100 Unmissable BBC Films
71. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, Sura Dohnke, Bill Paterson, Hayley Squires, Mark Moreno, Charles Dance, Asim Chaudhry, Sam Riley
Ben Wheatley’s improv-embellished script, along with some particularly fraught and petty family bust-ups, helps Happy New Year, Colin Burstead come across as uncomfortably real.
Everyone plays off each other in a convincingly passive-aggressive fashion, but Wheatley’s lucky charm Neil Maskell, Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake), and the ever-reliable (and unusually vulnerable-feeling) Charles Dance are undoubted highlights.
Voters at BIFA and the London Film Festival saw fit to nominate the film, but many more will have discovered it during the year it had a home on BBC iPlayer. (SSP)
Recommended for you: Ben Wheatley Films Ranked
72. The Happy Prince (2018)
Director: Rupert Everett
Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, John Standing, Tom Wilkinson
Rupert Everett was so determined to play Oscar Wilde that he wrote and directed The Happy Prince, a gripping drama about the Irish poet and playwright’s late-life observations regarding his own career.
Co-starring an exceptional depth of talent including Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and more, this 2018 pseudo-biopic was filled with the kinds of insights you can expect from a passion project, and offered a complex understanding of its subject unlike many of the films written about famous writers in the past.
Everett’s passion would pay off with a nomination for Best Film at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival and nominations as Best Actor at both the British Independent Film Awards and European Film Awards. (JW)
73. In Fabric (2018)
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt, Fatma Mohamed, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie
The BBC partnered with upcoming horror producers A24 to ensure that unique art-house director Peter Strickland could conceive his latest mind-bending project, and the result was a darkly humourous take on the horrors of objectification and the current moment’s unshackling of gendered expectation.
Marianna Jean-Baptiste is wholly magnetic in the lead role, her presence an anchor around which Strickland bends space and time.
Spellbindingly stylish, Strickland’s flair and desire to achieve visual appeal does not go unnoticed, In Fabric achieving an almost psychedelic quality that places it among the most respected films A24 has ever produced. (JW)
74. On Chesil Beach (2018)
Director: Dominic Cooke
Starring: Billy Howle, Saoirse Ronan, Anne-Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough, Emily Watson
Saoirse Ronan, hot off the heals of an Oscar nomination for Brooklyn the year prior, leads Dominic Cooke’s emotive feature adaptation of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed 2007 novella of the same name.
An idyllic period romance on the face of things, with commentary on class, wealth and sexuality bubbling beneath the surface, On Chesil Beach breaks taboo with an honest tale of so-often untold love and companionship, allowing for Ronan’s exceptional talents to anchor another so-called actor’s drama. (JW)
75. Blue Story (2019)
Director: Andrew Onwubolu
Starring: Michael Ward, Karla-Simone Spence, Khali Best, Kadeem Ramsay, Stephen Odubola, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Sean Sager
Blue Story became famous in late 2019 for being banned nationwide by Vue Cinemas after groups of teenagers brawled at a Birmingham showing and the chain’s higher-ups disclosed that twenty eight such incidents had been reported over its opening weekend.
The decision was declared “institutionally racist” by the film’s creators, but the ban actually helped Blue Story to earn an audience (at least where it was being shown), earning some much needed attention for the low budget British independent film about underprivileged and often under-represented teenagers from south-east London.
Writer-director Andrew Onwubolu (aka Rapman) made his feature debut with Blue Story, his work galvanising an increasingly uninterested audience and ultimately demanding attention (even if, at first, that attention was of the wrong kind). (JW)
76. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba
Proposed as the British entry for the Best International Feature Oscar, though ultimately overlooked, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an assured and compelling directorial debut from Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), based on William Kamkwamba’s memoir and beautifully photographed by Mike Leigh’s go-to DP Dick Pope.
Things gets pretty bleak for the Malawian farming family the film follows – “We can have one meal a day, we should decide which one” – but there is always a glimmer of hope in the bright future of intelligent and driven son William (Maxwell Simba). (SSP)
77. Dirty God (2019)
Director: Sacha Polak
Starring: Vicky Knight, Eliza Brady-Girard, Katherine Kelly
Revered primarily for the exceptional quality of the debut performance of lead actor Vicky Knight, Sacha Polak’s story of a woman attempting to reintegrate herself into society following a vicious acid attack is hard hitting and severe, but it isn’t without levity or strokes of expressionism.
Photographed with moments of true inspiration by Ruben Impens, who would go on to work on the Palme d’Or winner Titane, Dirty God looks every bit the modern European woman-fronted drama that the very best films of the 2020s are. And, despite being a tough-to-find co-production between several European countries, provides a worthwhile experience of empathy and stylistic flourish for all who do happen upon this four-time BIFA-nominated forgotten gem. (JW)
78. Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (2019)
Director: Dominic Brigstocke
Starring: Sebastian Croft, Emilia Jones, Nick Frost, Craig Roberts, Kate Nash, Rupert Graves, Alex Macqueen, Lee Mack, Warwick Davis, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Alexander Armstrong, Chris Addison, Kim Cattrall
Primarily aimed at a younger audience but with catchy comedy songs (“Boudicca” sung by Kate Nash is a highlight) and some innuendo for the adults, the ‘Horrible Histories’ TV franchise adapted from Terry Deary’s books gets a hugely enjoyable BAFTA Children’s Award-nominated big screen spinoff.
It tells the story of the Roman invasion of Britain with tongue firmly in cheek and with a much bigger budget, not to mention bigger stars including Nick Frost, Kim Cattrall and Derek Jacobi. (SSP)
79. Judy (2019)
Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Richard Cordery
Under the guidance of stage director Rupert Goold, Renée Zellweger immortalised her own ceiling-shattering career by helping to re-appraise the life and talents of one of Hollywood’s most legendary golden era leading women, Judy Garland.
An Oscar front-runner from the moment her performance was first witnessed in early previews, Zellweger’s moving portrayal of the seemingly fragile and traumatised former child star earned her the holy trifecta of Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar wins for Actress in a Leading Role, her part in the filmmaking process the most memorable and impactful of all, just as many of Judy Garland’s contributions were. (JW)
80. Monsoon (2019)
Director: Hong Khaou
Starring: Henry Golding, David Tran, Parker Sawyers, Van Lam Vissay
Hong Khaou’s GLAAD-nominated follow-up to Lilting – another tale of love persevering, fractured identity, and displacement – is quietly mesmerising.
Monsoon is a film of connection and remembrance, but not an overly sentimental one, and the rough edges to the story of returning to a country you previously fled in terror (in this case Vietnam) are made particularly prominent; the characters (especially Henry Golding’s protagonist Kit) being memorable for how refreshingly and fascinatingly imperfect they are. (SSP)
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)