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The 8 Best British Films Ever

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Just when you thought you had your British accent down to a science, “Game of Thrones” gets canceled. Now you’re left with nothing to watch and a vaguely European inflection to your voice. What’s an Anglophile to do? 

Never fear, there is life after “Game of Thrones” and there was life before it. And in that life, there were plenty of other British actors with a lot of British accents to copy. You just need to find them. Luckily, we can help you out. Here is a list of some of the best British movies of all time, so you can brush up on your accent and your sense of irony at the same time. Put on your fascinator and enjoy.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. I fart in your general direction.” A “yo mama joke” in the times of King Arthur? That’s the genius of Monty Python. The ability to take something as holy as the grail itself and make it silly, immature, irreverent and satirical.

What better place for a setting for a dark comedy than the Dark Ages itself? In “The Holy Grail,” It’s 932 AD and King Arthur and his squire Patsy are traveling through Britain looking for Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.  They come up with Sir Belvedere the Wise, Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Galahad the Pure, Sir Robin the Not-So-Brave as Sir Lancelot, and Sir Not-Appearing in this film. Arthur, deciding three out of five ain’t bad, sets off to find Camelot and, after an impromptu musical performance, decides that Camelot is a silly place and that he and his motley crew would be better off searching elsewhere.  Luckily, God appears in the form of HG Wells, (and really who better of an image for man to be created in?) and assigns Arthur the task of finding the Holy Grail. Otherwise, there might not have been much of a movie.

However, there was much of a movie, and much of a movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”  is. What follows next is wild romp through swamps, Bridges of Death, rude French guards  ( you don’t frighten us, you English pig dogs, I blow my nose at you”), killer Giant Rabbits, a modern-day police investigation, castles of Aargh, Holy hand grenades, and some very politically incorrect scenes along the way. The beauty of Monty Python, it cares more about political incorrectness than political correctness. Watch it and prepare to be offended. 

Four Weddings and A Funeral (1994)

In true Brit form, not even romantic comedies can be totally without a slight bit of cynicism. Luckily for us Americans, the weddings in this movie far outnumber the funerals, which is no doubt part of the reason it became the highest grossing British film of all times. Another part might just be the ridiculously gorgeous cast with all those sexy English accents.

As the name would suggest, “Four Weddings and A Funeral” is the story of four weddings and a funeral.  Charles (Hugh Grant) and American Carrie (Andie MacDowell) meet at the first wedding.  Judging from their chemistry, it’s a safe bet that these two are going to be the walking down the aisle in second, third or fourth. Carrie jokingly demands that he propose to her on the spot, saying that they may have missed “a great opportunity” and then returns to America.

The bride and groom of the second wedding are friends of both Carrie’s and Charles’ and the two cross paths again. This time, Carrie’s not alone. Apparently, Carrie wasn’t joking when she said Charles missed a great opportunity. Now she’s with Hamish (Corin Redgrave), and the next wedding is theirs. But the fourth wedding is Charles’ and the movie ends with a punch- line you’ll never see coming.

Trainspotting (1996)

In the movie “Trainspotting,” your friends are your friends ’til the bitter end, the only problem is that, when you’re addicted to drugs, that end isn’t far away, and chances are, when it happens, your friends won’t be anywhere in sight.

Meet the “Trainspotting” crew.  There’s Renton, (Ewan MacGregor), who begins the movie by closing his eyes, turning his nose, and plunging his hand into one of the “dirtiest toilets in Scotland” in search of mislaid drugs. There’s Spud, who gives a stellar example of what not to do on a job interview, Sickboy, who engages in blackmail schemes with his Bulgarian girlfriend in his spare time, and Begbie, who attacks his lawyer after being denied parole. The group united by their addiction to heroin, run together in Edinburgh, sleeping in squats, bars, and flats of girls they meet at night clubs; there are assorted girlfriends and even a baby in the movie, but it is clear that they are in no way settled.

In “Trainspotting,” the use of drugs is nowhere near recreational. For these guys, drugs are a way of life. The film paints a stark comparison between the discomfort involved in the daily life of a drug user and the comfort he derives from the camaraderie of his friends. Not an anti-drug message, not a pro-drug message, just an accurate depiction.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Got milk? In Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” Alex (Malcolm MacDowell) and his “droogs’ have plenty of it, but it isn’t the kind you dip your Oreos into. “Clockwork Orange” takes place in a near future British dystopia where Alex DeLarge and group of “droogs” spend their nights drinking drug-laden milk and practicing “ultra-violence.” The viewers first get a taste of this “stylish” form of savagery when Alex delivers a crippling beating to a writer F. Alexander perfectly choreographed to “Singing in the Rain.”

However, Alex’s deeds do not go unpunished, and the punishment does almost fit the crime. After receiving a 14-year prison sentence, Alex takes a plea deal to serve as “guinea pig” in an experimental aversion therapy for rehabilitating criminals, Part of this therapy involves a hard to watch  scene in which  Alex is strapped to a chair with his eyes clamped open and forced to watch explicitly sexual and violent films to a soundtrack by Ludwig Von Beethoven.

Does Alex become a good boy? Yes.  He is released into society as a person incapable of committing a crime.  Is he better this way? That’s for you to judge. “Clockwork Orange” is not as much about teaching lessons as it is about challenging conventions about free will, good vs. evil, and morality. 

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)

A simple list of characters, or a set up for a movie involving scandal, cuckoldry, sex, and food?  In this restaurant-centered movie, revenge is a dish served cold, and there’s no one to serve it up quite like Helen Mirren as Georgina: “The Wife.”

The thief, Albert Spica, ( Michael Gambon) is the type that a mother would find hard to love. Every night, he presides over his gluttonously delightful restaurant with his cronies, hitmen, martyr-like wife (Mirren), and an astonishing sense of entitlement, making animal noises, berating his cook and offending his patrons in general. At another table sits book store owner and regular patron, Michael (Alan Howard). His attention to his books has distracted him from Albert’s antics, but that doesn’t stop him from escaping the attention of Georgina. Soon the two are doing the dirty in every corner of the restaurant, toilet stalls and meat locker included.

When Albert learns of the affair, his reaction is not one of a very well-adjusted person. He orders his men to shove a book on the French Revolution down Michael’s throat page by page using a spindle. Think that’s stomach turning? Just wait to see what Georgina does as payback.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire raises a lot of interesting questions. One being whether a man can be arrested for cheating on a game show, and another being who was the Third Musketeer? The first answer is yes – when you’re a poor boy from a slum in Mumbai – and the second is the answer that won that poor boy from the slum 200 million rupees (approximately $436,000 at the time). Aramis- in case you’re wondering.

Jai-Ho means “Let there be victory” which is exactly what “Slumdog Millionaire” is. Not only is it a victory as a movie, but it also tells the story of one.  This is the tale of an orphan whose cunning   takes him from the poverty-stricken streets of Mumbai to the improbable hot seat on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Jamel’s (Dev Patel) life until his 20’s is shown intercut with scenes of him as a  contestant on the popular game show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.” While he supplies the correct answer to question after question on the show becoming a national hero, he doesn’t supply the information on how he knows these answers. It’s only revealed when the security staff on the show accuse him of cheating and beat it out of him.

That’s when we learn of how a boy born into devastating circumstances managed to improvise his way through life. He’s survived on his intelligence, memorizing all the facts that he’s learned, which he is now about to spit back to a national TV host.  A petty thief, an imposter and most of all a survivor, Jamel wins our hearts and a lot of rupees while he’s at it. Jai-Ho? You bet.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

In “Shaun of the Dead” the question is not so much of “What would happen if there was a zombie apocalypse, but, “What would happen if there was a zombie apocalypse and you were too drunk to notice?” Shaun (played by Simon Pegg) doesn’t seem too aware of a lot of things in life. One that you don’t suggest taking your girlfriend out to your favorite pub after not being able to get dinner reservations, and another that there are greater ambitions in life than working at an electronics store. He’s also not aware that the streets are crawling with zombies, which is not that strange considering that he’s usually crawling home from the pub – or simply too hungover to focus properly.

Eventually, Shaun gets wise to the zombies and his girl wises up and breaks up with him. That leaves Shaun and his similarly unmotivated buddy Ed (Nick Frost) to wait out the crisis in their beloved watering hole bopping zombies over the head with cricket bats. The plan is to rescue his now ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and her mom (Penelope Wilton), and get them back to the bar to live (whether it’s happily or after or not, we’ll have to wait to find out). Sometimes, it takes a zombie apocalypse to make you see the bigger picture.

A Hard Days’ Night (1964)

Apparently, when you’re a Beatle, everyone wants a piece of you, and that’s not just a strand of hair or a ripped necktie. Its 1964 and Beatlemania is in full swing. The Fab Four are looking to relax, but they can’t seem to escape from the hordes of fans or the antics of Paul’s naughty grandfather.

Ringo goes searching for liberation, only to find himself arrested for loitering. John becomes engaged in a conversation with a woman who recognizes him as famous but can’t recall who he is.  George is mistaken for a trendy actor auditioning for a trendsetting TV show by and equally trendsetting hostess, and Paul’s got his slot playing grandad to worry about. 

But for the Beatles, it’s okay as long as there’s a song to be sung, and in this film, there seems to be no shortage. No matter what this film is about, its most definitely about the Beatles. Watch it, sing along with it, and enjoy it. That’s what the Beatles would have wanted.



Victoria Santalesa

About

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Victoria played guitar in a punk band with her twin sister before moving to LA to seek fame and fortune. She now lives in West Hollywood with her husband, tutors children and writes blogs whenever she can.


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