The 20 Greatest British Movie Directors Working Today

7. Sam Mendes

In 1965 Mendes was born in Reading but grew up in Oxfordshire. He studied at Peterhouse College, a constituent of the University of Cambridgeshire. There Mendes began directing plays. This led him to directing Dane Judi Dench, when he was just twenty-four years of age. He continued directing plays, primarily in London’s West End, working with famous film actors. After Mendes became an award winning stage director, Steven Spielberg, an executive producer on “American Beauty”, personally recommended Mendes for the directing role.

“American Beauty” won five Academy awards and a Golden Globe. In 2000 Mendes was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to drama. After directing a few films with great success, Mendes was given the privilege of directing the twenty-third James Bond film: “Skyfall”. With the Bond films rebooting with Daniel Craig as a darker, grittier and thrilling bond without the same level of ridiculous stunts as Craig’s predecessors, Mendes was brought in by producers for Craig’s third bond film in an attempt to bring thought provoking drama to the action filled series which received great reviews.

Among theatre-goers he is known for his dark musicals such as Charlie and the chocolate factory. However his cinema work has yet to include a musical. His films are all dramatic with dark elements. With Mendes’ earlier filmography, films were character driven with structure and pace similar to that of plays. However Mendes’ style has grown to become more cinematic.

Notable Films:
American Beauty (1999)
Road to Perdition (2002)
Skyfall (2012)
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Jarhead (2005)


6. Danny Boyle

In 1956 Danny was born in the Northwestern English county of Lancashire. As a child he was to become a priest and feels that his films connect with directors such as John Woo, Martin Scorsese and M. Night Shyamalan who were all intended from childhood to grow up to become priests. His religious background is expressed heavily in the film ‘Millions’ (2004). Drama took over the intended priesthood and after Boyle studied drama at Bangor University in Northwest Wales, He began his start in theatre.

He worked his way up in theatre and he has directed plays throughout his filmmaking career. In 87 he started working as a television producer for BBC Northern Ireland. There he directed and produce television films and episodes. With a small fund from Channel 4 and The Glasgow Film Fund, Boyle directed ‘Shallow Grave’ in 1994. It was the most successful British film of 1995. ‘Shallow Grave’ started his film career and in 2012 Danny directed the James Bond themed opening of the London Summer Olympics, which featured Queen Elizabeth ll and current 007 actor: Daniel Craig. For his efforts, the Queen offered him knighthood but Boyle declined.

His Style is very fast paced and stylistic. The films are very energetic and packed with adrenaline. When the character is slowed down by either being confined or trapped they are very restless. It’s a rare thing to see a main character want to relax. The films are filled with adventure, even within a small town. It’s almost difficult to believe that Boyle has directed two episodes of Inspector Morse and worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company when watching one of his films. Whereas some films are structured like a stage play or an extended television episode, Boyle makes films that could never be anything but a film.

Notable films:
Trainspotting (1996)
28 Days Later (2002)
Slumdog Milionaire (2008)
127 Hours (2010)
The Beach (2000)


5. Christopher Nolan

In 1970 Nolan was born in London. As a child, Christopher aspired to one day become a great filmmaker as he used his fathers Super 8mm film camera to record stories acted out by action figures. This eventually lead him to The University College London where he moved up to 16mm and learned editing and expanded his craft of story telling.

After graduating Nolan found himself directing corporate and industrial films for a living. He didn’t give up hope and made a few short films before eventually making his first feature “Following” (1998) on a tight budget of roughly three thousand pounds. “Following” led Nolan to “Memento”, which became a hit and earned four times its original budget. With this accomplishment Christopher Nolan’s career skyrocketed.

Nolan’s films are dark in tone and thrilling. What sets his big budget studio backed films apart from typical blockbusters is the influence they take from art films. The themes are more fantasy than everyday scenarios. Without too much confusion, Nolan tackles the difficult task of creating a non-linear order of events in most of his films.

Notable Films:
Memento (2000)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Inception (2010)
The Prestige (2006)
Interstellar (2014)


4. Ridley Scott

In 1937 Ridley was born in the northeastern English coastal town of South Shields. He would go on to London and attend the Royal College of Art as a photography student with an interest in films. On a trip home from college, he shot the short film ‘Boy and Bicycle’ (1962) starring his younger brother Tony who was also destined to be a great director but sadly committed suicide in 2012. Ridley worked his way up at the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) where he began working on television shows and eventually started directing them.

With his experience he started Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) with Tony and produced television advertisements. Other members of the family were brought in. He then went on to make ‘The Duelists’ (1977) and took it to Cannes. This sent him to Hollywood and he now is well established and runs his own production company Scott Free. In 2003, Ridley received a knighthood.

His style is very visually detailed and at times he has used multiple cameras to cover a scene where as the majority of films use one or two cameras most of the time, the use of multiple cameras has allowed for more coverage. His films have a fast pace and are normally epic.

Notable films:
Blade Runner (1982)
Alien (1979)
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Gladiator (2000)
Black Hawk Down (2001)


3. Terry Gilliam

In 1940 Gilliam was born in the Minnesota, USA. At the age of twelve he moved with his family to Los Angeles, California. This probably seems strange to many that an American citizen (until 2006) is considered a British director but in the late 60’s he moved to the UK and began working in Animation.

Gilliam started writing and directing television, which led him to work with the Monty Python comedy group. He helped direct and make the Monty Python films in the 70’s.

Since Monty Python, Gilliam has continued to make films that have a surreal fantasy aesthetic. Just as animation, there’re no limits to the visual aspects of his films. Because of his visual style, Gilliam almost made the leap into comic book films with “Watchmen” (2009).

Notable films:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Brazil (1985)
Time Bandits (1981)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)


2. Ken Loach

In 1939 Loach was born in Warwickshire. He studied law at Oxford. In the 1960s he began working in television. He joined the British New Wave with his first feature “Poor Cow” in 1967. Steven Soderbergh later used clips of “Poor Cow” in the 1999 film “The Limey”.

In 1977 Loach turned down an OBE saying: “It’s all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest. I turned down the OBE because it’s not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it.”

Although a fellow at the BFI (British film institute) in recognition of outstanding contribution to film and TV culture, Loach has turned down several film awards for ethical reasons. He paid part of, activist, Julian Assange’s bail and condemned the detention of Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mehdi Puuromossa. In 2013 he founded the political party “Left Unity”. The party has yet to hold a seat. They are a socialist party against capitalism.

This very outspoken director has been criticised for boycotting the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2009 for showing an Israeli film to show his support for Palestine but failed to cause a fuss when Cannes shows his films along with Israeli films. Right or wrong he wants to help and continues to speak his mind publicly and in his films which deal with social issues. One film with a social message that inspired him greatly was “Bicycle Thieves” (1948).

Notable Films:
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
Kes (1969)
Sweet Sixteen (2002)
Riff-Raff (1991)
Angels’ Share (2012)


1. Mike Leigh

In 1943 during world war two, Leigh was born in the London home county of Hertfordshire. His father was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, which led the Jewish family to Hertfordshire to do their part and help bring down the Axis. After the war the family moved back to Salford.

In the 1960s Leigh won a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and then went on to hone his skills at East 15 Acting School in Essex where he met his wife Alison Steadman whom went on to act in several of his films. Whilst continuing his education in other colleges he thought negatively of the RADA.

He gained his start making television plays and theatre. With a few short films such as “Short and Curlies” (1987), he jumped into the world of feature films with “High Hopes” (1988) and later was granted an OBE. In 2001 he divorced from his partner Alison.

As a director with acting training, he utilises improvisation. His films are black comedy dramas. Leigh takes inspiration from such directors as Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini and Yasujiro Ozu.

Notable Films:
Vera Drake (2004)
Secrets & Lies (1996)
Mr. Turner (2014)
Life is Sweet (1990)
Naked (1993)

Author Bio: The international filmmaker, Anthony Crossland was born 24th November 1989 in Watford, UK and holds duel citizenship with the U.S.A. In 2012 Anthony graduated from Full sail university with a degree in film studies and has since gone on to work in the film and television industry.