100 Unmissable BBC Films

41. Project Nim (2011)

Director: James Marsh
Starring: Nim Chimpsky, Stephanie LaFarge, Herbert Terrace, Wer LaFarge

James Marsh’s long-awaited feature follow-up to his Oscar-winning documentary Man on WireProject Nim, was a BAFTA and BIFA-nominated documentary about a family in the 1970s who raised a chimpanzee as one of their own, even going so far as to breast feed it and to teach it sign language.

Focused squarely on the inherent differences between humanity and other species, and the philosophical questions regarding what make us human, and what drives us to empower our way of life as the natural order of things, Project Nim provided a shocking insight into a real-life social experiment. (JW)

42. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

Director: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas

The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy adapted Paul Torday’s novel for this BBC Film release starring two of the UK’s most prominent stars of the decade, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor (each of whom were nominated at the 2013 Golden Globes).

Directed by Lasse Hallström, director of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Chocolat, this story of following one Sheikh’s wish to forcefully migrate cold water salmon to the middle east is filled with small quirks and uplifting notes, and generally presents an enjoyable tale of absurd requests, friendships across divides, and overcoming obstacles, for a joyful if not unmissable feature film. (JW)

43. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film, based on Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, follows a mother (Tilda Swinton) and her strained relationship with her disturbed son (Ezra Miller) and the tragedy that occurs between them and many others.

Kevin is a challenging, harrowing and immaculately performed drama that makes you wish Ramsay released films on a more frequent basis.

Tilda Swinton picked up Best Actress from the Austen Film Critics Association and was nominated along with Ramsay at the BAFTAs. (SSP)

44. Good Vibrations (2012)

Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Adrian Dunbar, Dylan Moran, Kerr Logan

A unique movie made about a unique man, Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s (Cherry Bomb) sophomore feature Good Vibrations is a joyful rendition of the life of Belfast’s so-called godfather of punk, celebrating his entrepreneurial skills, passion for music, and immaculate taste.

The record store owner, played by Richard Dormer, is the gateway into 70s punk music, though the filmmakers do an adequate job of ensuring that their subject is never completely pushed aside, creating a film with as many good vibrations as the title may suggest. (JW)

45. Quartet (2012)

Director: Dustin Hoffman
Starring: Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith, Andrew Sachs

Based on the stage play by Ronald Harwood, and starring some of the UK’s most reputable actors, 2012’s Quartet is one of those rare elderly person’s friendship dramas, a bittersweet but wholly enjoyable piece to remember many of its cast’s late careers with.

Noteworthy for being two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman’s only feature directorial effort, this classy stage-inspired piece is exactly what you’d expect of a film of its type.

Maggie Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in this film, while Billy Connolly earned a British Independent Film Awards nomination. (JW)

46. Shadow Dancer (2012)

Director: James Marsh
Starring: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson

Released the year after James Marsh’s memorable BBC film Project Nim and just ahead of his 2014 Oscar winner about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, 2012’s Shadow Dancer brought together a who’s who of British and Irish talent to present this story of one IRA agent becoming an informant for MI5.

Set in 1990s Belfast, and with the troubles hanging over every move, every whisper, every glance, Marsh constructs an effective thriller that never loses sight of the real people at the centre of all the politics, providing a rich bed from which the likes of Clive Owen and British Independent Film Awards winner Andrea Riseborough blossom. (JW)

47. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Director: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Tim Key, Colm Meaney, Karl Theobald, Nigel Lindsay, Felicity Montagu, Dustin Demri-Burns

Steve Coogan resurrects his alter-ego Alan Partridge for the big screen in possibly Alan’s biggest adventure yet.

There is a shake-up going on at the local Norfolk radio station (in which Alan is a veteran DJ) and staff cuts are looming. To save his own skin, Alan suggests sacking the other old-school DJ, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), thus unintentionally setting the stage for a mental breakdown and a dangerous armed siege.

Big laughs ensue as Alan’s egotism manages to make this life or death situation revolve around him. His misadventures, including cowardly hiding himself in a septic tank, had the UK Empire Awards dubbing Alpha Papa as Best Comedy. (KD)

Recommended for you: 10 Best British TV Comedy Film Adaptations from the Past 30 Years

48. Philomena (2013)

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

Based on a true story that was made into a book by journalist Martin Sixsmith, who is portrayed in the film by Steve Coogan, Philomena follows the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an abuse victim of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as she tries to search for her son from whom she was separated fifty years ago.

Falling pregnant as an unmarried young woman, she was taken in by the Abbey at Rosecrea, who delivered her baby but made her perform slave labour for four years and had her baby adopted to an American couple against her will.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Philomena is more than just a typical weepy. This real-life tragedy is depicted with solemnity, and with deep and sensitive thoughtfulness. (KD)

49. Saving Mr Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman

A first of its kind – produced in association with, and distributed by, Walt Disney Pictures – this is the mouse’s first dramatic British-American project; Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s poignant script (which won the award for Outstanding Newcomer at the British Screenwriters’ Awards) results in one of Disney’s most impressive and moving live-action films of the 21st Century, focusing upon elements not often seen in Disney’s filmography, such as suicide and addiction.

Essentially an homage to Mary Poppins, the plot follows the story of Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks’) pursuit for the film rights of author P. L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson’s) creation, inviting her to California in 1961 to oversee the screenwriting process, prompting painful reflections upon the author’s tragic childhood in which the origins of Mary Poppins lie.

John Lee Hancock’s film was awarded Movie of the Year by the AFI Awards in 2014. (KD)

50. The Invisible Woman (2014)

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, John Kavanagh, Tom Burke

The middle entry into Ralph Fiennes’ trilogy of BBC Film co-productions, and the 2nd feature directed by the Harry Potter star, The Invisible Woman (2014) tells of Charles Dickens’ (Ralph Fiennes’) latter-year romance with the much younger Nelly (Felicity Jones).

Praised for being intimate and intelligent, and featuring all of the craftsmanship of Fiennes’ other work as regards production, make-up and so on, The Invisible Woman is an all-star affair best remembered for its Oscar and BAFTA-winning costume design that brought to life Victorian era dress in an expressive and meaningful manner that enhanced every aspect of Fiennes’ memorable work. (JW)

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  • <cite class="fn">Holly</cite>

    I was so surprised to see that some of these were BBC films! I haven’t seen many yet but We Need to Talk About Kevin is the best of those that I’ve seen so far!!! And of course nativity :))))

    • <cite class="fn">Admin</cite>

      That’s so pleasing to hear! There are many hidden gems amongst this line-up and a fair few tearjerkers. Enjoy! (Joseph Wade)

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