5. Blame It On the Bellboy (1992)
A feature that feels like the shadow of some of the filmmaker’s truly great work to come, and with comedy much too forced and ill-judged to truly create an impression, Blame It On the Bellboy is Mark Herman’s last distinctly below average offering on this list, its star-studded cast of British names ill-fitted to save this silly picture from its “of its time” screenplay and outlandish slapstick delivery.
A screwball comedy for more contemporary audiences, there is a charm to Blame It On the Bellboy that surpasses many of its least enticing elements, but in general this isn’t one you’re going to watch and then want to talk about for days and weeks after. In fact, you’ll be lucky if it sticks with you at all.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that Herman’s studio feature debut was far from a sensation, because without it we may not have seen the filmmaker return to his roots with some of the much better films to come on this list.
4. Purely Belter (2000)
After back-to-back British dramas set in Yorkshire in the late 1990s, Herman headed further north to Tyneside for an exploration of the underclass through football fandom in Purely Belter.
The 2000 film, led by untrained actors Chris Beattie and Greg McLane (pictured centrally above), was a contemporary kitchen sink drama with a comedic tint, the story of two school children void of privilege in every aspect of their home and school lives being more like The Full Monty than Kes in terms of tone, but clearly taking inspiration from both.
At times hilarious, always endearing and at moments devastating, Purely Belter was every bit the particular brand of cinema that Mark Herman is known for, tackling serious issues regarding poverty, hopelessness and the abandoning of the underclass through governmental policy, with tongue-in-cheek remarks, a celebration of an often unheard British culture, and a lighthearted albeit distinctly piercing deconstruction of the privilege that divides society.
With football fandom at its forefront, and even a special guest appearance from at-the-time Newcastle and England star Alan Shearer, Purely Belter is more accessible than some of Herman’s more mature films, but strikes hot nonetheless.
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3. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
By far Mark Herman’s most famous and internationally renowned film, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has proven to be such a cultural touchstone that it’s now taught in schools, the 2008 picture’s wholly empathetic and easy to digest narrative earning a devastating conclusion that is sure to instantly spring to the minds of all who’ve seen it.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by John Boyne, this Mark Herman picture emphatically drives home the central narrative of hatred and prejudice being taught conditions in a way that even a small child can understand, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas becoming a remarkable entry point to the reality of World War II beyond the heroic turns of those in more traditional war movies.
The true triumph of this Mark Herman picture is the way in which it presents empathy and encourages it through every frame. Here, the focus is on how much more natural it is to love one another than to divide and/or be fearful of one another, a timely lesson that the war may have taught us but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas can still remind us of; a lesson that some groups could certainly benefit from having.