Top Ten British Films


n the third and final instalment of my patriotic features to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and her sixty years on the throne, I have thought long and hard about what films to include in this article. I know I have outraged a few readers by my Top British Directors and Top British Actors posts, but hopefully the following choices made in my Top British Films will be a little less controversial. Whilst this list lacks many of the classics of British cinematic history, I’m more than a little ashamed to admit I haven’t seen The Red Shoes, The Third Man or Brief Encounter. It’s something I’m working on though.

Here are my top ten favourite British films of all time.



RELEASED:  September 25, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Andrew Haigh  |  CERTIFICATE:  18  |  RUN TIME:  97 minutes  |  CAST:  Tom Cullen, Chris New, Kieran Hardcastle, Jonathan Race

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Kicking off this list is 2011s romance Weekend, first seen and reviewed only weeks ago. Haigh’s directorial debut unexpectedly made its way into my favourite films of all time. I have no doubt that if I had seen Weekend when it was released last autumn; this movie would have easily made my Top Ten Films of 2011.

Weekend is a tender, unpretentious, alternative look at the flourishes of new love in Nottingham city centre between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). I challenge anyone to stay dry-eyed at the heartbreaking end of this beautiful movie.



Attack The Block

RELEASED:  May 11, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Joe Cornish  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  88 minutes  |  CAST:  Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost

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Joe Cornish’s long awaited cinematic debut, Attack the Block, stormed countless top ten lists last year; including mine. A brilliantly clever fusion of science fiction, horror and comedy; Cornish has set the bar very high for his next feature.

Not only is Attack the Block a refreshing take on the reliable sci-fi formula, it is also refreshing to see an alien invasion story take place in the UK. Taking over the block of London flats from the title, unexpected heroes defend their homes and consequently their planet, and humanity as we know it. Delightfully patriotic whilst scary and incredibly entertaining, Attack the Block ticks all the boxes. I can only hope Cornish will continue to make films so unashamedly British.


28 Days Later

RELEASED:  November 1, 2002  |  DIRECTOR:  Danny Boyle  |  CERTIFICATE:  18  |  RUN TIME:  133 minutes  |  CAST:  Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson

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Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is not only the first of my favourite director’s films in this list, but also the first horror. Despite being a bit of a wuss when it comes to scary films, zombie movies really are the exception. When bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma, he finds London deserted. One of the most iconic images of British cinema is the gowned Murphy before a desolate city centre.

With just the right level of gore, innovative terror and smart satire; 28 Days Later is easily one of Britain’s greatest exports. Without forgetting the horror greats (George A. Romero especially), Boyle adds elements to the zombie genre; changing the history of British fright-fests for the better.



Shaun of the Dead

RELEASED:  April 9, 2004  |  DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  99 minutes  |  CAST:  Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Peter Serafinowicz, Jessica Stevenson

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The second zombie film in the list, Shaun of the Dead certainly isn’t the second horror. A rom-com-zom; director Edgar Wright juxtaposes scares with fiercely clever satire, with hilarious results. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a loser; stuck in a dead end job, newly single and living with stoner best friend Ed (Nick Frost). He really doesn’t have anything going for him. That is until the undead roam England, hell bent on consuming the living. With the aims of winning back his ex and saving his mum, Shaun and friends take sanctuary in the local pub waiting for the whole thing to blow over.

Shaun of the Dead is the first film I can really remember being incredibly excited about the release of back in 2004. A devotee of Frost, Pegg and Wright for years beforehand, I had pretty much convinced myself I would love this movie. After watching it countless times, with and without commentaries, the jokes neither seem stale or old. Hearty laughs teamed with an excellent soundtrack and an even better cast (the first Bill Nighy film in the list); Wright’s slice of fried gold doesn’t even suffer from constant reruns on ITV2: surely the sign of a masterpiece.




RELEASED:  March 18, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Richard Ayoade  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME: 97 minutes  |  CAST:  Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins

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Another feature from my Top Films of 2011; Submarine is a cinematic delight. Deemed as a Welsh Rushmore, Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut doesn’t disappoint. Not only is the  obnoxious teenager Oliver (Roberts) struggling to hold together his parents relationship; his main focus in life is to lose his virginity before his next birthday. Enter Jordana (Paige); a mysterious girl who Oliver quickly becomes infatuated with.

An endearing look at awkward teenage relationships, Submarine is wonderful. Like Weekend, it addresses the flourishes of new romances although on a much more juvenile level. Aesthetically and aurally beautiful (Alex Turner provides a suitably gorgeous soundtrack), Submarine is delicate yet capable of producing hearty belly laughs at the same time.



The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio)

RELEASED:  April 1, 2009  |  DIRECTOR:  Richard Curtis  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME: 135 minutes  |  CAST:  Tom Sturridge, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Talulah Riley, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Ralph Brown, Jack Davenport, Kenneth Branagh,

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Whilst many of my choices for this list have received critical acclaim in the past, The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio across the pond) bucks the trend. Receiving only average reviews, Richard Curtis’ second directorial feature (Love Actually being the first) will always hold a place in my heart. It may be the brilliant soundtrack, it may be that my uncle listened to Radio Caroline that inspired the film, it may be that The Boat That Rocked features some of my favourite actors; whatever it is, Curtis really won me over.

Loosely based on the activities of Radio Caroline, a ship that hosted a pirate radio station in the 1960s, The Boat That Rocked fuses comedy with love, and good old fashioned rock and roll. Featuring the work of The Who, The Kinks and of course The Rolling Stones; Curtis’ delightful homage to the history of radio is essential viewing not only for fans of historically important musicians, it’s also essential for fans of British cinema. Featuring Bill Nighy (are there any roles where he doesn’t look cool?), Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson, The Boat That Rocked highlights some of Britain’s most talented, lucrative and endearing actors of current years.




RELEASED:  October 5, 2007  |  DIRECTOR:  Anton Corbijn  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME: 122 minutes  |  CAST:  Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Alexandra Maria Lara

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Don’t be fooled; Control is not just for fans of Joy Division. A beautiful yet harrowing look at the life of frontman Ian Curtis (superbly played by Sam Riley), Anton Corbijn’s first feature film is the greatest movie about a musician to date. Based upon the biography Touching From A Distance written by the late Curtis’ widow, Control captures the electricity of the post-punk explosion of the 1970s.

Riley’s resemblance to Curtis is uncanny; almost unnervingly he recreates his iconic dancing style on stage evoking a more documentary feel that sets Control apart from others of its genre. Raw, with real music (the fictional Joy Division learnt the appropriate instruments and songs accordingly) and real emotion; Control is not just the tale of Curtis, it’s a tale his misguided, misspent generation.



Don’t Look Now

RELEASED:  October 16, 1973  |  DIRECTOR:  Nicholas Roeg  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME: 110 minutes  |  CAST: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland

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As I have repeatedly stated since the start of Movie Writing; I am no horror fan. This doesn’t prevent me from providing credit where credit is due, and offering one of the most brilliant British films in cinematic history a spot in my Top British Films list. Nicholas Roeg’s chilling Don’t Look Now is not only a necessity for Hallowe’en, but for any patriotic event worth its salt. Hauntingly tense and incredibly powerful, with unmistakable echoes of Hitchcock, Roeg’s ending is one of the most affecting pieces of film I have ever witnessed.

Merging the occult with more realistic terrors such as the loss of a child, Don’t Look Now is a much more sophisticated horror than the countless slasher releases that are spawned each October. If only the directors of Saw et al. could produce results even remotely close to Nicholas Roeg’s genius, I would be more than impressed. There is also some expert toupee wearing on Sutherland’s part that I implore to make a comeback.




RELEASED:  February 23, 1996  |  DIRECTOR:  Danny Boyle  |  CERTIFICATE:  18  |  RUN TIME: 93 minutes  |  CAST:  Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald

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I know, I know. I just can’t go without mentioning McGregor from one list to the next. Predictably, and yet ever so worthy of this spot; Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting is one of McGregor’s most recognisable (yet unattractive) characters. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s brilliant novel of the same name; Boyle’s version of Renton, Spud and Sick Boy is a brutish, horrifying yet often funny portrayal of heroin addiction.

Superb, instantly recognisable cinematography combined with a suitably energetic soundtrack (the first I bought on CD); Trainspotting is simultaneously uncomfortable and engrossing. Criticised by some as being a pro-drug film, it is impossible to comprehend that a movie including defecating in a partner’s bed, violent outbursts and grotesque hallucinations of babies are depictions of a glamourous lifestyle. Boyle’s most gritty feature, Trainspotting is well worth it’s position of number two of my favourite British films; if only for it’s nod to a Pynchon novel.



This Is England

RELEASED:  April 27, 2007  |  DIRECTOR:  Shane Meadows |  CERTIFICATE:  18  |  RUN TIME: 101 minutes  |  CAST:  Thomas Turgoose, Joe Gilgun, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Stephen Graham, Rosamund Hanson

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I received more criticism than expected by not including Shane Meadows in my favourite British directors article, perhaps rightly so. Intent on listing This is England as my top British film, I didn’t want to detract from the glory by gushing (more than likely hyperbolically) about how much I adore this film. Instead, I thought this list may be a more suitable for that.

A completely unique coming-of-age tale, Meadows’ semi-autobiographical This is England is quite unlike anything else out there and is far superior to any attempts to capture the same gritty Thatcher realism. Affectionate, loveable characters (the portrayal of Woody, Joe Gilgun, and Lol, Vicky McClure, is possibly my favourite fictional relationship) clash with the brutal violence that pops up sporadically; resulting in a deeply affecting climax that I still find difficult to watch.

Fusing personal and political history, This is England is the most powerful film I’ve seen in quite some time. The subsequent mini series (This is England ’86 and ‘88 respectively) are equally as mesmerising as the original idea. The acting is faultless (Stephen Graham as Combo especially), the cinematography breathtaking and the soundtrack superb. There really isn’t any competition when it comes to my favourite British film of all time; not even Ewan McGregor can sway this one.


  • Slick Nick
    June 7, 2012

    TIE is my fave as well… probably in my top 5 films ever actually.
    Attack The Block was average, with loathsome characters. I don’t know why the Americans especially seemed to wank over it.
    I’d strongly recommend Brief Encounter though, it’s quite something even now.

    • Amy
      June 17, 2012

      Glad I’ve won a bit of your respect back with TIE, Nick. I love Attack the Block but I didn’t like many of the characters until the end. They slowly won me over. I will pop Brief Encounter on my rental list, thanks for the suggestion

  • Fernando Quintero
    June 9, 2012

    Haven’t seen Weekend but the amount of praise it has gotten says I should see it soon. Same goes for Shaun, Control, Don’t Look Now and Submarine. God, I haven’t seen nearly enough British cinema, at least not the ones on your list! I’m not a fan of the inclusion of Attack the Block, as I hated it! haha I loathed most of the characters which in turn made me dislike the movie. Great that you included 28 Days Later and Trainspotting.

    I’m excited for June’s Fan of the Month. Hmm, who might that be? ;) hehe

    • Amy
      June 17, 2012

      Ahh Fernando, Weekend is simply brilliant! You have to see it. Hope you manage to catch the others on the list that you haven’t seen. Don’t Look Now is one of the only horror films I will tolerate because I’m such a wuss!

  • Asrap
    June 10, 2012

    I’ve only seen half on the list: Submarine (one of favourites of 2011), 28 Days Later, Shaun Of The Dead, Trainspotting, and Attack The Block. I guess I don’t get to see much British films where I live, its pretty much Hollywood invasion. Shame though, because there’s a galaxy of films that are great and not from Hollywood, that’s why they keep making remakes.

    • Amy
      June 17, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Asrap! I’m glad you got a chance to see Submarine et al; hopefully you’ll be able to catch some of the other gems on this list. The Hollywood remake is such a waste of time and money. I cannot believe they’re attacking Troll Hunter next, there’s no need for it to be made in American whatsoever. It makes me really cross!

  • sati
    June 12, 2012

    I really need to see “This is England”, heard great things about this one. Love the inclusion of Trainspotting, definetly one of my all time favorite movies.

    • Amy
      June 17, 2012

      Really hope you manage to get a chance to see it soon, Sati! It’s wonderful. Touching, yet hard hitting; endearing, yet terrifying. Everything that’s great about England, yet everything that’s bad about it all in one film.

      I adore Trainspotting, and not just for Ewan :)

  • AndyK
    June 24, 2012

    I must admit I thought little of both Attack The Block and Submarine, which seemed to either pander to American audiences or be overly quirky for the sake of it. I have to thank you for recommending Weekend, which I hadn’t heard of before and (for shame!) I have yet to see This Is England – these two are going on my to-watch list immediately!

    • Amy
      June 25, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Andy. I love a quirky film! Weekend is simply brilliant, hope that you like it. This is England is one of the most striking pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen, just makes it better that it’s British :D looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  • Dan
    July 17, 2012

    Weekend was one of my favourite films of last year. Great to see Don’t Look Now so high on the list. My favourite British film of all time is possibly Withnail and I but there are a few other contenders.

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