Weekend Roundtable: God Save the Queen!

With the Brexit vote all over the news and July 4th (in which we Yanks celebrate our independence from England) coming up shortly, let’s do something completely unpatriotic and devote this week’s Roundtable to our favorite movies about the United Kingdom.

Ideally, we’d like this topic to focus on movies actually about England or the other member states of the UK, not just those filmed or set there. A movie like ‘Love Actually’ may take place in London, but it could just as easily work in another setting.

Shannon Nutt

My pick for this week’s Roundtable is the engaging ‘London Has Fallen’… Nah, I’m just messing with you. My pick is actually 2006’s ‘The Queen‘, which at face value might appear to be just a movie about the British monarchy’s reaction to the death of Lady Diana, but is actually a much deeper look at the relationship between the monarchy – particularly Queen Elizabeth II (played wonderfully by Helen Mirren in a performance that won her the Best Actress Oscar) – and the citizenship of Great Britain. It’s also the second of three films (all written by Peter Morgan, but the other two were made-for-TV) in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair is played by Michael Sheen. As good as Mirren is in this movie, Sheen may be even better. He shows the growth of a young, newly-in-office Blair as he tries to bridge the gap of discontent between the people and the royals. It’s all presented with humanity and humor, making it one of the best modern-day movies about England.

M. Enois Duarte

Given this week’s topic, it only makes sense to write about one of my recent favorites, the British drama ‘This Is England‘. Set in 1983, the story follows a group of kids from the lower-class suburbs who were heavily into the skinhead subculture before the lifestyle was taken over by white nationalists. The plot is told from the point of view of 12-year-old Shaun, a boy who feels as though he’s found his place in an uncaring world. But trouble starts brewing when his friend Combo returns to the scene after serving a jail sentence, putting Shaun right at the cusp of major changes occurring within the music scene, which then affected the rest of the country. I admire the movie for putting a light on a criminally misunderstood subculture and the lesser known areas of England. I also love Shane Meadows’ drama because I, too, grew up in the punk scene, one that I still love dearly, and it’s great to see it shown on film accurately.

Luke Hickman

The mother of my childhood best friend is British. When we were kids, every other summer they’d head to the UK to spend time with his English relatives. One year, when they returned, they told stories about the train ride through the countryside coming to a halt because the tracks further down the line had been bombed by the IRA. As a young boy, of course, this intrigued me. Who were the IRA and why were they blowing up train tracks? I didn’t understand it at the time, but seeing ‘Patriot Games‘ certainly piqued my interest in that sort of activity. Focusing mostly on a vengeful member of the IRA, ‘Patriot Games’ didn’t paint much of a picture of the group, but it sure sensationalized my skewed view of it.

No offense to the wonderful Jack Ryan series, but the film that more accurately portrayed the social issues surrounding Ireland was the Oscar-nominated Daniel Day-Lewis picture ‘In the Name of the Father‘. It’s not exactly an easy movie to watch, but totally worth it for the high quality, performances and history lesson. It tells the true story of an innocent young man who’s accused of and ultimately forced to confess for an IRA bombing. After more than a decade of imprisonment, he, his father and his friends try to prove their innocence with the help of a British lawyer played by Emma Thompson.

Brian Hoss

A Man for All Seasons‘ could be an easy pick for me as the events involve one of most colorful monarchs in British history, but I used that another recent Roundtable.

I have to go with ‘A Fish Called Wanda‘. Could this movie have been set somewhere else with a similar story? Sure, but the entire character of the move would have been changed. Filmed in 1988, the comedy exudes wit and London flavoring, right down to the comparatively loud American characters. Long before I first visited the UK, before I had access to the BBC or any other number of UK exports, there was this funny London-set film.

Josh Zyber

At the time ‘The Crying Game‘ was released, all of the film’s publicity immediately focused on its big plot twist, which I’m sure everyone knows or has had spoiled by now. While sexuality and personal identity are certainly major themes of the piece, and a less ambitious movie would be content to devote its entire running time to those topics, one of the greatest strengths of ‘The Crying Game’ is that the movie has a lot more on its mind. The film wraps its exploration of gender politics up into a story about national politics as well – specifically the long-running conflict between England and Northern Ireland. The way it does this is a masterful exercise in screenwriting. Not a single word or action in the tightly-plotted script is unessential. How is this movie not available on Blu-ray yet?

What are some of your favorite movies about England or the UK? We haven’t even touched on Mike Leigh or Ken Loach yet.

The blog will take Monday off for the holiday. We’ll see you back here on Tuesday.


  1. NJScorpio

    I enjoy post-apocalyptic movies that take place in or around London. It is fairly common to find these; Britain is well suited for the stoic “stay strong and carry on” role. For me, those include (but are not limited to): ‘Reign of Fire’, ’28 Days Later’, ’28 Weeks Later’, “Doomsday’, and ‘The World’s End’.

  2. Thulsadoom

    I’m going to go for A Matter of Life and Death, with David Niven and Kim Hunter (it was known in America as Stairway to Heaven). Can’t say too much about it, without giving the plot away, but for anyone who’s not seen it, you need to watch it! 😀

      • Shannon Nutt

        Ooh…The King’s Speech is a good pick – totally forgot about that movie (how does one forget an Oscar winner?).

    • EM

      I think one can say, without being spoilerish, that A Matter of Life and Death was intended as, among other things, propaganda promoting coöperation and friendship between England/Britain and America. Although the intermingling of nationalities is present throughout the film, it’s only in the final act that it becomes a significant plot point. Perhaps my favorite bit concerning that issue is the comparison of radio broadcasts—too funny!

      Even if you don’t care about Anglo-American relations, A Matter of Life and Death is a fabulous movie, a lively romantic fantasy that delights without dialing down the IQ.

  3. Chris B

    Although this could double as a “guilty pleasure” roundtable submission, I’ve always loved Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Don’t judge me!

  4. Bolo

    I’ll go with ‘Remains of the Day’ as a solid drama about a fascinating period in English history. Not many WW2 movies look at the appeasement that allowed the War to grow or the support Hitler had outside of Germany. Hopkins delivers a committed performance in a very mature drama.

    • I could be mistaken, but isn’t ‘Remains of the Day’ a (truly excellent) drama about a butler and the love he can’t profess to a woman? I don’t remember WW2 being an important part of the story (but then again, I have only seen the film once years ago).

      • Bolo

        You are correct that the film is about Hopkins playing a repressed butler. He tries to deny himself any sense of individual identity, including feelings, because he thinks this would interfere with his duty. He justifies this sacrifice by accepting that his Lord is morally and intellectually superior and that doing anything in service of such a great man is better than anything he could ever think up himself.

        Hopkins’s Lord is politically well-connected and continually hosts high-ranking political figures with the purpose of lobbying his pro-Nazi agenda. He reads Hitler’s book and dabbles in anti-Semitism, demanding that all Jews in his employ be fired. After the war, he is disgraced for his pro-Nazi beliefs, becomes sad and dies a recluse. Hopkins becomes more conflicted and struggles with shame and regret for having put all his faith in such a man and having possibly sacrificed his personal happiness.

  5. My pick is Trainspotting. It seems to capture the Scottish feelings towards Englishmen pretty well 🙂

    Another favorite of mine. A comedy, which may not exactly be “about” Britain, but it’s just so quintessentially British, is “Clockwise”, with John Cleese.

  6. Csm101

    I’ll have to go with Snatch, and another favorite of mine that I’ve used before, Hot Fuzz. I also like any movie with a gothic old English setting like the Hammer films. The Wolfman remake captured that and even Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies did it as well. I very much like the dystopian English world of A Clockwork Orange.

  7. Chris B

    Although I haven’t seen it in years, I remember really enjoying The Secret Garden when I was a kid. Not sure how it would hold up today…

    • William Henley

      The Hallmark one holds up pretty well – I have it on Laserdisc and still love it. The Warner Brothers one is a bit dark for my taste – its okay, but not as good as the Hallmark one. Sadly, neither one is available on Blu-Ray. I should check if either iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu has the HD versions – I have been picking up quite a few movies and shows lately from iTunes in HD that are not available on Blu.

  8. William Henley

    It’s kind of hard to separate “about England” from “takes place in England” unless you have something obviously fictional, such as Harry Potter.

    So I am going to throw out Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. The reason for these is not only for where they take place, the Holy Grail throws in English history (in a satire way), but, more than anything, both are a showcase of British comedy, differences between classes and the different people groups in the UK, economic differences, strange fetishes (spank me! (which the British seem to be big on)), etc.

    You also have movies such as Braveheart and The Patriot which deal a lot with England and two different countries trying to fight for their independance against England.

    While highly fictional, I am not sure if movies / stories such as Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, and Paddington Bear would work if they had of taken place in another country. They are very much products of English culture.

    Darleks Invasion Earth 2150 is interesting, as it is just at the begining of the civil rights movement, and there is still much seperation between genders, so the thought of what England is going to look like in 190 years time (from the movie’s release) is really interesting.

    I got to second The King’s Speech, Robin Hood movies and The Secret Garden

    • Well, the key for this week was “Could the story be told elsewhere?” Something like “Harry Potter” COULD. There’s nothing (or not much) in the story that couldn’t be transposed to another country’s setting. Something like “Patriot Games” could not, since the IRA and an attempt on the Royals was integral to the plot.

      • William Henley

        Hence why I said the word “unless” about Harry Potter. 🙂 The world is so fictionalized, you could easily transpose the story to another country and not affect the story much.

  9. Dimwit

    I think The Time Bandits would qualify. God as a fussy Brit? Of course. Satan too? Particularly having to bone up on what those crazy Americans have invented. A smarmy Robin Hood. Yes indeedy. Just imagine Kevin going on a journey and meeting the typical hollywood cast in his travels. Just not the same.

    For pure colour, I’d nominate The Guard. Yeah, Irish, but I wager that it’s as true as anything ever made. Blows the doors off of pure h’wood entertainment like The Quiet Man for authenticity.

  10. EM

    I’m going to go with an American movie with American stars, set outside Britain and the British Empire (though filmed there). This movie is The African Queen, set in German East Africa during the Great War. Katherine Hepburn’s character is English, and Humphrey Bogart’s was supposed to be—but since he couldn’t hack the accent, the character was made a Canadian, still a subject of the British Crown (I don’t particularly buy Bogey as a Canadian either, but the suspension of disbelief is much easier). The plotline concerns the Hepburn character’s patriotic quest to strike a blow at the enemy German military and her enlistment of the Bogart character as a fellow Briton of sorts…and, oh yeah, along the way they fall into an unorthodox courtship. The mix of British mannerisms (tea, anyone?) and British patriotism amid real-life historical events form an indissoluble part of the film’s abundant charm.

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