The Best British Movies For a Jolly Good Time

Look, I’m aware that I have an Anglophile problem. I’m literally watching Downton Abbey right now, as I write this. Sometimes I just want to let accents that sound nothing like my own wash over me. Sometimes I want to escape but only have the energy to go across the pond. While I refuse to spell it “humour,” I prefer it to be dry and sardonic like the best British comedians. I love a British film—whether it’s romantic or action-packed.

There are two ways you could think about British film: For this list, I’m trying to focus on films set in Britain, or films that could be set anywhere but are directed by British filmmakers. For this list, I’m tackling both. Stiffen your upper lip and check out these films:

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1

‘Shakespeare in Love’

You may have a favorite Shakespeare adaptation, but this swoon-worthy film about the man himself and the ~wacky~ business of putting on a show is my favorite. Gwyneth Paltrow’s British accent is pretty good, if you ask me!

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2

‘Billy Elliot’

The story of a boy in a mining town who discovers a passion and a talent for ballet… why am I already crying?

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3

‘Pride and Prejudice’

There are obviously many Jane Austen adaptations to choose from, but the infamous hand flex rises to the top. I feel like this film was maligned when it was released because it didn’t live up to Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle miniseries adaptation, and I’m so glad it’s finally getting its moment in the sun.

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5

‘Saving Mr. Banks’

Hear me out: Most of this film is set in California and P. L. Travers grew up in Australia, but it’s about Mary Poppins, and Travers’ English manners in adulthood are hilariously perplexing to her American collaborators on the Disney film.

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6

‘Atonement’

WARNING: WILL PRODUCE ENOUGH TEARS TO FILL THE THAMES.

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7

‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’

Put down Love Actually and pick up Four Weddings for a refreshing, and equally mind-boggling, romantic comedy.

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8

‘The Prestige’

Christopher Nolan’s films all feel a little British—even the ones with explosions and time travel. But this one, about rival magicians, is the foggiest and Londoniest.

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9

‘Howard’s End’

It’s lush and romantic and also low-key feminist???? Without giving away any twists, the film is about two progressive and independent sisters who fall in love with the men in a conservative and rich family next door in Edwardian London.

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10

‘Trainspotting’

If the latest “gritty” and “dark” movie in theaters isn’t as grimy as Trainspotting I’m NOT interested.

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11

‘Attack the Block’

Alien invasion expectation: Independence Day

Alien invasion reality: Attack the Block

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12

‘The Dig’

This somewhat sleepy drama is an underrated gem hidden on Netflix. It’s the true story of an extraordinary treasure excavated from an ordinary woman’s backyard in East Anglia.

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13

‘The History Boys’

Another underrated gem, the film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s award-winning play has some touchy subject matter (just a lil’ warning) and a debate about the purpose of education that will stick with you. It also stars so many future famous British actors it’s kind of ridiculous.

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15

‘1917’

This World War I film isn’t solely focused on the horrors of trench warfare, or war in general—it’s a relatively simple and super watchable story about two English soldiers with a clear goal. If you must watch something about The War but aren’t in the mood for tons of muddy men running around and killing each other, this might be it.

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16

‘The Favourite’

Have you heard of Queen Anne? Her story is fascinating and this twisted, darkly comic movie barely scratches the surface. Come for a breakout performance by Joe Alwyn and stay for Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone and Olivia Colman’s iconic triangle.

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17

‘Paddington 2’

What’s more British than Paddington? The mild-mannered bear is an icon. Many people think this is the best movie… ever?

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18

‘Belle’

Inspired by a true story, Dido Elizabeth Belle is a biracial orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy cousins in the country outside of London. Her guardian is a powerful judge, who in the film is hearing a famous case involving slavery at the same time that Dido is coming out in London society and juggling multiple suitors. It’s like a Jane Austen romance with a smattering of civil rights history you may not have read in your history books.

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19

‘Pride’

Recognizing that they have a common enemy in the police and the establishment, a group of gay rights activists go to a mining town to support workers on strike. You’ll be crying tears of joy at this true story of empathy and love winning over apathy and hate.

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20

‘Shaun of the Dead’

Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” are the quintessential British action comedies. You may prefer The World’s End or Hot Fuzz, but it’s pub culture meets zombies for me.

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21

‘Hunger’

British director Steve McQueen’s more mainstream films, like 12 Years a Slave and Widows, are set in the United States. But check out his anthology of films set in and around London called Small Axe as well as this film about a famous group of prisoners in Norther Ireland.

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The Best British Movies For a Jolly Good Time

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