The past five years have marked a changing time for British Film, increased cuts to sources of funding since the global recession are perhaps what has resulted in the number of co-productions within this list.
Pinning down an exact theme or trend is difficult but there does seem to be a slightly more innovative shift away from more recognisable and colourful formulas, although still evident in some cases, to an extent this shift is instantly recognisable in the more realistic yet stylistically anachronistic mise en scene of many of the films listed.
Perhaps this is to provide a longer shelf life away from cinema screens dominated with bigger budget blockbusters. Other less stylised, more immediately contemporary set films try to comment or provoke thought on social issues and choose to explore character.
Some films in the list prove difficult to place in terms of specific genre, indicating that something new or different is going on as increasingly conscious and critical audiences grow over familiar with one format necessitating steady innovation and experimentation. There also appears to be a steady attempt to harness the power of the ‘grey pound’ with films broadening their appeal to cater for a more discerning senior audience.
Here are 20 British Films from the last 5 years worth your time.
20. Made in Dagenham (2010)
Directed by Nigel Cole and written by William Ivory, Made in Dagenham follows the events of the real life 1968 strike by women sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant. The events portrayed within the film led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) organises a strike of her co-workers in demand for equal pay – initially scoffed at by managers, the strike by machinists leaves cars on the production line awaiting interior trim, shutting down production and the factory until demands are met.
The film also explores the flipside of the strike, the hardship and resentment faced by O’Grady’s husband and colleagues as the strike continues. Given the social conscious aspect of the film’s narrative there was perhaps potential for this to be a grittier portrayal of the events of 1968 in Dagenham.
This film is however, a more colourful and nostalgic affair with classic Ford Escorts and Cortinas as well polished as the production. Cole previously directed runaway hit Calendar Girls and this film perhaps leans toward a similar audience.
Made in Dagenham is an enjoyable enough film with a cast of familiar Brit faces and, as stated, does not shy away from the conflicted loyalties of the strike but those looking for a slice of social realism should look elsewhere. In tune with both Calendar Girls and Billy Elliot, a popular stage version of the film opened in 2014.
19. Cemetery Junction (2010)
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, this coming of age comedy drama starring Felicity Jones and Christian Cooke is set in 1973. Freddie (Cooke) and his two friends (Bruce and Snork) spend their time and their money drinking and having a laugh in their small hometown.
Freddie however has aspirations beyond the trio’s ‘working class roots’ and gets a job as a door to door salesman –this leads him to bump into former childhood sweetheart Julie (Jones). Julie’s father, played by Ralph Finnes, sets Freddie up with a place in his insurance company – peddling insurance door to door. Freddie’s aspirations cause tension with his friends and further conflict as he begins to rekindle his feelings for Julie (already engaged to another).
Gervais himself has stated that Cemetery Junction was influenced by Kitchen Sink drama’s of the 1950’s and 60’s – this is evident in the predictable class conflict created by Freddie’s activities.
Given the film’s 1970’s setting this conflict comes across as credible enough. However, this film is predominantly an entertaining, enjoyable if predictable nostalgia piece, for both a past age (fashions, cars and soundtrack are all suitably period) and also for ages past – adolescent hopes, fears and aspirations.
For all Freddie’s conflicted working class interests, even middle class Julie longs to self actualise her life away from the predictability of pending marriage – to become a travel photographer. Cemetery Junction is instantly comparable to lesser known but equally engaging Brit 70’s set comedy-drama Soul Boy (also co-starring Jones) which came out the same year.
18. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)
With the British ‘grey’ or golden pound as its target audience director John Madden’s film based on the novel These Foolish Things became a strong and surprising international hit upon its release.
The plot concerns a group of British pensioners (played by Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton) who relocate to a retirement hotel in India run by an enthusiastic young man named Sonny (Dev Patel).
The group soon discover that the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as it is called is not exactly as the broacher has depicted it and is infact in need of much needed renovation. Each of the characters must undergo their own personal conflicts as does Sonny in his quest to save the hotel from being demolished.
Colourfully shot on location in Rajasthan (the hotel used was once the palace of a tribal chieftain) the film has a steady pace, likeable characters and doesn’t stray from the familiar but the cast all put in expectedly credible performances with Patel’s character adding some zest and contrast to prevent events from being too sombre in places.
Described by some as the perfect antidote to effects laden epics, a much anticipated sequel is due for release in Feb 2015.
17. Wuthering Heights (2011)
This adaptation of the popular Emily Bronte novel was eventually directed and co-scripted by Andrea Arnold, before that the production had gone through several changes of cast and director.
Originally announced in 2008 John Maybury was to direct and Natalie Portman to star as Cathy with Michael Fassbender as Heathcliffe. When Portman withdrew from the project Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch)was then cast as Cathy.
Maybury eventually left and went on to direct Edge of Love, the Dylan Thomas biopic, directorial control was then passed to Peter Webber (The Girl with the Pearl Earring) who recast with Gemma Arterton and Ed Westwick in the lead roles.
Arnold eventually took over in early 2010. Even before filming began it is clear that Arnold had specific ideas regarding the look and feel of the film, recasting a more age appropriate Kaya Scodelario (recognisable from C4 series Skins) as Cathy and making the radical decision to cast an actor who might fit Bronte’s original description of a ‘dark skinned gypsy in aspect’ initially calling for actors from the Romani community but later extending the search to Mixed race, Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern actors.
Eventually casting James Howson in the Heathcliffe role, the film itself is something of a departure from many previous versions and doubtless the version originally announced in 2008. The use of more naturally lit locations and generally more authentically edgy, grimy approach make the film an interesting fusion of Heritage and realism and again another Brit film of the last 5 years that is just that little bit different. The location filming is a brilliant as it is at times bleak.
16. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
Starring Any Serkis, Mat Whitecross directs this biopic of the life of punk/new wave musician Ian Dury. The film charts Dury’s (Serkis) life as he rises to fame in the late 1970’s.
Use of flashback to his childhood also provides a subplot depicting Dury’s contracting of polio and his relationship with his father (Ray Winstone) elements of this are mirrored within the main plot with events unfolding almost as though seen through the eyes of Dury’s own son Baxter (Bill Milner).
The film provides an enjoyable rock and roll journey with familiar aspects such as the price of fame and the more troubled aspects of Dury’s character. Serkis delivers a memorable performance, taking the role with the extra devotion of deliberately exercising one side of his body so his movements and appearance could be more accurate. Both Winstone and Milner are memorable.
Nominated for several awards, winning only an Evening Standard Award for Serkis as best actor, the film attracted some publicity when released in the U.K but seemingly disappeared at the box office. This pity for a film with genuine heart and as a rock and roll biopic it is definitely worth seeing both for fans and the uninitiated.
15. About Time (2013)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis (apparently to be his last as director), this film could be described as a time travelling romantic comedy. However, the term romantic comedy perhaps pigeon holes About Time a little too rigidly as the plot reaches far further than one might initially expect of Curtis.
On his 21st birthday Tim Lake (Domhall Gleeson) is informed by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the ability to travel through time. This initially leads the slightly awkward Tim to engage in a comedic and misplaced romantic pursuit of one of his sister’s friends (Margot Robbie).
The plot then quickly develops further as Tim moves to London and meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), in time they are married and have a child, experiencing life’s ups and downs – more so when Tim’s father reveals that he is dying and his sister is badly injured in a car accident. It is also revealed to Tim that time travel has rules and that time, even for one with his gift, is not limitless.
Arguably miss sold in trailers and the film posters (perhaps posing a problem with regard to marketing) as an over familiar Cutis-esque the tale of a hapless looser chasing the wrong girl, About Time is perhaps better understood as a more humanistic science fiction film on the limitations and unavoidable ‘give and take’ imperfections of life.
As a result, the film straddles both the rom-com camp and the sci-fi camp and probably fails to appeal in any great abundance to either audience. As some critics observed, the rules of time travel are rather conveniently revealed when it comes to evoking emotion from the audience, doubtless frustrating sci-fi buffs and annoying those looking for more a more predictable Curtis led affair.
In some respects the time travel element makes About Time to Four Weddings or Nottinghill what Lionel Jeffries’ 1971 The Amazing Mr Blunden is to his better know and more accessible previous film The Railway Children – the same in look and feel but decidedly different.
Despite seemingly vanishing at the box office, About Time remains a curious and different film which may well eventually prove to have a longer shelf life than some other Curtis films – something also noteworthy of the production – cars, clothes and tech are all slightly ambiguous with regard to an exact time period. As to if this shelf life is as a cult favourite or s into mainstream recognition remains to be seen.