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The 20 Greatest British Movie Directors Working Today

12 June 2015 | Features, People Lists | by Anthony Crossland

best british directors

For this list the term British director refers to directors whom have either been born in Britain or have lived and directed most of their work within the United Kingdom.

The Sovereign European state, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a vast history, from Druids, Roman occupation and Viking raids to being in control of a vast empire across the world.

From Beatle Mania and rock music to 1970s and 80s punk and ska to the harmless fan rivalry between Oasis and Blur in the 1990s. Awful pop music by the likes of the Spice Girls and One Direction and the creation of Drum and bass, Grime and the dub step genres, it’s safe to say that in terms of pop culture, most associate the island nation with music.

Of course there’s the Doctor Who television series and the American produced Bond and Harry Potter films. The British film and television industry has always been overshadowed by Hollywood. Government incentives have grown the industry and its rise of art house cinema however the biggest films made within the country are normally American films such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), .

Because of the dominance of American cinema, most British directors and actors try hard to obtain American visas with the dreams of Hollywood. Another approach is independent or semi-independent cinema influenced by other European states across the channel and the kitchen sink drama style popularised in the 1960s by the British New Wave.

The directors in this list all have very different styles, influences and backgrounds from one another. Whilst The UK is small it’s also diverse and the British culture is always changing. Perhaps some day a Second British New Wave will occur.

 

20. Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade

In 1977 Ayoade was born in London. He studied law in Cambridge. There he became involved in theatre production with fellow comedian John Oliver. He went from acting and presenting television to directing music videos for such bands as Kasabian, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arctic Monkey and Vampire Weekend. As a jack-of-all-trades he also has done voice work for CBBC and a few audio books authored by Roald Dalh.

He normally works with Ari Korine, sister to the film director Harmony Korine and was lucky enough in having Ben Stiller produce his first feature: “Submarine”. Although he is a comedian, actor and voice actor he never writes himself into his own films, which are all dark comedy dramas.

Notable Films:
Submarine (2010)
The Double (2013)

 

19. Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay

In 1969 Ramsay was born in Glasgow. She graduated from the National Film and Television School in 1995. With her third short film, “Gasman” (1998), She won the Cannes Prix du Jury and a Scottish Bafta for best film. The Following year she released her first feature film, “Rat Catcher” which continued to gain her success.

After her second feature she began preproduction work on the “Lovely bones” but left the project in 2004. The producers ultimately went with director Peter Jackson whom they felt would be more faithful to the story. Dishearten, she took a break until making 2011’s “We need to talk about Kevin”.

In 2012 she made the short film “Swimmer”, co-commissioned by BBC Films, Film4 and the London Organisationing Committee of the Olympic and Paraolympic Games to celebrate the summer Olympics in London that year. This film went on to bring Ramsay another Bafta.

In 2013 she not only judged on the Cannes competition jury but was set to direct another book adaptation which is the film “Jane got a gun” (2015) now directed by Gavin O’Connor. With another go at adapting a book she is planning a Moby Dick film, which takes place in space. Another adaptation, which seems far from faithful yet very interesting.

Although she has yet to successfully adapt a novel into a film she has made some great thought provoking and powerful dramas. She will not tone down the power that the characters are bringing to the subject matters, normally swept away under the carpet, but loudly out spoken in her films. She exploits dark emotions which others hide.

Notable Films:
We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)
Morvern Callar (2002)
Ratcatcher (1999)

 

18. Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold

In 1961 Arnold was born in Dartford, Kent. At 18 she moved to London. She became host of the children’s show “No.73” for 10 years. She wrote on the side and became a dancer on the music programme “Top of the pops”. After working in television she studied directing at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California and then trained in a screenwriting workshop in Kent.

In 2003 her short film “Wasp” starring Danny Dyer was commissioned by Channel 4 and the UK film Council. It won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2004 and won in the short film category at Sundance 2005.

The success of “Wasp” caught the attention of producers for her first feature film “Red Road”. The film was the first in the “Advance Party Trilogy”, which had rules by Lars Von Trier. Each film was to be in the same universe within Glasgow and directed by a different director. The second film “Donkeys” (2010) failed to do well and the third film is in production limbo. However “Red road” did very well and sent Arnold down the path for other successes such as “Fish Tank”. In 2011 she made the New Year’s Honours list for services in film.

Her films deal with very dramatic human experiences. Most main charters are women in difficult situations. Arnold’s films show the psychology associated around women when conflicts arise within themselves. Women in her films escape from the traditional roles in society only through struggle and hardships.

Notable Films:
Fish Tank (2009)
Red Road (2006)
Wuthering Heights (2011)

 

17. Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer

In 1965 Glazer was born in London. Glazer got his start directing in theatre and by editing film trailers. In 1993 he directed three shorts for the BBC. He built himself up and made a career in advertisements and music videos, which earned him the MTV award for best director of the year in 1997.

He worked with corporate clients such as Guinness, Kodak, Sony, Audi, Volkswagen and Levis as well as making music videos for Radiohead and Massive Attack. Glazer was now well qualified to move into film and did so successfully with “Sexy Beast”.

Glazers experience in adverts and music videos has given him the ability to diversify his film style. However his overall style is clean and the pace never rushes through but never slows down. Although the films are immersed with music video elements, they don’t disturb the pace of the film or are overtly intrusive.

Notable Films:
Under the Skin (2013)
Sexy Beast (2000)

 

16. Ben Wheatley

Ben Wheatley

In 1972 Wheatley was born in Essex. Without film school Wheatley used modern technology to teach himself. After learning how to use editing programs he started to work a little as an editor and would share short sketches filmed with friends, animated clips and writings on the Internet and became better through constructive criticism.

Not many filmmakers are self taught and good. With more information available on the Internet an autodidact can learn almost anything.

His style is inspired by black comedy and 1970s and 80s cult cinema. His first feature was “Down Terrence”, a black comedy with dark elements and reminiscent of gangster films before they utilised music video effects. That’s not to say Wheatley stays away from visual effects, but they are similar to films of the 70’s and never rely on computer-generated imagery. “Down Terrance” was self funded with just six thousand pounds and took just a few weeks to shoot with a house being used for all interior shots. Because of his success he was able to gain more funding for his next film “Kill List”.

Notable Films:
Kill List (2011)
Sightseers (2012)
Down Terrace (2009)
A Field in England (2013)

 

15. Guy Ritchie

guy ritchie

In 1968 Richie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire just outside of London. He’s dyslexic and was kicked out of school for possible drug use, skipping classes and/or entertaining a girl privately in his room.

In the 90s he directed adverts. In 1995 he made the short “The hard Case” which impressed investors such as musician Sting and producer Mathew Vaughn to make his first feature, “Lock, Stock and Two smoking Barrels”. He became successful and married pop star, Madonna. His second feature, “Snatch”, used a song of hers on the soundtrack and was another successful movie. In 2000 he was arrested for assault and bodily harm.

His third feature, a 2002 remake of the 1974 film “Swept Away” was a disaster. It stared his wife and was a romantic film unlike the gun slinging British crime films he had become known for. He eventually bounced back and became known for the high budgeted Sherlock Holms films. He also wrote a graphic novel, “Gamekeeper” which Warner brothers currently owns the film rights to. In 2008 his Marriage to Madonna came to an end. They owned a London pub which he took over and eventually sold it. No matter what happens he never gives up and continues to make films even after he directs some flops.

His films mostly show the underworld of gangsters. Although he’s trained in Karate, Judo and Jiu Jitsu, the violence shown mostly consists of bats, fists and guns. He is very stylised and his advertisement work and love for comic books are apparent in his fast pace editing style.

Notable Films:
Lock, Stock and Two smoking Barrels (1998)
Snatch (2000)
Revolver (2005)
RocknRolla (2008)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)

 

 

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  • Danny Singh

    James Cameron? He probably made the best movie ever made with Avatar.

    • Uh, James Cameron is Canadian.

      • Danny Singh

        Oh I am sorry about that. My mistake.

  • Rudi

    I would add Joe Wright. He hasn’t made the perfect movie yet, but he’s showing glimps of a great artist in movies such as Hanna and Atonement. The long beach shot in Atonement is simply breathtaking.

    Nice read by the way!

  • marcel

    Hot Fuzz!!!!!!!!!!!! What a ride!!!!!

  • No Michael Winterbottom?

  • Alfon Silva

    What about Matthew Vaughn?

  • Veronica Clarke

    Interesting list, thank you.

  • Alex Nasaudean

    Winterbottom over Ayoade anytime dude, Ayoade, even though he has directed 2 good movies, has 9 directing credits on imdb while Winterbottom has more than 2 good movies and 41 directing credits. Common sense…

  • Chicken

    Mike Leigh is so fucking awesome.

  • Ahmed

    These would be my top 10 Brits:

    1. Ridley Scott

    2. Danny Boyle

    3. Christopher Nolan

    4. Tom Hooper < (Not even included on list)

    5. Guy Ritchie

    6. Sam Mendes

    7. Terry Gilliam

    8. Edgar Wright

    9. Paul Greengrass

    10. James Marsh

  • Unkle Amon

    Perfect list. Duncan Jones could fit here too.