21. Miss Potter (2006)
Director: Chris Noonan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Renee Zellweger, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Bill Paterson
This biopic of one of the United Kingdom’s most beloved authors is utterly charming and quintessentially British, but it is also a statement of empowerment as it depicts Miss Beatrix Potter becoming one of the most successful children’s authors of all time and being almost single-handedly responsible for conserving much of the Lake District landscape.
An overall light-hearted affair, with very innocent leading performances from Reneé Zellweger and Ewan McGregor (earning Zellweger a Golden Globe Nomination), combined with moments of delightful animation of her favourite characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jeremy Fisher, Miss Potter is almost akin to the works of Disney. (KD)
22. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson, Joanna Scanlan, Shaun Parkes, Phil Davis, Bill Nighy, Juno Temple
Critically acclaimed British director Richard Eyre’s third consecutive BBC Film feature, Notes on a Scandal, is arguably the best and certainly the most well known film of his illustrious career.
An adult drama of school teachers fighting controversy, romance and responsibility, Eyre’s reputation for encouraging exceptional performances was perhaps never better than in Notes on a Scandal, leading stars Judi Dench (with whom he’d re-teamed following their work on Iris) and Cate Blanchett to Oscar nominations for their masterfully vulnerable portrayals.
Screenwriter Patrick Marber must also be given credit for adapting this complex material for the big screen, his work earning him Oscar and BAFTA nominations in the Adapted Screenplay categories. (JW)
23. Starter for Ten (2006)
Director: Tom Vaughan
Starring: James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elaine Tan, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, James Gaddas, Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, Guy Henry, James Corden, Dominic Cooper
David Nicholls adapts his own 2003 novel to the big screen as a retro coming-of-age comedy.
The plot follows Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a working class Fresher from Essex attempting to navigate his first year studying English Literature at Bristol University. He is driven by his late father’s outlook on life, which encourages him to never forego the pursuit of knowledge.
Among the usual college humour fare is a hilarious pre-‘Sherlock’ Benedict Cumberbatch as a snobby and over-bearing Postgrad, but it is James McAvoy’s Jackson who encapsulates the changing but continuing class struggle of the working class, the film coming to a climax in the recording of an episode of a British television institution: ‘University Challenge’. (KD)
24. Becoming Jane (2007)
Director: Julian Jarrold
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson
Anne Hathaway rises to the occasion to play one of England’s most beloved and influential authors, Jane Austen, in this surprisingly erotic biopic.
Based largely on conjecture and speculation, Becoming Jane uses the passion and romance of Austen’s own novels to derive the story of Jane’s supposed romance with Irish gentleman Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).
The fanciful affairs of the likes of “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice”, combined with the bitter reality of women’s suffrage in the late 18th Century, results in the bittersweet romance that earned the Favourite Independent Movie Award at the People’s Choice Awards in 2008. (KD)
25. Eastern Promises (2007)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Sinéad Cusack, Vincent Cassel
After stepping away from outright body horror for over a decade, David Cronenberg’s unflinching Russian Mafia follow-up to A History of Violence, again starring Viggo Mortensen as a strong silent type forced to do horrible things to survive, won prizes at TIFF and the Golden Globes.
Eastern Promises is remembered primarily for a particularly nasty naked knife fight scene in a sauna, though the film is taut and visceral throughout and never glamorises the murky world of organised crime. (SSP)
26. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Director: Mark Herman
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Rupert Friend
By far the writer-director’s most famous and internationally renowned film, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has proven to be such a cultural touchstone that it is now taught in schools, its wholly empathetic and easy to digest narrative earning a devastating conclusion that is one of the most memorable of any war film in recent decades.
Asa Butterfield, in his breakout leading role, was nominated for his performance at both the British Independent Film Awards and the London Critics Circle Film Awards, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas continues to be championed for its empathetic stance above all, the horrors of concentration camps and war presented through the innocent eyes of an unknowing child. (JW)
27. The Duchess (2008)
Director: Saul Dibb
Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Charlotte Rampling, Hayley Atwell, Simon McBurney, Aidan McArdle, Alistair Petrie
Keira Knightley stars in the incredibly ornate biopic of Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. The massive attention to detail paid to the 18th Century’s real-life fashionista’s outfits earned the film both a BAFTA and Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Based on the story of Georgiana’s unhappy marriage to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), marketing made no hesitation to draw comparisons to the Duchess’ real descendant, the Late Princess Diana.
Despite the supposed opulent life of Georgiana, not to mention her massive political influence through her association with the Whig party, particularly with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) – soon to become Earl and Prime Minister – the life she resigned to was filled with tragedy and oppression. (KD)
28. The Meerkats (2008)
Director: James Honeyborne
Starring: Paul Newman
Released just after the global phenomenon that was the BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ series, The Meerkats took many of that docuseries’ filmmaking techniques and used them in a more intimate, almost personal, tale of one Meerkat family and their daily struggles to survive.
Directed by James Honeyborne of ‘Natural World’ and ‘Blue Planet II’ fame, and narrated by the legendary Paul Newman in his last ever piece of work, The Meerkats feels like much more than a simple story, it feels like history unfolding in front of your very eyes, the technical mastery of the filmmakers elevating each history-making discovery they make. (JW)
29. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Director: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrissey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ana Torrent, Eddie Redmayne, Michael Smiley, Juno Temple
Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson star as Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn, sisters competing for the affection of the King of England, Eric Bana’s Henry Tudor, aka King Henry VIII, in this Justin Chadwick movie that holds the sense of inevitable doom within each and every interaction between the historically significant trio.
A star-studded affair, featuring British acting royalty such as Mark Rylance, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and Kristin Scott Thomas, The Other Boleyn Girl seeks to tell of Henry’s infamous acts through a lens less patriarchal than many other accounts, ultimately providing a rich telling of one of the United Kingdom’s most infamous periods in history. (JW)
30. Revolutionary Road (2008)
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Zoe Kazan, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn, Christopher Fitzgerald, Dylan Baker
A handsome and ambitious historical romance reuniting Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a story of an increasingly fraught marriage in 1950s American suburbia, Sam Mendes’ Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated drama is a lot more hard-hitting than you might be expecting.
Winslet and DiCaprio bring a completely different chemistry and depth to their onscreen relationship than when they last shared the screen in Titanic, and Michael Shannon is particularly memorable in his intense supporting role. (SSP)