The Top 7 Films About British Artists

Finding Neverland ©Warner Bros | Creative Commons
Finding Neverland ©Warner Bros | Creative Commons
Photo of Mariya Bondareva
30 December 2016

Leading cinematography masters have forever kept an inquisitive eye on the eclectic lives of British Artists, and what they capture often becomes art itself. We have put together a carefully curated list of the best films about a range of creatives hailing from Britain, utilising the interaction between cinema and art to represent their lives and work.

Rivers and Tides (2001) – Andy Goldsworthy

As the sunset hits the camera and lights up the riverbank, British artist Andy Goldsworthy is seen climbing over the stunning Nova Scotia Mountains. Throughout the film, the camera follows Goldsworthy, even though he confesses dislocated feelings when travelling afar. Andy Goldsworthy is an innovative British artist who prefers to collaborate with nature, working ‘outside’ for the temporary but absolutely breathtaking sculptures and installations. For his work the artist only uses objects that Mother Nature provides: splinters of ice, sticks, clay, rocks or other wide-open objects he finds by chance. This documentary portrays not only the artist’s life, but also his contemplations that are both unscripted and ethereal.

Byron (2003) – Lord Byron

‘For the man to become the poet — he must be in love… or miserable’ — once confessed by Lord Byron to his devoted followers. Audiences in the early 19th century were fascinated by the Byronic hero; a character created by the greatest poet of the Romanticism movement, George Gordon Byron. This autobiographical film based on Byron’s life encourages audiences to discover the nature of the passionate crowds who worshipped Byron, but we also learn about the ups and downs of his private life, alongside his travels across Europe. The British drama, directed by Julian Farino, investigates a significant rise of the middle-class public who were able to read and sets a portrait of Lord Byron as an artist pervaded by fame and spiritual pain.

Mr Turner (2014) – J. M. W. Turner

Nominated seven times, Mike Leigh’s biopic masterpiece brings into focus a portrait of the greatest English landscape and seascape painters of all time, J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall’s original role as one of the most controversial founders of Impressionism portrays Turner’s cold and spiteful yet sensitive persona. His private misfortunes grew into an open hurricane; Turner (literally) attacks his canvas hitting it with a brush, grunting and barking in the naturally cantankerous manner of his. Mocking his contemporaries and growling all over the place, Turner, a British artist with undeniable talent, walks through life without shame in a film that has gathered world acclaim and various film awards.

A Painted Life (2012) – Lucian Freud

From his private affairs to the last moments of his life, this documentary is an excellent representation of Lucian Freud as the greatest portraitist of his era. But what impacted the Berlin-born British painter’s vision, and what was a big part of his influences? Throughout the documentary, the audience has the chance to watch Freud working on his last ever portrait, and hear the emotional confessions of his family members. Freud’s early masterpieces are introduced and examined in detail, allowing us to discover where the manner of his paintings comes from. The young Freud always had his own vision, and never liked to do what he was told. Dropping out from a London art school and joining the Royal Navy, the film follows the journey of Freud’s long and creative life.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) – Banksy

This Oscar-nominated documentary, filmed by the elusive Banksy, is about the artist refusing to reveal his true identity but eagerly showing his life behind the scenes. Banksy, a mysterious graffiti artist, has become famous for creating works of art in an anti-authoritarian spirit, combining them with a dark humour and political satire. The film also exposes the man behind the French-born LA-based filmmaker Mr. Brainwash, who is obsessed with his camera and proud to be a devoted friend of Banksy’s. How did they both manage to promote graffiti artworks and make a fortune when selling it out in record prices at their own exhibitions? In this film, Banksy and his contemporaries demonstrate their unarguable stories of success, and it seems dedicated to everybody who believes in an idea of art as a passion stored and shared under the open sky.

Effie Gray (2014) – John Everett Millais

This Pre-Raphaelite charming tale tells a painful story about the young teenage bride Effie Gray, played by Dakota Fanning. Effie — a young prisoner of her wedlock — is involved in a scandalous love triangle between her unloving husband, John Ruskin, and young English painter John Everett Millais. Throughout the film, Effie experiences the thrill of first desire and desperately tries to understand the purpose of love. Emma Thomson’s original plot thickens when Effie breaks the marriage, emancipates her soul and fills her heart with new flourishing feelings towards Millais. Sir Millais, the author of the nation’s favourite Ophelia painting, eventually married Effie Gray in real life.

Finding Neverland (2004) – J. M. Barrie

Finding Neverland portrays ‘the man who was Peter Pan,’ James Matthew Barrie, a Scottish playwright and novelist from the 19th and 20th centuries. Starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and based on real events, this emotional semi-biographical drama opens with the story of a man whose early ideas were rejected by society, but more specifically by the sceptic theatre producer Charles Frohman, played by Dustin Hoffman. Barrie, ‘a lover of childhood,’ meets the family in Kensington Gardens, a widow and her four sons who consequently inspire him to write his greatest literary piece — Peter Pan. The delightful timeless adventure for the whole family combines a powerful storyline, created by the remarkable playwright Barrie, and a little bit of Edwardian magic.

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