Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bring On the Brits

Now that my apartment is sparkling clean--the first good scrub I've given the place since moving in--I can relax and enjoy the rest of my Saturday. I've been wanting to make a list of my favorite British movies for a while now, so here they are:

1. Bend it Like Beckham
Who's In It? Mostly actors of Indian descent, like the wonderful Parminder Nagra, who was born and raised in England. Also stars Kiera Knightley and the wonderful Juliet Stevenson.

This one is about an Indian family living in London, and the challenges they face when the youngest daughter, Jess, wants to be a footballer, not one of the more accepted roles for young women of Indian descent. But while made by an Indian woman, the movie is set in Britain, and has a decidedly British feel to it, and even a famous British soccer player in the title. It is a lovely little film, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and some amazing imagery comparing the two worlds that the family lives in. Parminder Nagra is lovely as Jess, torn between the Indian culture of her birth and the English culture that surrounds her. And her parents, while strict and very hesitant to let her play soccer, are not portrayed as "the bad guys." Jess sums it up perfectly: "This is taking me away from everything they know."

2. Love Actually
Who's In It? A complete Who's Who of British actors--and simply too many to list them all. So I'll list the best of the lot: Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson (he's from Northern Ireland, so still technically British!), and mustn't forget Hugh Grant.

It's not a perfect film; it does have it's flaws. Still, it is easily better than it would have been if it had been done by Americans in say, a New York City setting. Love Actually follows several interwoven storylines about love--romantic love, unrequited love, grieving love, broken-hearted love, familial love--and all of the accompanying emotions that come with it. The movie aims to prove, in the words of Hugh Grant, that, "love, actually is all around."

It also provides some fantastic musical and comedic moments. Who can forget Bill Nighy's character changing the words of his song, "Love is All Around" to "Christmas is All Around?" Or the little girl belting out "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (a moment that was later imitated by yours truly at an English high school's Christmas Karaoke)?

In the end, the movie is simply uplifting and adorable, even with its flaws...and I just have to add that I love Martine McCutcheon's role in it--she's a real talent.

3. The Full Monty
Who's In It? Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy and Tom Wilkinson are the three biggest names. These are guys you've seen around but you don't know who they are. That's a shame, it really is, because they're fantastic.

The Full Monty is classic. When the Chippendale dancers come to the dying steel town where Gaz (Carlyle) and Dave (Addy) live, the two unemployed men wonder what it is about these guys that gets every woman in town to the show. Carlyle, a divorced father with a cash-flow problem, gets the grand idea that he and Dave should start their own strip show to raise money.

They recruit four other down-and-out men and the hilarity ensues as six not-so-fit men rehearse their moves and decide whether or not to go "the full monty" (read: completely naked).

Despite the title and the premise, there's very little nudity--just a few pasty white bums here and there. I recommend using the subtitles feature, too, as this movie is set in Northern England, where the accent is quite thick.

4. Billy Elliot
Who's In It? The absolutely delightful young Jamie Bell, who received a lot of acclaim for this role, and rightly so. It also stars Julie Walters (you might know her as Molly Weasely?).

Billy Elliot is a wonderful film about a 12-year-old boy living in a mining town in Northern England. One week while attending boxing class, he spies Mrs. Wilkinson's ballet class and decides to give it a go. Before long he realizes that he loves to dance, much to the chagrin of his macho father and older brother, both of whom are caught up in a vicious union strike at the mines.

Again, use your subtitles for this one, as the thick northern accents and language can be hard for American ears to follow. You'll cheer for Billy--he's truly adorable and wonderfully portrayed. Also, take a look at Adam Cooper, who plays Billy as an adult--he's a dancer at London's Sadler's Wells, and I once got to see him perform. : )

5. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Who's In It? This is the movie that brought Hugh Grant to our attention, but there are other notable Brits on the cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas and the inimitable Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean!).

A group of British friends attend, you guessed it, four weddings and a funeral over the course of a few years. At the first, Charles (Grant) meets charming American Carrie, (the so-gorgeous-I-want-to-slap-her Andie MacDowell) and lust ensues. Eventually, the lust turns into love, but there are a few barriers to their eventual happiness--namely, she's marrying a rich older man.

There is enough drama mixed with dry British wit to make this movie a classic--and it's always nice to see Hugh Grant and remind myself why I always thought he was cute (he just hasn't aged well; if you've seen Bridget Jones' Diary, you must agree).

6. Sense and Sensibility
Who's In It? Good ole Hugh, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, as well as the always delightful, someone-once-said-I-look-like-her Kate Winslet. Other notables are Gemma Jones (who also brilliantly plays Bridget Jones' mum in both movies) and Hugh Laurie (now very famous in the U.S. for playing Dr. House).

Okay, yes, this movie was directed by Ang Lee, who is from Taiwan. But the setting is England and the actors are English (none of this "Learn a Bad British Accent 101" that American actors seem to love to do). And the story--well, it's Jane Austen. Enough said. I admit to being less than comfortably familiar with the book, but I believe most of the important plot points are present in the movie, and it is acted beautifully.

Elinor and Marianne are sisters who are close, yet very different. Their father's recent death and the entailment of his estate to their half brother and his greedy, snobby wife have left them destitute and forced to rely on the charity of distant family.

Of course, just because a girl is poor doesn't mean she can't find love, and both girls endure the highs and lows of courtship, rejection, duty, and honor to reach the ultimate goal: marriage to a respectable gentleman.

Come to think of it, I have never seen a movie with Emma or Kate that I didn't end up liking.

7. Pride and Prejudice (BBC version)
Who's In It? This is another Who's Who of Excellent British Actors: The ever-so-dreamy Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle (I saw her on stage with Kevin Spacey), Barbara Leigh-Hunt, David Bamber, and Julia Sawalha are just a few.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that this is the only version of Pride and Prejudice worth watching (well, if you're me, my mom, Kathy or Heather).

Kiera Knightley, eat your heart out.

When I saw a movie poster in England that advertised Kiera as Lizzie Bennet in an upcoming movie of Pride and Prejudice, I almost passed out. She's not the most terrific actress (though I love her in Bend it Like Beckham) and I'm sorry, she does not have the chops to pull off Lizzie Bennett! I haven't seen her version, on the advice of fellow P&P/Colin Firth devotee Heather, and I probably never will.

In 1995, the BBC in England and A&E in the U.S. aired a six-part series of Pride and Prejudice. My mom and I watched it and we loved, loved, LOVED it. I honestly believe that we will never see a better version of the movie made--at least not in my lifetime. Colin Firth was born to play Mr. Darcy. Jennifer Ehle truly has Lizzie's sparkling, "fine eyes." Barbara Leigh-Hunt is downright fearsome in the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Julia Sawalha is fantastic as youngest sister Lydia, the bratty, silly, stupid girl who elopes with dashing but unscrupulous Mr. Wickham. David Bamber is perfectly greasy and obsequious as Mr. Collins. I could go on and on.

Is it obvious that Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of Jane Austen's books?

8. Shakespeare in Love
Who's In It? Joseph Fiennes with his brown eyes you could drown in, American Gwyneth Paltrow (who actually pulls off a convincing accent), Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, and the legendary Dame Judi Dench (as Queen Elizabeth, no less!).

We're taking some major liberties with Shakespeare's life here, but I, for one, am glad they did. The movie follows his serious bout of writer's block and his romance with the beautiful Viola, a bored young woman betrothed to the nasty Lord Wessex (Colin Firth being delightfully villanous). Viola wants to act the famous words of William Shakespeare; Will himself is quite flattered and the writer's block is lifted. Of course, their love cannot last--he is married to Anne Hathaway and she is engaged. Thus, his comedy "Romeo and Ethyl the Pirate's Daughter" becomes the tragic, legendary, "Romeo and Juliet."

Hey, it's not Shakespeare (sorry!) but it's still a fabulous little movie.


Those are most of my favorites, along with the Harry Potter franchise. : )

Now I find myself really hungry and in need of some hot tea, so I'll sign off.



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