Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The British might be coming.

In Mark Kermode’s recent book, The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, he bemoans the UK media’s habit of alternating “British cinema is doomed” pieces with “The British are Coming” celebrations. (We’re not immune to that bi-polar condition here, it …

Fri, Oct 14, 2011, 14:09

   

In Mark Kermode’s recent book, The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, he bemoans the UK media’s habit of alternating “British cinema is doomed” pieces with “The British are Coming” celebrations. (We’re not immune to that bi-polar condition here, it should be said.) The Guardian clearly hasn’t been listening. A piece in today’s paper, noting the acclaim for such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Shame, declares that “British cinema’s golden age is now”. We’ll see, shall we? Give it a week, and they’ll be dragging out the black armbands again.

Nonetheless, UK film watchers can look towards 2012 with a certain degree of optimism. There is a very real possibility that the three biggest films of this year in that territory could (technically at least) all be British: Harry Potter, The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners. Tinker, Tailor will surely register in the top 10 as well. We have, in this place, talked up such promising pictures as Kill List and Tyrannosaur. If the nation’s cinema lurches into a pit next year, expect reports blaming the abolition of the UK Film Council and the poisonous influence of Lizard Cameron and his army of killer monkeys. But Kermode is almost certainly right. That grim chasm in the 1970s aside — the era of On the Buses  – British cinema has careered happily from peak to trough for the last century.

I don’t know. Rather than resulting from any “movement” — like Dogme in Denmark or La Nouvelle Vague in France — the recent surge seems to spin from a series of happy accidents. Tinker, Tailor is directed by a Swede. Kill List comes from a very original independent Essex film-maker. The King’s Speech is made by an established TV director. Gathering those directors together into a wave would be about as difficult as herding pigeons.

Oh well. If you want to ponder the great history of British cinema then we have another stupid list for you. Empire Magazine has just unveiled its 100 Greatest British Films. As ever, it’s only really useful as a diversion to while away the gap between elevensies and lunch. Getting annoyed about such things is no more sensible than getting annoyed about  death or bad weather. Oh bugger that. As the outraged comments below the piece confirm, we all love a good long moan. (Actually, there is one indisputable piece of nonsense. Rebecca is, by no sane measure, a British film. Indeed, puzzlingly, they acknowledge as much in the relevant blurb.)

Here’s the top ten with my own intemperate rants.

1. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Yeah, I suppose so. As Lyndsay Anderson and his crew pointed out, the Lean epics are more than a bit bloated, but Lawrence is so weird it almost strays into the avant garde.

2. MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN

Really? It’s very, very funny, but, surely, it is a series of connected sketches rather than a proper motion picture.

3. THE RED SHOES.

I bow to nobody in my devotion to Lean and Pressburger, but The Red Shoes always seemed a little too, well, in love with stupid ballet. A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus or Colonel Blimp would suit me better in this position.

4. DON’T LOOK NOW

No argument whatsoever. Carry on.

5. BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Okay, it’s very twee. But, to my mind, a better Lean film than Lawrence. No serious arguments.

6. SHAUN OF THE DEAD

Oh, come on! It’s a great film, but better than The Third Man or Kes or Kind Hearts and Coronets? Grow up.

7. KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

No problem here. Well done, chaps.

8. TRAINSPOTTING

I would reluctantly admit that this is a reasonable choice. But I never really got it. “Choose life, choose washing machines” How satirical!

9. LOCAL HERO

Yeah, all right I guess.

10. WITHNAIL & I

I know that its status as a student favourite rather grates. But it has one of the funniest screenplays ever written. No problem here.

Oh fair enough then. Here is a very hastily sketched list of my own top ten British films. Having ultimate power over the “blog”, I allow myself the option to edit it as I suddenly remember missing masterpieces.

1. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

An entirely original kind of spooky.

2. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946)

The Archers in full flow.

3. REPULSION (1965)

But is it a British film? I think so. Just.

4. THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950)

The best Ealing comedy wasn’t actually an Ealing comedy.

5. KES (1969)

I can’t watch the end. I just can’t.

6. DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES (1988)

An entirely fresh voice.

7. THE LADYKILLERS (1955)

Ha ha!

8. THE SERVANT (1963)

Great Pinter script. Looks forward to the almost equally good Performance.

9. WITHNAIL & I (1987)

“Sitting down to enjoy my holiday!”

10. THE 39 STEPS (1935)

Or The Lady Vanishes? No, The 39 Steps, I think.

Darn it. No room for my favourite British documentary. Mind you, I’m not sure Patrick Keiller’s magnificent London is a documentary. Ooo, I think I may have to bump out The 39 Steps.

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