• 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
    In my recommendation of Treasure Island, I described how and why Disney started making live-action family films after the war. One of the studio’s greatest films of this period is a dramatic, well-mounted adaptation of Jules Verne’s steampunk classic: 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The story opens with sailing vessels being destroyed in […]
  • 49th Parallel
    Calling a movie “propaganda” is usually an insult. But making quality propaganda is a skill, and one well worth deploying when you are fighting the Nazis. In 1941, the British War Ministry approached Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for support of the then-failing war effort. Wanting to tempt the neutral U.S. into the fight, […]
  • A Hard Day’s Night
    The beloved film critic Roger Ebert maintained that what we now remember as the “the 1960s” may actually have started in 1964, as the magnificent sound of George Harrison’s new 12-string guitar opened A Hard Day’s Night. At the time, it had every promise of being a forgettable flick: low budget, quickly made, unknown […]
  • A Matter of Life and Death
    Many film buffs love to rank order films in best ever lists, straining and debating to argue which is #4 versus #3 or #7. I do not put myself through that agony, but am comfortable with more fungible judgments. In that spirit, I am quite sure than any creditable list of the ten best […]
  • Brief Encounter
    Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. Elsewhere I recommended In Which We Serve, the first collaboration between Noël Coward and David Lean. As their partnership evolved, Coward ceded full directorial control to Lean and the two men made a series of films (now available as a boxed […]
  • Brighton Rock
    The 2010 remake of Brighton Rock got mixed reviews, so I recommend discovering instead the 1947 original, which is both a fine character study and a solid piece of British film noir. Made just after the war by the Boulton Brothers, this story of razor-wielding gangsters was considered shocking in its day. Though a […]
  • Callan: The Richmond Files
    Many Americans know Edward Woodward only as The Equalizer from television, but his career started long before that. Woodward was an extraordinarily gifted actor who was equally comfortable with classic Shakespeare plays, light comedies and grim dramas. Unlike some stage-trained actors, his dramatic skills didn’t wane when he made the move first to television […]
  • Chariots of Fire
    Some Best Picture Oscar winner selections are immediately recognized as mistakes by discerning viewers (American Beauty, Crash, Forrest Gump, Gladiator), others seem plausible contemporaneously but the bloom fades from their rose over time (Around the World in 80 Days, Dances with Wolves, Gigi). What a pleasure and a relief it is to revisit a […]
  • Charlie Muffin
    Charlie Muffin is a terrific British spy movie scarcely remembered in the UK and even less so elsewhere, which is a rotten shame. After appearing on UK Television in 1979, it was barely released in the US under the title “A Deadly Game”. If you are among the many people who doesn’t know about […]
  • Curse of the Demon
    Director Jacques Tourneur didn’t make many movies and is largely forgotten today, but he has a cult following of which I am a part. He made horror films such as I Walked with a Zombie, film noirs such as Out of the Past, and films that exist somewhere in between, such as 1957’s suspenseful […]
  • Dear Murderer
    Have you been sleeping with my wife, my dear chap? Yes old man I’m afraid I have been. Cigarette? Thanks awfully. You realize old bean that I’ll have to murder you of course. I’d think very little of you if you didn’t. Care for some Scotch? I have a weakness for Brit movie dialogue […]
  • Defence of the Realm
    David Drury’s thriller Defence of the Realm is a taut British conspiracy tale set on Fleet Street. This 1986 film embodies the left-wing paranoia of the Thatcher years, with its deep scepticism of nuclear weapons, the US-British alliance, and grey men in dark suits secretly controlling society from their Whitehall back offices and private […]
  • Forgotten Draculas **Triple Feature**
    Other perhaps than The Bible and The Sherlock Holmes stories, no book has inspired as many movies as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Everyone knows the famous Bela Lugosi version, but few people are aware of the versions I am recommending here. Count Dracula was broadcast on BBC in 1977, and is perhaps closer to the […]
  • Get Carter
    How appealing an actor is Sir Michael Caine? Put it this way: While watching him play Colonel Steiner in The Eagle Has Landed, a lot of otherwise sensible film goers find themselves rooting for the Nazis. In the classic 1971 Brit gangster film, Caine’s likability and magnetism are in full flower, as he somehow […]
  • Great Expectations
    The great director Sir David Lean is remembered mainly for lushly coloured 70mm epics with big international casts, sweeping stories and long running times (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago). But he had a fine career before those triumphs during which he made tightly constructed […]
  • Green for Danger
    If Lt. Columbo had been Scottish, he would have born a strong resemblance to Inspector Cockrill, as wonderfully played by Alastair Sim in 1946’s Green for Danger. In the film role that helped make him a huge star, Sim perfectly essays the role of the dowdy looking, socially clumsy police detective who has a […]
  • Hell Drivers
    Having recommended the movie that gave Stanley Baker his first break (The Cruel Sea) and one he produced and starred in once established (Robbery), let me fill in the middle by recommending the thrilling film that made him a star in 1957: Hell Drivers. The plot is agreeably simple. Baker plays Tom Yately, a […]
  • House of Cards
    After a gold-plated bollocking by Margaret Thatcher, political advisor Michael Dobbs had more than a few drinks and scribbled down two letters: F.U.. That experience planted the seeds of what became his acclaimed political novel about vile British politician Francis Urquhart, which was later adapted by BBC television: 1990’s House of Cards. Andrew Davies’ […]
  • I’m All Right Jack
    The hit British comedies of the 1950s and 1960s don’t age consistently well. Just about everything from Ealing Studios holds up today, but outside of that, it’s hit or miss. I don’t doubt that the The Knack…and How to Get it and the comedy-drama Billy Liar made audiences roar with laughter at the time […]
  • In Which We Serve
    Pour yourself a small gin or a nice cup a tea, stiffen your upper lip, turn off the wireless (radio, that is) and watch one of the best films ever released in a time of war: 1942’s In Which We Serve. Made almost single-handed by Noël Coward (with some directorial assistance from the legendary […]
  • It Always Rains on Sunday
    There’s a special joy that comes when you watch an old movie with no preconceptions because you’ve never heard of it and come away loving it. That’s the lucky experience I had some years ago with It Always Rains on Sunday. A big hit for Ealing Studios in 1947, it was forgotten in the […]
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
    It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms. Black comedy is the only genre of film that rivals my affection for film noir, which helps explain why my favorite of the thousands of movies I’ve seen is Dr. Strangelove. But if I […]
  • Last Orders
    How many movies have featured a group of old friends coming together and reflecting on their lives because one of their circle has died (e.g., The Big Chill, Husbands)? And how many times have Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Bob Hoskins, and David Hemmings portrayed British blokes like themselves who weren’t born with a silver […]
  • Layer Cake
    Let’s get meta: That’s Sir Michael Gambon sitting in the very chair where I wrote this recommendation of the film in which he and it appear: Matthew Vaughn’s stylish and hard-edged Layer Cake. Gambon plays wily drug kingpin Eddie Temple in one of the great British gangster films (which is saying something, they have […]
  • Local Hero
    Following the success of his low-budget films That Sinking Feeling and Gregory’s Girl, Scottish film maker Bill Forsyth had the adjective “quirky” hung on him by critics, and it stuck. But there’s a nicer way to describe this talented writer-director’s output: Sweet, original and offbeat. For me, no film in Forsyth’s career better illustrates […]
  • Masque of the Red Death
    Low budget film genius Roger Corman once said the two films he was proudest of were The Intruder (a searing film about racism and civil rights which I recommended here) and the superb horror movie Masque of the Red Death. Corman had been enchanted by Edgar Allen Poe stories since reading The Fall of […]
  • Night of the Eagle
    Fritz Leiber Jr. was a talented fantasy, science fiction and horror writer who is mainly remembered for the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books, which surprisingly have never been adapted for the cinema. In contrast, Leiber’s Conjure Wife has served as the basis of multiple movies, including the fine 1962 film Night of the […]
  • Night Train to Munich
    I love The Lady Vanishes, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic tale of suspense and romance. If you share my affection, you’d do well to watch a quasi-sequel made without The Master, who had by then decamped to Hollywood: 1940’s Night Train to Munich. Released two years after The Lady Vanishes, the film features the same female […]
  • Obsession
    In my recommendation of Dear Murderer, I described my fondness forBritish films in which brutal people say awful things with perfect manners and diction. Another fine example of the “Terribly sorry old chap, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you” school of Brit Noir is 1949’s Obsession. Like Dear Murderer, the […]
  • Passport to Pimlico
    Ealing Studios produced a broad range of films in its first decade and a half of existence, including a number of respected documentaries as well as the classic horror film Dead of Night and the trendsetting “kitchen sink noir” It Always Rains on Sunday (my recommendation here). But it’s the marvelous comedies Ealing made […]
  • Peter’s Friends
    One of my favorite Christmas movies is Kenneth Branagh’s Peter’s Friends. Sometimes glibly dismissed as a “British knockoff of The Big Chill” this 1992 movie is in fact superior in most respects to that film (which not incidentally was itself based on a better, little seen movie, The Return of the Seacaucus Seven). The […]
  • Porterhouse Blue
    If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, think how much harm a lot of it could do. That’s the animating spirit of the academically-challenged but gastronomically-unmatched Cambridge college of Porterhouse, as portrayed in 1987’s Porterhouse Blue. Based on Tom Sharpe’s satirical novel of the same name, this television mini-series centers on the longest-serving […]
  • Pygmalion
    It’s a fun bit of trivia that George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have won a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award. He secured the latter for a truly brilliant adaptation of his own stage play: 1938’s Pygmalion. The plot: Eliza Doolittle is a poor Covent Garden flower girl (Wendy […]
  • School for Scoundrels
    As an ex-academic, BBC comedy writer, and member of The Savile Club, Stephen Potter had ample opportunity to observe all the ways British culture provided to “win without cheating”: the perfectly timed cough when your golf opponent is about to tee off, the lightly dismissive remark that flusters a fellow diner in the midst […]
  • Scrooge
    Scrooge is deservedly a beloved Christmas movie. Like the not dissimilar It’s a Wonderful Life, it came by its standing as a beloved film democratically: Long after it was released generations of people fell in love with it on television. And with very good reason. The heart of this film is Alastair Sim, whose […]
  • Seance on a Wet Afternoon
    Most movies fit into particular genres, with plots that in at least some respects are recycled. There is nothing inherently wrong with this: The same thing could after all be said of almost all of Shakespeare’s plays. But just as The Tempest is refreshing because of its novelty, so too are films with unique […]
  • Seven Days to Noon
    I make no secret of my disdain for flabby filmmaking. Many modern movies (e.g., almost every superhero movie of recent years) would be significantly better with a merciless edit of tiresome exposition, distracting subplots, saggy scenes, wordy dialogue, soulless CGI, and other forms of artistic bloat. I can hear the whines already “But I […]
  • The 39 Steps
    Alfred Hitchcock had a successful directing career in Britain that preceded his American super-stardom. Hitchcock fans rightfully consider the 1935 comedy-romance-thriller The 39 Steps among the very best works of the Master’s “British period”. Robert Donat cuts a dash as Mr. Hannay, the hero of the film, who tries to save England from the […]
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    Beginning with a Mutoscope adaptation made in 1900, Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most oft-portrayed roles in world cinema. Among the most handsome of the countless movie productions featuring the world’s greatest consulting detective were made by 20th Century Fox in 1939. The first of these was the excellent Hound of the […]
  • The Blue Carbuncle
    Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all, that children call, their favorite time of year! Mine too, not least because there are so many enjoyable Christmas films to recommend, including an episode from Granada Television’s justly revered Sherlock Holmes series: The Blue Carbuncle. Eccentric, unstable, dashing Jeremy Brett, whose acting (as […]
  • The Charmer
    The movies have been good to British novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962), who might otherwise not be remembered at all even though he produced some good work and claimed some significant admirers before depression and heavy drinking dissipated his gifts. Hitchcock’s Rope, two versions of Gaslight, and Hangover Square all remain eminently watchable […]
  • The Cruel Sea
    To compliment my recommendation of The Long Arm, let me endorse an even better film featuring the wonderful Jack Hawkins. In the high point of his career as a star (although he would go on to have a great career as a character actor in upmarket productions such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, and […]
  • The Damned United
    I’ve only been to a few English football matches in my life, and like most people who didn’t grow up with it, I don’t find it as engaging as do the locals. Yet one of my all-time favorite sports movies is about English football, which is a testament to the skills of everyone involved […]
  • The Deadly Affair
    Alec Guinness so inhabited the role of John le Carré’s master spy George Smiley that even the author said he could no longer think of one without the other. But Guinness was not the only fine actor to essay the role. James Mason also had his turn, even though for copyright reasons the character […]
  • The Devil Rides Out
    If you have a chance to make a deal with Satan, you might consider asking for Dennis Wheatley’s book sales and film royalties. Among Wheatley’s many best sellers were a series of thrillers featuring the Duke de Richleau and his three loyal friends Simon Aaron, Rex Van Ryn, and Richard Eaton (Wheatley loosely modelled […]
  • The Frightened City
    In nearly a century on this earth, Herbert Lom had a long and varied acting career. Born in Prague under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he achieved screen immortality as the Chief Inspector whom Clouseau slowly drives mad in the Pink Panther films. But before that did excellent work in many high-quality films, most of which […]
  • The Hill
    Sidney Lumet’s brutal, gripping 1965 movie The Hill opens with a solitary figure laboring up the man-made torture device that gives the film its title. In one of Oswald Morris’ many mesmerizing crane shots, the man collapses in the North African heat and then the camera begins to move slowly away, off into the […]
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
    Hound of the Baskervilles has a special place in The Sherlock Holmes canon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s story is substantially longer than the typical Holmes outing, allowing him to weave two distinct mystery tales together. It’s also remarkable for putting Watson at center stage for a significant part of the book, allowing the sidekick a […]
  • The Innocents
    Many an eerie film has been described as a “spine-tingling” experience, but few live up to that description literally for most cineastes. The movie that did that to me more than any other, giving me physical shivers like a bucket of ice down my back, is The Innocents. Producer/Director Richard Clayton’s 1961 art house […]
  • The Lady Vanishes
    As the British phase of his magnificent career was winding down, Alfred Hitchcock turned in a film as entertaining as anything he would make in America: 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. For the first 25 minutes, the movie is a light-hearted romantic comedy featuring an utterly charming Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave as, respectively, a […]
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
    Have you ever seen a movie that stuck in your head for reasons you couldn’t fully explain? A film that you eventually realized had a much bigger impact on you than it seemed to when you were sitting in the theater? That was my experience of 1943’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. […]
  • The Lodger **Double Feature**
    I had long wanted to experience Alfred Hitchcock’s first foray into suspense, 1927’s The Lodger (sometimes subtitled “A Story of the London Fog”), but could never get through the film because the available prints were so beat up as to make it virtually unwatchable. To the rescue came British Film Institute, which despite the […]
  • The Long Arm
    If The Long Arm had been one of the films pitched to producers in Robert Altman’s superb film The Player, the pitcher would have said “It’s ‘Father Knows Best’ meets ‘Dragnet’! In London! And we’ll get that British guy to star, you know, uh, what’s-his-name!”. That ‘British guy’ in this case, would be Jack […]
  • The Long Good Friday
    British film director John “Frenzy” Mackenzie directed another of my recommendations, Unman, Wittering and Zigo, but will be best remembered for the thrilling, brutal gangster classic, The Long Good Friday. Many American viewers struggle with the opening scenes of this 1980 film because the slang comes fast and some of the Cockney accents are […]
  • The Offence
    The James Bond films made Sean Connery an international superstar, but presented him few challenges as an actor. In the midst of Bondmania, desperate to avoid typecasting and to take on more substantial roles, Connery began collaborating with Director Sidney Lumet. This resulted in one financially successful and entertaining film (The Anderson Tapes), but […]
  • The Ruling Class
    I stand outside myself, watching myself watching myself. I smile, I smile, I smile. It takes courage to make a movie that defies all conventions and challenges the audience. Sometimes, indeed most of the time, the filmmakers fall on their faces. But every once in awhile a group of wildly innovative iconoclasts create something […]
  • The Sandbaggers
    Britain has long managed to turn out espionage films at all points along the dimension that has escapist fare like James Bond and The Avengers at one pole and grey-shaded, unglamorous, works like Smiley’s People at the other. I can enjoy the fantasies as much as the next moviegoer, but the Brit spy films […]
  • The Scarlet Claw
    Of the many film series of the 1930s and 1940s, Sherlock Holmes stood out both for its watchability and its unusual provenance. It was launched at 20th Century Fox in 1939 as a high-end period production. But after two very strong films, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (my […]
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
    Leslie Howard was a multi-talented actor/director/producer as well as a true patriot who was taken from us too soon in 1943 when he was murdered along with 16 other defenseless people by the German Luftwaffe. Can a film star be so appealing that the audience will root for a die-hard one-percenter who is battling […]
  • The Shooting Party
    I have a weakness for British art that echoes French art, such as Anthony Powell’s Proust-esque Dance to the Music of Time. In a similar vein, allow me to recommend a British film that recalls Renoir’s Rules of the Game: 1985’s The Shooting Party. The plot: Not long before The Great War will descend […]
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
    What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. So says […]
  • The Stars Look Down
    The last remaining British coal mine recently closed, bringing a way of life to an end. My Welsh ancestors were among those who worked in this industry, giving movies about life in the pit a special power for me. The movie about British mining towns that Americans are most likely to recall is the […]
  • The White Knight Stratagem
    The White Knight Stratagem was the final episode of a handsomely produced 2000-2001 British television series that re-imagined the Sherlock Holmes stories. The protagonist of the Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes series was Arthur Conan Doyle (center of photo above) who learns the methods of Professor Joseph Bell (far right) as they […]
  • They Made Me a Fugitive
    Despite the end of the war, food, clothing and other essentials were rationed in Britain throughout the late 1940s, a policy so hated that it ultimately lead the voters to dump Atlee’s Labour government. Because post-war rationing was not seen as legitimate, many otherwise law-abiding people began buying goods on the black market. The […]
  • They Shall Not Grow Old
    Americans understandably think of World War I as a far less severe conflict than World War II. But for most European nations, the slaughter was on a larger scale in The Great War, making the 2018 Armistice centennial a major cultural and historical event. The British Imperial War Museum’s contribution to the commemoration was […]
  • This is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper
    It’s challenging to make compelling movies about crimes when almost everyone knows the culprit and many of the facts of the case from the beginning. Yet ITV and producer Jeff Pope took the risk in the aughts to make a trilogy of docudrama miniseries about notorious British murders, with great success. The first has […]
  • Time, Gentlemen, Please!
    Due to distribution problems, lost celluloid, legal disputes, or bad luck, some excellent films became inaccessible after their debut and eventually fall through the cracks of almost everyone’s memory. 1952’s almost completely forgotten Time, Gentlemen, Please, which isn’t even mentioned in most of my books about film, is a prime example. There were I […]
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    If I were BBC Director-General, and had been granted only 24 broadcast hours to make the case to the nation and its elected officials that my organisation was capable of greatness, I would immediately fill the first 315 minutes of my schedule with 1979’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is what a television mini-series […]
  • Traffik
    I saluted the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy mini-series as the summit of BBC programming. The 1989 mini-series Traffik is in the same league. Most Americans remember Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning adaptation of this series, but far too few have seen the British original, which at just over 5 hours allows much more character and plot […]
  • Treasure Island
    Yarrrrrrrrrr! Movie pirates didn’t have heavy West Country accents before Robert Newton’s famous turn as Long John Silver in the 1950 version of Treasure Island. Disney’s first-ever live action film is aimed squarely at school age boys, but is also pleasant for grown-ups to revisit on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The film’s production values […]
  • Unman, Wittering and Zigo
    I have recommended the film Flirting, in which sadistic masters torment the new students in a boys’ school. I now turn the tables by recommending a film in which a new teacher John Ebony (David Hemmings) and his wife Silvia (Carolyn Seymour) are terrorized by the fifth form from hell. The last three students […]
  • Victim
    The 1957 Wolfenden Report kicked off a decade-long debate in Britain over whether consensual sex between men should be illegal. In that era, British police regularly jailed gay men on charges such as “gross indecency” and “homosexual acts”. Men with economic means and status were rarely among the arrested, but they were soft targets […]
  • Watership Down
    All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed. These words are uttered by an […]
  • Whistle and I’ll Come to You
    In my transatlantic existence, I’ve had many opportunities to observe the differences between British and American culture. One of the smaller ones: only the former have a broadly-shared tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. A Christmas Carol is of course the touchstone of this British pleasure, but it apparently started centuries before Dickens’ […]