The secret history of British film

John Patterson wrote a brilliant article recently bemoaning the UK adaptation industry in the wake of yet another foreign film being made from an obscure British novel neglected by our own filmmakers, who seem more concerned with churning out fodder for the chick lit/heritage conveyor belt.

I like it because he mentions a lot of films that I regard as high points of the British film industry. When I think of British film I don’t find myself automatically thinking of Zulu and Get Carter and Trainspotting. Well… actually, I do. They’re all great films.

But if you’re ever round my place I’m more likely to put on an early Dirk Bogarde film, or a thriller like Dead of Night, anything by Powell and   Pressburger, a Hitchcock silent or a Hammer horror.

And yet most people I talk to act as if there were no films made in the UK prior to The Italian Job, until you remind them of Ealing and the rest. Ask   people if they fancy a Cavalcanti and they think you’re ordering out for pizza.

It does seem that foreigners like Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh are the only ones who appreciate the great films we used to make.

This isn’t just to wallow in nostalgia for loads of old black and white movies you now see on afternoon telly. It’s more important than that.

I’ve always thought that if we respected our cinematic past we’d be bolder with our cinematic present.

10 not-so-obvious Brit films I really like

Many of these link to Region 1 NTSC DVDs, as no UK versions are available. It seems the Americans care more about our cinematic heritage than we do (multi-region hacks are easy to find and simple to programme anyway). Where there’s no DVD available at all, I’ve linked to a page about the film in question.

Went The Day Well?
Cavalcanti’s stunningly brutal home front propaganda film. Hard to imagine now, with hindsight, but this was made when the threat of a German invasion was very real and Britain really did look doomed. (Scandalously, this is only available on a compilation DVD.)

Half a Sixpence
Yes, we used to do musicals. That seems so surreal now. I have a soft spot for this one because I fell head over heels in love with Julia Foster in this after seeing it on telly at Xmas. Being aged only seven, there was nothing I could do about it.

The mermaid comedy that inspired Splash! many years later. Charming little comedy and Glynis Johns is perfect as the flirtatious half-woman/half-fish. (Not available on DVD at all).

Hitchcock making an icon out of Annie Ondra’s underwear (see above). There are so many other great films Hitch made in the UK: The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Young and Innocent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Powell and Pressburger at their best, but you can equally point to A Matter of Life & Death, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going!, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness
It’s fashionable to chuckle at Hammer’s camp output but at their best they are genuinely chilling, and this film looks ravishing. I was lucky enough to see this once on a big screen. Just look at the cinematography!

The Innocents
A chiller that puts most modern horrors to shame. RIP Deborah Kerr.

Our Mother’s House
So difficult to choose one from Dirk Bogarde’s British films (I’ll still mention King and Country, So Long At the Fair, Libel, Victim and Bunny Lake is Missing
A prescient child abduction thriller in which, for once, Dame Larry isn’t hamming it up.

Defence of the Realm
Okay, it’s a more modern film, but a Brit film that stood out and did its own thing and it never gets the respect it deserves.

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