The 20 Greatest British Movie Directors Working Today

14. Sally Potter

In 1949 Porter was born in London. When she was 14 she was given an 8mm camera by her uncle. At 16 she dropped out of school to pursue a career in filmmaking. She started working at the BBC but as a kitchen worker and then a researcher.

Porter joined the London filmmakers’ co-op workshop where she started making short films. By 1983 she released her first feature film “The Gold Diggers” which was made by an all female crew. It was a vanguard exploration of a woman’s life. Most films she makes deals with women issues and are made with a sense of questioning the norm. In 2012 she made the Queen’s list for Birthday Honours for her services to film. Perhaps something that could only have been accomplished in certain cultures in modern times.

Notable Films:
Orlando (1992)
The Man Who Cried (2000)
Ginger & Rosa (2012)
The Tango Lesson (1997)


13. Edgar Wright

In 1974 Wright was born in Poole, Dorset but grew up in Somerset. As a child Edgar received a Super 8 camera and made short films with friends. He later won a Video-8 camcorder in a competition from the TV show “Going Live!”. Most of these shorts were comedies such as “Dead Right”, which was a 1993 “Dirty Harry” parody and would go on to influence “Hot Fuzz”.

In 1994 Wright made his first feature, “A Fistful of Fingers”. The film was a spaghetti western parody and the title was taken from one of the greatest spaghetti western films, “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Although it had very little success, comedy actors Matt Lucas and David Walliams saw the film on the Sky satellite channel Sky Movies and hired Wright to direct their TV show, “Mash and Peas” for the Paramount Comedy channel. During this time Wright also worked on several comedy shows for the BBC.

In 1996 Wright first directed actors Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson on the Paramount comedy TV show “Asylum”. In 1998 Pegg and Stevenson asked Wright to direct the TV show “Spaced” for Channel Four. It was the first time Wright would direct actor Nick Frost.

In 2003 he directed his second feature film, “Shaun of the Dead”. “Shaun of the dead” was a zombie comedy and just as “A fistful of fingers” did, Wright took the name from one of the most famous zombie films, “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). “Shaun of the dead” would end up to be the first film in “The Three Flavours of Cornetto trilogy”. Another parody title from “The Three Colours trilogy”.

Each of the films from the Cornetto trilogy stared Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The Second film in the trilogy, “Hot Fuzz”, stopped the tradition of the parody title. It would be seven years until the third film would be released. In that time Wright contributed a fake trailer for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse”, titled “Don’t!”. The trailer featured cameos from both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. By this time the two actors had become known for working with each other and directed by Wright. Although the two are in different films they did come together as duo for “Paul” (2011), which was not directed by Wright.

In 2010, Wright made his leap into the world of comic book films with the comedy “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”. A hit among fans, which suffered at the box office. Even so, Wright continued his career and was considered to direct the forth Mission impossible film.

Wright also would go on to co-write “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” (2011) directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and co-starred Pegg and Frost. Wright would also help on “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) directed by J. J. Abrams and co-starring Pegg. He also made cameos in “Son of Rambow” (2007) and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005), both directed by Garth Jennings.

Eventually came time for the third in the cornetto trilogy. Since, Wright has had another go at comic book films with the Ant-Man but left due to creative differences. Some rumours suggest films with potentially a less comedic style than Wright is known for. These possible upcoming projects include the remake of the British Godzilla rip-off “Gorgo” (1961),” Them” based on the book by Jon Ronson and “The Night Stalker” based on the 80s television series.

Wrights style has certainly been British comedy and well done genera parodies. One influential film to Wrights comedy stylings is the 1981 film “An American Werewolf in London”. Wright seems to not only direct comic dialogue well but practical comedy, taking influence from director Sam Raimi.

Notable films:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The World’s End (2013)


12. Paul Greengrass

In 1955 Greengrass was born in Surrey. Whilst growing up he began making horror themed short animation and stop motion films with an 8mm camera. After college he began directing for ITVs current affairs show “World in action”. He also directed made for television films and documentaries, primarily dealing with military operations for which he received awards.

Greengrass has a strong interest in military operations and co-authored the book “Spycatcher” with Peter Wright, a Former assistant director of MI5 (Mission intelligence, Section 5). The book caused controversy and was deemed not suitable for publishing in 1985 for giving insight into MI5. During a legal battle the book was finally published in 1987.

His first theatrical released feature, “The Theory of Flight” (1998) dealt with the sexuality of disabled people and received a thumb down from Robert Ebert and a thumb up from Gene Siskel. His next film, “Bloody Sunday” was more successful and kick started his career. He is now the president of the organization: Directors UK.

Although he almost directed the comic book film “Watchmen” (2009), Greengrass’ experince in current affairs and an interest in the military is present in his films. Rather than exploiting action, Greengrass makes films that make you think about events and wars but are never overly emotional.

Notable Films:
Captain Phillips (2013)
Green Zone (2010)
Bloody Sunday (2002)
United 93 (2006)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)


11. Shane Meadows

In 1972 Meadows was born in the Midlands county of Staffordshire. After making close to thirty short films with his friends, Meadows attended Burton & South Derbyshire College for the performing arts. He then made ‘Small Time’ (1996) which was partially funded by the BFI (British Film Institute).

Meadows continues to direct and his love of the Midlands can be seen in much of his work. His films are mostly Kitchen sink dramas about growing up and living in a small midlands town. Many parts of his films are imaginative abstracts of real experiences he has either had or witnessed.

Notable films:
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
This is England (2006)
Somers Town (2008)
The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (2013)


10. Stephen Frears

In 1941 Stephen Frears was born in Leicester. After graduating with a degree in law from Cambridge in 1963, Frears jumped into the British film industry working as an assistant to the director on “if…”(1968) and assistant director on “Morgan!” (1966). He began directing television at the BBC as well as advertisements. By the late 70s he had gained success making, made for television films.

Before long he became an acclaimed director starting with films such as “The Hit” (1984) and “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985). He also has directed plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1997 he was the President of the Cannes Competition Jury. He currently holds the David Lean Chair in fiction direction from the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.

From dark thrillers to light hearted comedy, Frears directing style isn’t very distinctive. Instead the story controls his directing throughout his diverse filmography. The immersing experiences they provide are never over done or intrusive.

Notable Films:
The Queen (2006)
High Fidelity (2000)
Philomena (2013)
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)


9. Peter Greenaway

In 1942 Greenaway was born during the Second World War in the town of Newport in South Wales but quickly moved to Essex to avoid the blitz. He became a painter with the love of films by such directors as Igmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Goddard and Alain Resnais.

In the 1960s he started making experimental films. This helped land him a job with the Central Office of Information, which he stay with for 15 years. There he worked as a film editor on propaganda films, which marketed ideals of the UK Government.

Greenaway made many shorts and documentary shorts before releasing his first feature “The Falls” in 1980. Now he is a professor of cinema studies at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. With his vanguard style he has gained acclaimed success from cinephiles and uses editing to convey expression with a unique twist on the exhibit of human events. Another big influence into Greenaway’s art, be it cinema or paintings, is the paintings of renaissance, baroque, and Flemish painters.

Notable Films:
The Belly of an Architect (1987)
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
The Pillow Book (1996)
The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
Drowning by Numbers (1988)


8. Steve Mcqueen

In 1969 Mcqueen was born in London. He has dyslexia and a lazy eye. As a possible result of institutional racism, Mcqueen was thought to be best suited for a career in manual labour by his secondary school teachers. Defeating the odds, Mcqueen went on to study art at several colleges and before long, in 1993 Mcqueen started expressing himself using the medium of short film as well as painting.

Inspired by artists such as Andy Warhol, Mcqueen continues to work in short films. With success he now also directs features. He became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2000 and later in 2002 became a Commander of the order of the British Empire. In 2006 he went to Iraq as an official war artist.

Steve Mcqueen makes art house films about controversial emotions. His first film “Hunger” dramatised the controversial hunger strike by the provisional Irish Republican Army activist: Bobby Sands. The film doesn’t take a side or comment on the troubles but instead shows the emotions involved in prison riots from both sides and the emotions around Bobby Sands determination to starve himself for his cause. The film’s scenes felt structured around lengthy shots of emotion rather than a typical story pace.

“12 years a slave” was a more traditionally structured Story, as it was adapted from a novel of memoirs by Solomon Northup. However Mcqueen still directed with the ideas that the theme and emotions were universal and not necessarily specific to slavery in the United States of that time.

With a subject such as slavery it was stereotypically destined for the Oscars. Many viewers had been able to resonate with the feeling of being stuck in a terrible situation and some with stories of discrimination and the way it affected personalities. Mcqueen sarcastically clapped when his screenwriter won an award as he felt there should have been shared credit. When it was his turn to take to the stage, his dedication and acceptance speech had a lot to say of his character.

2014 Academy Awards acceptance speech: “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Soloman Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

Notable Films:
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Shame (2011)
Hunger (2008)