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.
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.
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.
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.
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.