; it was certainly the television highlight of my week. Back then, no one in my group of friends knew who Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes or Nick Frost were; I had no one to share my nerdy obsession with the geniuses that overtook my Friday night schedule. Thankfully, I didn’t need to wait long until Shaun of the Dead when the names of the people I held most dear would be household names.

Linked to some of the best of British talent, Wright is just getting bigger and bigger. Scott Pilgrim was his first international hit, and quite rightly so. Fusing geeky references with contemporary pop culture and a beloved story is Wright’s signature style. Even though there’s nothing quite like his films out there, his influences are obvious. Marking his most inspirational films as Raising Arizona, Run Lola Run and The Evil Dead amongst others; Wright makes homages to all these and more through his work. Picking out these references is something that never fails to delight me.

We are finally getting closer to the long awaited release of Ant-Man; a project that has been in the works for five years and more than likely will have a little more time to kill before the release of this new edition to the Marvel universe. Until then, I have The World’s End to look forward to: a film that reunites Pegg, Frost and Wright. Even though I know very little about this movie, knowing that three of my favourite Brits are back together is more than enough to get my adrenaline pumping.

What to See: Shaun of the DeadHot FuzzScott Pilgrim vs. the World

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Forward to: Ant-ManThe World’s End

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, there is no doubt that you have seen a Christopher Nolan film. Be it Insomnia, The Prestige or a Batman film there is every possibility that you have been touched by the work of Nolan.

As Memento is probably the first really mind bending film I saw, I have a special affection for Nolan’s films. As a big fan of the Batman series previously (except Batman and Robin, always except Batman and Robin) I was nervous about what he would do to Bruce Banner in Batman Begins: I needn’t have worried. I can trust Nolan with the future of Batman; something that still unnerves me to confess.

Another highly anticipated summer blockbuster comes courtesy of Christopher Nolan: The Dark Knight Rises. Marking the end of the trilogy, I have nothing but good vibes about this edition to the DC world. All that I can hope is that Nolan will continue to create similarly brilliant movies in the future. With The Keys to the Street, based on a Ruth Rendell novel, and Mr Hughes (described by the director himself as “a very, very unusual script and a very unusual movie”) I have no doubt he’ll continue to bend my mind.

What to See: MementoThe Dark KnightInception

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Forward to: The Dark Knight Rises, The Keys to the Street, Mr Hughes

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Working for over 50 years in the world of cinema, being involved in around about 100 films and inspiring countless producers, writers and directors: for Hitchcock to not be on this list would be a crime. Indeed, I expect that many people will disagree with Alfred Hitchcock being placed second best. There is an argument to say that he is the best British director of all time, but this is my list. Sorry.

All of his movies are brilliant for one reason or the other. Indeed it is more than surprising to learn that he never won an Oscar throughout his lucrative career; although he did win the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967.

With Steven Speilberg, Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg all citing Hitchcock as an influence; it is difficult to imagine a world without the films of these cinematic greats which is evidence alone of how significant Hitchcock is to the world of film. Although technically we are unable to anticipate any of his future films due to his sad death in 1980, but what we can certainly look forward to Anthony Hopkins as the all powerful Hitchcock: a biopic I am incredibly interested in seeing.

What to See: PsychoThe BirdsRear Window

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Forward to: Hitchcock

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When thinking about which directors to include in this list, and where to place them, I had only one certainty; that Danny Boyle would come top of the list. I’m afraid there is no competition, as some of his films are amongst my all time favourite films. 127 Hours is a magnificent piece of claustrophobic cinema, 28 Days Later is a terrifying look at a post-zombie apocalypse, Slumdog Millionaire is pumped full of adrenaline and heartache painting an emotional picture of Mumbai whilst kickstarting Dev Patel’s career.

There is only one film that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend throughout Boyle’s cinematic history and that is Sunshine: mainly because I was expecting another 28 Days Later; a naive assumption on my part due to the reappearance of Cillian Murphy. I really do need to give this film another chance, as I do seem to be in the minority.

His new film, Trance a thriller staring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel looks like it will be another excellent edition to his CV. Although it seems that Boyle is unrelenting with his zombie films as a further edition to the 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later franchise (set in the same universe) is in the pipeline. Even though I’m a little dubious about this film, as I really wasn’t so fond of the sequel (not directed by Boyle, thankfully); I have every faith he will deliver the goods.

Taking the interesting role of Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic games opening ceremony, it seems that Boyle is not only the best British director (in my opinion at least); he’s also the most patriotic British director.

What to See: A Life Less OrdinaryShallow Grave28 Days Later

What to Avoid: Sunshine

What to Look Forward to: Trance

  • Slick Nick
    May 27, 2012

    Danny Boyle over Hitchcock?

    No David Lean?

    No Shane Meadows?


    • Amy
      May 27, 2012

      Thanks very much for your comment. Yeah I thought there would be some disagreement, let my explain my choices.

      1. Danny Boyle has made some of my favourite all time films, Alfred Hitchcock has not. I can watch Boyle’s films over and over, although I cannot do that for Hitchcock. I personally favour Boyle but if this list were factually correct, not based on opinion, then Fred would probably be number one.

      2. I’ve not seen any David Lean films. A terrible thing for a wannabe film critic to confess I’m sure.

      3. As much as I adore This is England and the subsequent mini series, I haven’t seen his other films so can’t really offer a fair judgement. This is England will feature in my top 10 British films though.

  • sati
    May 28, 2012

    Great choices, loved the inclusion of Curtis without him we wouldn’t have best romantic comedies of the last 20 years. I agree with Sunshine – I don’t like the film and I’m puzzled about its popularity.

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks Sati! Glad there’s another person who doesn’t understand the success of Sunshine out there!

  • Tom Carley
    May 30, 2012

    Good article, I didn’t enjoy Road to Perdition either, round it incredibly slow and I had expected more.

    I did enjoy Monsters and it is impressive that it was made on such a small budget but, I am not sure that he deserves to be included in this list based solely on this film,.

    I actually quite liked Hannibal, I thought the majority of the series was good actually, I think I just found his character addictive.

    I don’t really know directors that well so I couldn’t necessarily recommend anybody else instead of those mentioned. Although I do agree with the above comment that Shane Meadows work deserves a mention, Dead Man’s Shoes is brilliant as would be expected with Paddy Considine in a starring role.

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks Tom.

      I suppose it was wrong to include Edwards as one of Britain’s top directors but his debut was so astonishing that I thought he needed a mention.

      I only liked Silence of the Lambs but Red Dragon wasn’t too bad. The prequel was just terrible, so terrible the name escapes me.

      I think I’m going to have to pop Dead Man’s Shoes on the rental list after all the praise it’s received.

  • Rob
    May 31, 2012

    It’s great to see your Top Ten!

    I must admit I’m only aware of a few British directors that have released films in the last 10 years, I’ve only recently appreciated the work of the director as of late.

    Looking forward to the projects in the pipeline for Edgar Wright, pressure on Ant-Man!

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Wright really does have a lot to live up to with Ant-Man, especially as it’s been in the works for so long!

  • Fernando Quintero
    June 1, 2012

    Great post, Amy :) I love the inclusion of Sam Mendes, Richard Curtis, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle and of course Nolan and Hitchcock, who are among my top 10 favorite directors. About Mendes, you recommend to avoid Road to Perdition. I’m hurt and offended! haha, just kidding, but I loved that movie. What’s more surprising is that you didn’t mention probably his best film, Revolutionary Road. I haven’t seen anything by Gareth Edwards yet but I’m curious for Monsters. It’s gotten decidedly mixed reviews, so that’s
    always intriguing. When it comes to Boyle, I actually enjoyed Sunshine a lot.

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks Fernando! Sorry about my comments in respect of Road to Perdition! I really do think I’m going to have to revisit that one. I haven’t seen Revolutionary Road yet but as I enjoy Kate Winslet I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

      Check out Monsters if you have a chance to, it really is a brilliant film!

      • Fernando Quintero
        June 6, 2012

        Don’t be sorry! Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. However, I would recommend you watch it again. The look, the costumes and the acting are very good. Jude Law is fantastic in that. About Revolutionary Road, the writing is brilliant and the acting too! Still can’t get over the fact that Leo DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for an Oscar! The fights are spectacular, reminiscent of the ones in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

        • Amy
          June 17, 2012

          Thanks Fernando, I’ll definitely give it another chance ;)

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