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10 Favorite British Movies

10 Favorite British Movies

We all have favorite movies that we’ve watched so many times we can recite chunks of dialog by heart.  I’m sure it’s no surprise that many of my favorites are British, so I thought I would share the list of my top ten favorite British movies.  It’s an eclectic mix of comedies and dramas that have all stood the test of time in my affections.  I’m happy to watch any of these British movies over and over again.

My Fair Lady (1964)

This wonderful Lerner and Loewe musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, fills the screen with infectious songs and a great cast.  Audrey Hepburn sparkles as the spirited Cockney Eliza Doolittle.  Marni Nixon dubbed her singing voice, but it’s hard to detect.  Rex Harrison won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the stuffy, insufferable Henry Higgins.  Altogether, the film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Georgy Girl (1966)

Lynn Redgrave is outstanding as Georgina (Georgy), a young woman struggling with issues of self-esteem and self-discovery, and a strong desire to resist the expectations of her parents and their employer, the wealthy James Leamington (James Mason).  The film juxtaposes the constraints of upper-class English society, epitomized by Leamington, with the Bohemian lifestyle of London’s Swinging Sixties, epitomized by Georgy’s roommate, Meredith (Charlotte Rampling).  I think this is one of the most engaging British movies of the 60s. The catchy title song reached the top ten in both the UK and the US.

To Sir With Love (1967)

Sidney Poitier is outstanding as Mark Thackeray, an unemployed American engineer who takes a job teaching in an East End high school.  He struggles to understand the gritty East End culture and find a way to reach his delinquent students.  Popular 60s actress Suzy Kendall and a young Patricia Routledge (in her pre-Keeping Up Appearances days) co-star as fellow teachers.  As an added treat, Lulu sings “To Sir With Love,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Years before she was Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, Maggie Smith burned up the screen as the passionate, iconoclastic, and ultimately tragic teacher determined to live, teach, and love on her own terms.  Smith gives a flawless performance (she won an Academy Award for Best Actress).  I also love the movie’s portrayal of school life in 1930s Edinburgh.

Educating Rita (1983)

Julie Walters shines in her breakthrough role as Rita, a married hairdresser who chafes at her family’s expectation that she’ll settle down and start popping out babies.  Instead she decides to take an Open University course.  Michael Caine is wonderful as the disillusioned, alcoholic professor who becomes her tutor and unlikely mentor.  Judi Dench’s late husband Michael Williams makes an appearance as a professor who’s having an affair with Caine’s live-in girlfriend.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

John Cleese co-wrote and starred in this hysterical film.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline are thieves trying to figure out where the gang’s leader, George, hid a stash of diamonds before he was arrested.  Cleese plays George’s barrister, who is unwittingly dragged into the search by Curtis.  Michael Palin is hilarious as Ken, George’s loyal, animal-loving sidekick.  The scenes where he attempts to kill the only eyewitness to the heist and ends up killing her dogs instead are comedy classics.

The Full Monty (1997)

The steel mills that were once the life-blood of Sheffield have closed.  A multitude of unemployed steelworkers fritter away their days with little chance of finding gainful employment.  After learning that his ex-wife and her friends are paying good money to see a Chippendales dance review, Gaz (Robert Carlyle) decides to produce his own strip show to get the cash he needs to pay his back child support.  The difference?  The men in his show will go for the “full monty” – full frontal nudity.  Gaz cobbles together a group that includes his best friend, Dave (Mark Addy), and the men struggle to create a show.  It’s got a great soundtrack and a feel-good ending.  One word of warning: the accents and regional slang can be a bit difficult to understand at times.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

When a winning lottery ticket is sold in the sleepy Irish village of Tullymore, Jackie O’Shea and his faithful sidekick Michael O’Sullivan set out to discover who bought it.  It turns out to be Ned Devine, who died of heart failure from the excitement of learning that he’d won.  When Jackie dreams that Ned, who had no family, wants him to have the money, we’re treated to an infectious romp as the entire village helps him claim the prize.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

Eighteen-year-old Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) loves football (that’s soccer to Americans).  Unfortunately, her strict Sikh parents won’t let her play.  A chance encounter with Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley) leads to the offer of a spot on a local team.  Jess agrees to play, but must hide it from her family.  A great script and excellent cast elevate this movie to a firm spot in my top 10.

Love Actually (2003)

Sappy?  Definitely, but this highly engaging movie written and directed by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Mr. Bean, Vicar of Dibley) has earned its place as a Christmas classic.  It tracks ten stories about romantic relationships in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  The stories range from heartrending (Liam Neeson as a newly widowed man coping with loss and single parenthood), to charming (Hugh Grant as a Prime Minister who falls for the tea girl on his first day in office), to the absurd (Kris Marshall as the hapless Colin, who travels to Wisconsin in the firm conviction that his English accent will make him a babe magnet in America).  The all-star cast also includes Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, Martine McCutcheon, and Laura Linney.  You’ll catch more nuances every time you watch it.

 

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