OPINION: What It’s Really Like To Be British – A Film Education
British culture is not too different from American culture. However, our humour and reservations make us for very different people.
As my American friend sets off in her first experience of the U.K. I thought it would be a good idea to invite those who are unfamiliar with British films to watch some titles which truly represent our culture and our people. This is a short list, but hopefully one which film fans from across the world will take a note of.
Please note: this is not a “Best of British Film” list, instead these movies are titles which best represent Britain on the big screen.
Shaun of The Dead (2004) / Hot Fuzz (2007)
These are the first two films of The Cornetto Trilogy, as they are locally known (forget the third, At Worlds End (2013), for it does not belong on this list). Both films star a best-of-British cast led by actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Director Edgar Wright first worked with Pegg and Frost on Spaced (1999-2001), a television program which spanned two series and 14 episodes. The three cemented their bond over geeky humour and silly word play with the series becoming a cult favorite with British audiences from its conception.
Three years later and the three were united again in the writing room for Shaun of The Dead. Ask any Brit about this film and they will rave how brilliant it is; a true British classic. The narrative follows Shaun (Pegg) and a group of his friends (including Frost) as they battle a zombie apocalypse, their safe zone being the local pub: The Winchester.
Perhaps the most British thing about this film – besides the humour – is the fact the characters glorify The Winchester. A trip to the pub is the solution to all their problems, including for when their flatmate turns into a zombie. Another very British aspect of the film is the location, not all Brits live in huge mansions or castles as many films will lead you to believe. Instead, it is set in North Finchley, a suburb of London. This allows for international audiences to see British cul-de-sacs, blocks of flats and a very funny scene where Shaun and his survival crew trek through some suburban back yards.
Hot Fuzz is the second film in The Cornetto Trilogy; however the narrative and characters are changed. Pegg stars as Sargent Nicolas Angel, a London Metropolitan Police Officer, who is relocated to the quiet town of Stanford. Angel must adapt to village life, but smells crime in the air when a wave of murders hit the town. Armed with a horse and his new best friend Danny (Frost), Angel sets to right some wrongs.
Hot Fuzz is a celebration of British humour at its finest: from “P. I. Staker” (say it out loud) to the awful performance of Romeo and Juliet, the film is brilliantly written and executed. Wright stated that he felt other nations have their own brilliant cop films - for example American PD films such as: The Departed (2006), End of Watch (2012), The Other Guys (2010) and Training Day (2001) - but there was no single staple British cop action film. But, now there is. Furthermore, the name of the film is meaningless by design, following in the footsteps of titles such as Lethal Weapon (1987) and Point Break (1991).
One thing is for sure, and that is that the team of Wright, Pegg and Frost are forces to be reckoned with. I would certainly recommend these films before any others if you wish to be subjected to true British culture and our ways of life. However, we in Britain are yet to tackle zombies and the murder rate isn’t as high as you might assume after watching these two movies.
The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
The Inbetweeners (2008-2010) is a British television sitcom which captures the coming of age of almost every British teen. Will, Simon, Neil and Jay embody the kids who aren’t in the popular clique, but are not at the bottom of the social hierarchy either - instead, they are floating in between. The series was written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris about their experience of college and situations they found themselves in, from their first party to work experience to what happens when one of the lads gets his first girlfriend.
The show continues to be huge in the U.K. even after its third and final series in 2010. In 2011, The Inbetweeners Movie was released in British cinemas. Written, produced and directed by the same team, the film was true to its characters and hadn’t lost what made it special: its brutal relatability and unfiltered humour. The movie smashed box office records, earning £2.5 million in its opening weekend, thus setting the record for the most successful opening weekend for a comedy film in the U.K. in history. At the end of its first week, the film had made £13.2 million (compare this to the second highest grossing film of that week, Rise of The Planet of The Apes (2011), which earned £2.4 million). The movie stayed at the top of the British box office for four weeks in total.
The Inbetweeners Movie follows Will, Simon, Neil and Jay on their first lads holiday to the popular destination of Malia, Crete. The holiday goes as it should: shockingly. Starting out with their half built hotel and their horrific attempts to woo a group of girls, the film is the perfect watch to really see what teenage Brits are like abroad.
The script of The Inbetweens and The Inbetweeners Movie are the truest, rawest examples of how British people actually speak to each other. Consistently making jokes of each other and putting their friends in the most awkward situations possible, the four main characters embody what it is to be average in Britain. Every one of my friends is either a Will (smart, a know-it-all), a Simon (sarcastic, a follower), a Neil (dumb, a no-hoper) or a Jay (insecure, a joker).
The Inbetweeners Movie is certainly worth a watch if you are a Millennial in any country. Compare your experiences growing to the experience of us Brits. However, be warned, don’t watch this title with your parents…
Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie is not for the faint of heart. Based on a novel of the same name, the narrative of Trainspotting follows a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh and explores the urban poverty in the city.
Starring Ewan McGregor and Ewen Brenner, the film is a slap-in-the-face for those who think Britain is all tea, scones and The Queen. The British poverty line is a very real one, with the lines between keeping your family fed and those who rely on food stamps blurring at a rapid rate over the past 20 years. Trainspotting is a very real account of poverty on the streets of one of the most cultural and rich cities in the U.K..
With a budget of only £1.5 million, Trainspotting is perhaps the movie Boyle is best known for directing. Boyle stated he wanted to make a film which had the subject matter “about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse”. Many chapters of Irvine Welsh’s novel were not included in the screenplay for the movie, with Joh Hodge (the film’s writer) finding it hard to convey the narrative in 90 minutes whilst fully encapsulating the spirit of the novel. Due to the film’s subject, Trainspotting was screened at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival but was shown out of competition.
The legacy of Trainspotting is evident in popular British culture today. It has been named by Channel 4, a British broadcasting company, as The Greatest British Film of All Time. Most importantly, instances in the film’s narrative are still evident in society. For example, in 2016 – 20 years after the release of Trainspotting – a reported 307,000 people were homeless in the U.K., and for those who live here it is evident this number has risen. A report published in February of 2018 stated that there were 7,545 hospital admissions with “a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders” in England alone.
This is not to say that the U.K. is a bad place. However, Trainspotting is an un-apologetically raw account of the reality some people face. Of course, the issue of drug misuse is not unique to Britain, but the story told in Trainspotting highlights the importance of not forgetting about these people; the movie places you in their shoes.