A new list says more about Britain than it does the films it honours…
To mark the opening of the refurbished Vue West End in London this week, a poll was released showing what the public though was the best British film.
Of course, if we’ve learnt anything over the past eighteen months then it’s that polls are always right and the public can always be trusted to make the correct decision, so this list must be carved in stone and displayed for all eternity as the definitive best films from Britain.
Seriously though, there is no definitive best list of films from any particular country, or of any particular genre; these things aren’t meant to be perfect; they’re meant to inspire debate and argument, but looking at this list it seems like it says more about Britain now than it does about the films it celebrates.
In the number one spot is The Italian Job. A fine, enjoyable film, I’m sure you’ll agree, but unless the category is “Michael Caine heist films set in Turin”, it doesn’t really deserve to come top of any list. In a Britain where just over a year ago over half the population voted to leave the EU, a film like The Italian Job makes sense as the nation’s favourite film. You’d be hard pressed to find a more Brexit film than one that features a team led by Michael Caine using a football match as a cover to to outwit the Italians in a plot masterminded by Noel Coward. It’s not the best British film but it may be the best film that is explicitly and unmistakably British.
At number three (after The Full Monty at number two) is another Caine film, this time Zulu; a small band of Brits put up an admirable fight against hordes of uncivilised foreigners is what some people think we’ll face when negotiating our exit from the EU. At number four is Love, Actually. This is when you need to really start worrying about the beliefs of British people. It’s probably not even the best Richard Curtis film. I’m inclined to agree with a Jezebel piece from a few years ago that calls it the “artistic low point of the 21st Century” (and they mean they whole century, not just so far), and that’s me in a generous mood. What Love, Actually does have, of course, is a British Prime Minister standing up to a lecherous US President. Maybe in 2017, that’s what British people want.
Looking further down the list brings up some more oddities 2001: A Space Odyssey is at 27. Again, fine film, but hardly British. Yes, it was shot over here but it was hardly set in Britain; that scene of the monkey throwing the bone in the air wasn’t set in Kettering, was it? It seems like it falls into the “if it’s a great film and slightly British, we’ll accept it as our own.” At 31 is Gandhi. You could write a PhD thesis on the wrongness of a film about a man whose life’s work was making sure India gained independence from Britain being labelled British, even if it was directed by an Attenborough and starred a guy from Yorkshire. For us to claim it is problematic at best.
It’s an interesting list, but it really does say more about the state of Britain in 2017 than it does the films that are on it.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.