100 Unmissable BBC Films
61. Denial (2016)
Director: Mick Jackson
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Harriet Walter, Mark Gatiss
Rachel Weisz arguably began her 2010s comeback trail with this film, her performance anchoring this shockingly true story of a writer and historian having to prove in a court of law that the holocaust actually happened when David Irving (played by Timothy Spall at his most despicable) sues her for libel.
Primarily a court room drama, and one that has you rolling your eyes at the many abominable attempts to discredit one of humanity’s most horrific incidents, Denial is a film that tells a story so shocking it has to be seen, whether you believe Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) made the most of the material or not. (JW)
62. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Hugh Grant, Meryl Streep, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend
The chameleonic and immensely talented Meryl Streep lost out on her fourth Academy Award for her acting in the role of the titular Florence Foster Jenkins in this charming biopic of the eccentric New York socialite.
Streep’s Jenkins is the practical Godmother of New York’s music scene via generous patronages and fired by her own ambition of becoming an opera singer, but as we see through the eyes of Jenkins’ new pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg)… her singing is terrible.
What could have been a cruel comedy or scathing criticism of the egotism of a rich eccentric is instead a massively entertaining and moving tribute to unconventional talent and unconventional love. The authentic 1940s fashion of the film earned it a BAFTA Award for Best Makeup & Hair. (KD)
63. My Scientology Movie (2016)
Director: John Dower
Starring: Louis Theroux
Nobody combines disarming politeness and causing mild annoyance in his subjects as an interview technique quite like Louis Theroux.
John Dower’s film is limited as an exposé of the famously secretive religion by what can be concretely proven, so actors are recruited for reconstructions while Theroux attempts to engage with his uncooperative subjects as they refuse to answer questions while filming him right back.
Empire nominated the film for Best Documentary at the time but otherwise it seems to have been largely forgotten. (SSP)
64. Swallows and Amazons (2016)
Director: Philippa Lowthorpe
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield, John Henshaw, Dane Hughes, Bobby McCulloch
The feature directorial debut of television regular Philippa Lowthorpe (who would later make BBC film Misbehaviour) is an enjoyable family-focused period drama that highlights the imagination of children and the importance of family.
Set in the early 20th century Lake District, there are so many fundamentals of British cinema apparent throughout this film’s one hour and thirty-six minute runtime, the tropes of which are often present too.
Hearty enough for children and adults alike, Swallows and Amazons wasn’t an awards winner or a memorable moment in British cinema history, but is a great choice for a cosy afternoon on the sofa. (JW)
65. Lady Macbeth (2017)
Director: William Oldroyd
Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank
This flinty and atmospheric period drama orbits around Florence Pugh’s mesmerising multi-award-winning breakthrough leading role.
Not another version of Shakespeare’s character but an Anglicised adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novella, Katherine is a 19th century woman trapped in a loveless marriage on a creepy Northumberland estate. Her utterly miserable experience and her increasingly desperate efforts to escape it manage to seep into your very bones. (SSP)
66. Mindhorn (2017)
Director: Sean Foley
Starring: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Steve Coogan, Andrea Riseborough, Russell Tovey, David Schofield, Harriet Walter, Simon Callow
A true example of independent filmmaking, Mindhorn tells the story of Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), a washed up television actor who is employed by the Isle of Man Constabulary to assist in catching a serial killer (Russell Tovey) who will only speak to his once famous character, Detective Mindhorn.
The budget of the madcap and surrealist comedy, also filmed on the Isle of Man, came in at under £3million but still managed to win Best Production Design (Contemporary) for Independent Feature Film at the British Film Designers Guild Awards. Meanwhile, Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby’s first feature screenplay earned them a nomination for Best Debut Screenwriter at the British Independent Film Awards in 2017. (KD)
67. Their Finest (2017)
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Sam Claflin, Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Richard E. Grant, Jack Huston, Gaby Chiappe, Jake Lacy, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irons
The cosiest film about making wartime propaganda films you’re ever likely to see.
The moment Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is told matter-of-factly “obviously they can’t pay you as much as the chaps” says it all really, but it’s still staggering looking back that women screenwriters didn’t receive a writing credit for the considerable valuable work they contributed to the war effort.
Their Finest won the Audience Award at Göteborg Film Festival and has particularly good turns from Arterton and Bill Nighy. (SSP)
68. The Sense of an Ending (2017)
Director: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, Joe Alwyn
Jim Broadbent leads this silver screen novella adaptation with his typically classy character-driven approach, his presentation bending and twisting as every one of his character’s defining memories is presented and re-evaluated courtesy of contemporary incidents and triggers.
A mystery told across multiple timelines, The Sense of an Ending best encapsulates Indian director Ritesh Batra’s intricacy in unravelling information, and this makes for a teasing watch that is worth investing in from the very start. (JW)
69. Victoria & Abdul (2017)
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Simon Callow
Stephen Frears, the Oscar-nominated director of The Grifters and The Queen, returned to the subject of the British monarchy for his adaptation of Shrabani Basu’s novel about Queen Victoria (played here by the Golden Globe-nominated Judi Dench) befriending a young Indian clerk by the name of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) during a time often painted as racist and ignorant.
Gorgeous to look at, not least due to the backdrops of the Scottish highlands, Victoria & Abdul earned nominations at the Oscars for Costume Design and Makeup & Hairstyling, and was the last in its director’s emphatic 2010s run that would see him partner with the BBC on three different dramatic features and earn plenty of awards attention along the way. (JW)
70. The Children Act (2018)
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ben Chaplin, Jason Watkins
From Richard Eyre, the director of fellow BBC films Iris, Stage Beauty and Notes on a Scandal, and Ian McEwan, the writer behind Atonement and On Chesil Beach, comes a relationship drama and court room drama wrapped in one, Emma Thompson pushed to her dramatic limits as a judge tackling relationship infidelity at home while working on the case of a jehova’s witness who refuses a blood transfusion.
Making the most of some of London’s most grandiose buildings, The Children Act is every bit the typical British heritage movie offering, but excels most in the quality of performances from Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk), becoming another example of Eyre’s keen eye for directing talent towards the best performances of their careers. (JW)
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 :))))
That’s so pleasing to hear! There are many hidden gems amongst this line-up and a fair few tearjerkers. Enjoy! (Joseph Wade)