Saturday, August 30, 2008

Britain's Best Social Observational Films

Still owing to Q magazine's quest for the unlikeliest list, here's the ultimate roll of honour of the best British movies that brought realism and social observation to the big screen.

Letter to Brezhnev (1984)
Directed by Chris Bernard. With Alexandra Pigg, Margi Clarke
Imagine how crap Liverpool was in the 1980s that Teresa (Margo) begs the authorities for a visa for entry into the Soviet Union. Her dream is to find the Russian sailor she met during his passing trip to Liverpool. Hence an unlikely letter to the other side of the iron curtain. But will Brezhnev help?

It's a Free World (2007)
Directed by Ken Loach. With Kierston Wareing.
Imagine a film-director successfully tackling head-on the bane of our time, labour casualisation, illegal immigration and the dramatic effects on the working class. Ken Loach did it and what a superb one he pulled off.

East is East (1999)
Directed by Damien O'Donnell. With Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry.
Hilarious and dramatic in one go, this caused a right stir when it came out. Set in 1971's Salford, it's the story of fish-and-chip shop owner George Khan expecting his family to follow his strict Pakistani Muslim ways. But with his kids born and brought up in Britain, it turns out a bit more complicated than expected. Plenty of funny vignettes. Includes the classic line "wash your bastard curtains, you dirty cow".

A Taste of Honey (1961)
Directed by Tony Richardson. With Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens
Big screen adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's play, it's the epitome of 60's English kitchen-sink drama and an almost revolutionary one for its time. The story of Jo, a reclusive 17-year-old girl smothered by her domineering, alcoholic mother, her unexpected pregnancy and her friendship with Geoffrey, a shy and lonely homosexual. Half of The Smiths' early lyrics include a nod and a wink at this amazing drama.

My Beautiful Launderette (1985)
Directed by Stephen Frears. With Saeed Jaffrey, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Entrepreneurial ambition, class envy, mistresses, racism and homosexual politics are an explosive mix any time, any place. In 1980s' England? You're not kidding.

Raining Stones (1993)
Directed by Ken Loach. With Bruce Jones, Julie Brown, Gemma Phoenix. This is Loach at his finest. Set in Major-era depressed Lancashire, it bravely depicts the typical dynamics of the British underworld around a story of social deprivation, petty crime and debt. Gritty realism like the Americans can only dream of.

The Last Yellow (1999)
Directed by Julian Farino. With Mark Addy, Samantha Morton
Slated by critics, this inspired tale of nerdiness, loneliness and despair put Leicester on the map. It features a mulleted thirty-something compulsive liar and geeky loner Kenny. The pair decide to turn into hitmen to avenge a brutal attack. Cue a National Express trip to London and the result is disarmingly hilarious.

The Full Monty (1997)
Directed by Peter Cattaneo. With Robert Carlysle, Mark Addy
If you say you haven’t seen this one yet then you're telling a porky. The Full Monty epitomises that particular British blend of gloom, clumsiness and great comedy that has become the UK's cinematic trademark. Unemployed steelworkers decide to put on an amateur strip show to make ends meet. An amazing depiction of how entire communities got stamped out by Thatcher's policies.

The Mark of Cain (2006)
Directed by Mark Munden. With Gerard Kearns, Matthew McNulty.
The first British film about the Iraq war, it's a mostly-true story centred on the permanent effects of what two soldiers have seen and done as they return from their tour of duty. Showing how sleepwalking into the army entails more consequences than a game of Command and Conquer.

All or Nothing (2002)
Directed by Mike Leigh. With Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville.
Set in a grim London tower block, it's an extraordinarily ordinary story about family life, emotional ineptitude and everyday drama. A hollow relationship that drags along like a stubborn dog and is kept half-alive by small ordinary events will suddenly be tested by something unexpected and much more serious than daily tiffs.

This is England (2007)
Directed by Shane Meadows. With Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham. Propelling Meadows to the role of the chief storyteller of his generation, it's a faithful take on some of the English youth cultures of the early 80s. A tale of gritty realism set in the North of England in 1983, it shows how the beauty and fraternity of a light-hearted gang is spoilt by the return of an old friend, a psycho now completely in awe of the BNP's ugly far-right rhetoric.

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960)
Directed by Karel Reisz. With Albert Finney
Finney's debut as he plays nasty-piece-of-work Arthur in this impressive take on the changing attitudes of 1960's British working classes. Arctic Monkeys found it inspiring.

Nil By Mouth (1997)
Directed by Gary Oldman. With Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke
This highly acclaimed drama depicts a grimly accurate picture of domestic violence, abuse, alcoholism and denial. Including fantasic interpretations by both Winstone and Burke. With extra marks if you consider it was Oldman's directing debut. Keep those tissues handy.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Hate to rain on your parade Claude, but your insight is flawed - where is the modern day masterpiece of 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too'?
I'm beginning to think that these days you're hardly even having a gang bang, never mind a ball.
;)