Continuing our summer vacation in the movies, we’ll go to a different European country each Thursday in August. Starting with movies related to the United Kingdom, this list is not my picks for the best movies that happen to be set in the UK but the best portrayals of the country or part of the country that I’ve seen in the movies.
10. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
William Wyler’s first WWII film takes us to the home front in a rural village on the outskirts of London. The beauty of the countryside and the strikingly different values of the British home front compared the American home front (at least in the movies) are very special. The movie makes Kay Miniver a real war hero, more intimately involved in the efforts of her husband and son that what we see from the American perspective where soldiers’ wives were most concerned with the affairs at home, doing the work to make up for the absent family member.
9. The Ruling Class (1972)
The funniest movie about British parliament ever made, Peter O’Toole’s character becomes an English lord after the death of his father by hanging as the result of a cross-dressing accident. If that’s not weird enough, Peter O’Toole’s character thinks he’s Jesus, and the rest of the political system has to adapt his insane ramblings and quirky ideas that don’t allow anybody to get anything done. The movie harshly criticizes the self-aggrandizement and self-absorption seen in the British politics of the time. But it’s a great movie for Americans right now as this movie’s hilarious portrayal of a chaotic, cult-like political system is something we’ve become very familiar with over the last 6 months.
8. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
Now, the funniest movie about British royalty ever made. Charles Laughton plays Henry VIII with all his murderous, sexually immoral, and misogynist ways and an affinity for devouring capons in the funniest scene of the movie. The idea of telling the true, dark, and deeply disturbing story of Henry VIII and the executions of his wives accurately with a crazy comedic twist was unheard of in 1933, making this a landmark, terribly under-seen and underrated masterpiece.
7. The Quiet Man (1952)
John Ford’s romantic comedy finds John Wayne in Ireland, and this movie has to be on this for its sheer beauty. Every scene shows a grand picture of rural Ireland that is unforgettable.
6. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
The greatest of all swashbuckling epics shows an England of a time gone by that continues to live on in legend and imagination. Errol Flynn’s physically demanding performance of Robin Hood takes us to this legendary England of our imaginations.
5. Wuthering Heights (1939)
The beautiful home that shares its name with the title of Bronte’s novel is brought to life in William Wyler’s film. The architecture and the courtyard surrounding the house gives some of the best production design in film history to recreate this Victorian set.
4. The Queen (2006)
After a couple political comedies earlier on the last, the best British political movie I’ve ever seen is The Queen. Interestingly, the movie doesn’t focus much on politics or what it means to be the queen. It’s about the nation-wide grief that country experienced at the loss of Princess Diana all through the eyes of Diana’s most prominent detractor.
3. Mary Poppins (1964)
The magical nanny is our tour guide to a fanciful version of London in the early 1900s. The realistic sets show us a lot what it must’ve looked like until we get to get jump in Burt’s paintings with Burt, Mary and the kids.
2. The Full Monty (1997)
Sheffield…a city on the move. So the movie begins, but that beginning is a news reel from quite a while before our story begins. The Sheffield of The Full Monty is not a city on the move but a city of hurt and desperation. Yet the hope that these characters experience as they join together gives a feel for the spirit of Sheffield.
1. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Ang Lee directs and Emma Thompson stars, but she doesn’t star as much as an actress as she does as a writer. Her adaptation of Jane Austen’s lesser work takes a novel that’s almost incomprehensible in parts and has a terrible ending contrary to the earlier development of the characters and transforms it into one of the most enchanting films ever made. The movie takes us to the location, but much more it transports us to the society of 1700s rural England, to the norms that are unjust but the people who overcome those injustices. Inspiring, funny, romantic, and absolutely joyous in every second we spend in Victorian-era London, Sense and Sensibility is the best movie journey to the UK I’ve ever seen.