10 British Films That Defy Conventions

Film | © Noom Peerapong/Unsplash
Film | © Noom Peerapong/Unsplash
Photo of Bethany Stuart
27 October 2016

Many foreigners base their image of Britain on movies featuring aspects of heritage culture – especially those starring big country houses. In keeping with the spirit of the Northern saying “Where there’s muck, there’s brass”, here are 10 films that don’t display wealth but are rich in other ways.

Tyrannosaur (2011)

A heart-breaking drama directed by Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur brings together a violent alcoholic (Peter Mullan) and a victim of domestic abuse (Olivia Colman). As their stories intertwine, Considine shows how these characters attempt to put their pasts behind them and find a way to heal each other. Colman said, “Tyrannosaur made me face the true brutality of domestic violence”, and noted how the film sheds light on the daily reality of thousands of British men and women.

Festival (2005)

Set during Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Annie Griffin’s cheeky black comedy brings together a cross-section of festival entertainers and others whose private and professional collisions are hilarious. The cast includes Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Selina Cadell, and Lyndsey Marshall.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don’t Look Now, adapted from a Daphne du Maurier short story, depicts a couple’s struggle to come to terms with the recent death of their small daughter. It leads them to Venice and the specter of what is either a murderous dwarf dressed in red or “the return of the repressed.” Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland star in Nicolas Roeg’s psychological mystery, now regarded as one of the greatest British films of all time.

Twin Town (1997)

Kevin Allen’s riotous crime drama Twin Town opens a window into the world of the Welsh–born Lewis brothers, played by real-life siblings Rhys and Llyr Ifans. Raised on a mobile home site, the brothers spend their time stealing cars and taking drugs until the accidental death of their father gives them a purpose. Denied compensation by his employer, they embark on a revenge mission that elicits their capacity for creating chaos.

Secrets & Lies (1996)

Mike Leigh’s Palme d’Or-winning domestic drama focuses on Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a black optometrist searching for her birth mother. She tracks down Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), a working-class white woman, and they strike up an uneasy friendship. Plagued by decades worth of shame, Cynthia struggles to come to terms with the truth about her past. Timothy Spall and Phyllis Logan co-star in a film that confronts directly the difficulties even ordinary people have overcoming class and racial prejudices.

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

Robert Hamer is best known for directing Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), but among the films he made before that opulent black comedy was It Always Rains on Sunday. Set in the East End of London, where the locals are scarred by deprivation and the effects of the Blitz, the film augured the realist “kitchen sink” dramas of the early 1960s. It depicts the unraveling of a robust housewife (Googie Withers) upon the return of her ex-lover (John McCallum) following his jailbreak. The burden of hiding him leads her to attempt suicide, proving love can do more damage than a bombing raid.

Radio On (1979)

A rare British existential road movie, much of it set on the M4 motorway, Christopher Petit’s moody Radio On depicts the London-to-Bristol journey of a disc jockey (David Beames) who’s trying to find out why his brother committed suicide. Petit was hugely influenced by Wim Wenders’ road trilogy – Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road – and hired the German director’s frequent collaborator Martin Schäffer as his cinematographer. Kraftwerk, Devo, and David Bowie contributed to the soundtrack. Sting and Sandy Ratcliff (from Ken Loach’s Family Life) make memorable appearances.

Local Hero (1983)

Bill Forsyth’s beloved “fish-out-of-water” comedy-drama takes slick American executive “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) and plonks him in (fictional) Ferness on Scotland’s West Coast. His mission is to buy up the quaint village for his oil tycoon boss (Burt Lancaster), who wants to build a refinery there. Mac become increasingly conflicted as he grows to understand and love the ways of the inhabitants. Fulton Mackay, Denis Lawson, Jenny Seagrove, Peter Capaldi, and a famous red telephone box co-star.

In The Loop (2009)

Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop was sired by his caustic BBC 2 political satire The Thick of It. On the eve of a war in the Middle East, the British Minister for International Development (Tom Hollander) comments that such a development is “unforeseeable”, causing a delicately built house of cards to collapse. Peter Capaldi (much milder in Local Hero) plays Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s vituperative Director of Communications. James Gandolfini, Gina McKee, and Chris Addison co-star.

All or Nothing (2002)

Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing casts a harsh light on the reality of contemporary London life. Following the lives of three working-class families, the film touches on such issues as alcoholism, obesity, unemployment, and poverty. The cast includes Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Sally Hawkins, Ruth Sheen, Marion Bailey, Sam Kelly, and James Corden. The message is this: No matter how bad things get, there’s always hope if we’re willing to try to improve our circumstances.

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