HAIL BRITISH CINEMA!
Tired of watching big-budget homogeneous Hollywood product dominated by superheroes, sequels, remakes, prequels and remakes of prequels to sequels? I kind of am. Not that I don’t love a genre blockbuster when it’s done well. However, from time to time it’s good to diversify and watch films with more depth.
BFI Player has some terrific new and classic releases from all over the world. So, of late I have concentrated on watching some of the newer releases made by British filmmakers. My homeland has always been rich in talented people both in front and behind the camera. This has meant an incredible array of actors, filmmaking artists and technicians being poached by Hollywood. This is not just an artistic decision but an economic one. There just isn’t the money here to make big budget films, however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some cinematic gold coming out of Britain.
While there have been some very successful film studios in the past, the British film industry has the air of an independently driven environment now. Film Four, the BFI, Aardman, BBC films, Heyday, Baby Cow, Salon Pictures, Marv Films and Number 9 films are all production companies which inhabit the industry. However, it is difficult competing with the gigantic corporate film companies, especially those that dominate distribution at the cinemas.
Yet, here are several brilliant British films I have watched on BFI Player, Netflix and Amazon lately. They are low-budget, mostly independently produced and highly recommended. Check them out as they certainly offer a divergent and absorbing change from the standard generic product at the multiplexes. With marks out of the usual eleven.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
AFTER LOVE (2020) – BFI PLAYER
Written and directed by: Aleem Khan
Main cast: Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arliss etc.
Joanna Scanlan is mesmerising as a Western woman, Mary Hussain, who converted to Islam when she married her childhood sweetheart. In the present, her husband dies suddenly and she discovers he had a secret history. Dealing with both grief and shock at this news, this beautifully acted and directed character study is quietly devastating and moving. Covering themes relating to family, religion, love and fidelity After Love (2020), deservedly won best film at the British Independent film awards. Scanlan, more synonymous with comedic roles, is outstanding and Aleem Khan is a filmmaker who is definitely going places.
Mark: 9 out of 11
BOILING POINT (2021)
Written by: Philip Barandini, James Cummings
Directed by: Philip Barandini
Main cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki etc.
I’m not a big fan of one-take films generally as it is kind of an unnecessary gimmick, yet this fantastic restaurant-set drama makes full dramatic use of the technique. Stephen Graham is the Head Chef at a Dalston eatery and has to navigate a stressful shift with environmental health, marital, staffing, customer, financial and culinary issues all mounting up around him. There’s even a food critic in the venue. It is brilliantly acted and directed and extremely tense throughout. Graham is always a cracking watch, but Vinette Robinson, as his over-worked deputy, really brings the soup to a boil, serving up a tasty performance amidst the fine ensemble.
Mark: 9 out of 11
CALIBRE (2019) – NETFLIX
Written and directed by: Matt Palmer
Main cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran etc.
This nerve-wracking thriller takes two former boarding-school friends, Vaughn and Marcus, portrayed by Lowden and McCann, on a shooting trip to the Highlands of Scotland and throws them into the pits of despair when tragedy strikes. Taut is not the word when a fateful shooting incident occurs, as a series of bad decisions places their fractious relationship at the mercy of the angry locals. Further conflict derives as Vaughn’s attempts to mature are countered by the reckless Marcus’ aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, the film also pointedly comments on the corporate invasion of Scottish nature. Overall, Calibre (2019), had me on the edge-of-my-seat, not wasting a moment to raise the pulse. Finally, Lowden is superb, giving a nuanced performance in an impressively directed feature film debut.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
COUNTY LINES (2019) – BFI PLAYER
Written and directed by: Henry Blake
Main cast: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson etc.
If you didn’t know ‘County Lines’ is the practice of trafficking drugs into rural areas and small towns, away from bigger cities. Traffickers often recruit vulnerable children, including those who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers. Part-thriller and part-cautionary tale, Henry Blake’s gritty and impactful film draws on his own experiences working in a pupil referral unit. Lead character, teenager Tyler (Conrad Khan), is groomed and drawn into a murky world of drugs, only to learn some harsh life lessons. Ashley Madekwe gives a fighting performance as the mother who fears her son is lost to the mean streets of London and Harris Dickinson’s charismatic dealer.
Mark: 8 out of 11
ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019) – BFI PLAYER
Written and directed by: Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor
Main cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aiden Gillen etc.
Similar in style and tone to Lynn Ramsay’s intense You Were Never Really Here (2018), this poetic thriller takes a generic revenge narrative and delivers an eerie experience through haunting performances, direction, editing and musical composition. While the story moves at a glacial pace it retains power and purpose, as Ann Skelly portrays adoptee, Rose/Julie, a veterinarian student searching for her biological parents. Her detective work unearths devastating secrets which then precipitate twisted turns into thematically dark territory. Skelly gives a subtle but intelligent performance, while Orla Brady and Aiden Gillen also give emotional depth to their respective roles. Ultimately, despite the film delivering certain plot points too enigmatically, one cannot fail to be moved by Rose’s shocking journey of discovery.
Mark: 8 out of 11
Lest we forget. . .
SAINT MAUD (2019) – AMAZON PRIME
Written and directed by: Rose Glass
Main cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle etc.
The film is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly. The film may disappoint those who prefer conventional supernatural films, as it is more arthouse than classic horror. Moreover, it has much in common with searing character studies by Paul Schrader, such as Taxi Driver (1976), and the more recent, First Reformed (2017). Indeed, Maud’s voiceover permeates like a prayer to an empty sky bleeding into the powerful imagery to compelling effect. The true horror of Saint Maud (2019) is not in jump scares or one-dimensional monsters, but rather the slow descent into hell by a character who strives to be a saviour. Tragically though, Maud is a self-appointed Angel, whose mental fragility disintegrates under the weight of holy desire and biblical fervour.