The UK has produced a number of celebrated, visionary directors since the early days of cinema, with Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean some of the most iconic names in film history. As a hub of quality filmmaking talent, the UK is still going strong in the present day. The landscape has become more democratic with changing times; over the last few decades, female directors such as Amma Asante, Joanna Hogg and Lynne Ramsay have provided a much-needed fresh voice. Our writers have considered their options, so read on to see who they’ve chosen as their favourite Brit directors…
Women in film are frequently underrepresented and not fully appreciated for their works, especially female directors – as showcased by a lack of nominations at the Oscars earlier this year. A leading woman in the industry, Andrea Arnold should be noted as one of Britain’s best film directors. In her career so far, Arnold has directed four feature-length films: Red Road (2006), Fish Tank (2009), Wuthering Heights (2011) and American Honey (2016). Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey all won Arnold the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. She has also directed three short films including the Academy Award-winning Wasp, which picked up the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2004. Arnold tends to direct social realist films that comment on the ills of society but has recently moved into directing on the small screen with her work on Transparent and the second series of hit US drama Big Little Lies – illustrating her diversity as a creative. Andrea Arnold should be widely celebrated as an important figure amongst both British and female directors, for her unique portrayal of impoverished lives on the edges of society, her signature intimacy with the camera, and the variety of her career to date.
He started the superhero movie boom, his films have been nominated for 34 Oscars altogether, and he has put together some of the greatest action set-pieces of all time. Christopher Nolan first came to the world’s attention in 2000 with Memento, which set out the time-bending antics that would come to define his career. He achieved a new level of prestige in 2005 when he was handed the keys to one of pop culture’s most recognisable characters. What Nolan did with Batman in his Dark Knight trilogy sums up what is so great about the director. Nolan managed to bring the aura of the serious artistic film to the DC superhero, combining it a blockbuster aesthetic without short-changing the audience on either thrills or dramatic integrity. Having made some very ‘American’-feeling films, he returned to his British roots with Dunkirk in 2017. Nolan’s latest captured the sickening nature of war and the bravery of those involved in the 1940 evacuations. Between this, Interstellar, Inception and the hotly anticipated Tenet, it is clear that Christopher Nolan is one of the great auteurs of his generation.
Who hasn’t thought of heading to The Winchester to wait for the zombie apocalypse to blow over? Or considered a late-night marathon of Point Break and then Bad Boys II? Well, we have comedy genius Edgar Wright to thank for that, as well for many, many other hilarious and iconic moments from his films over the past 20 odd years. There’s no end to his stylistic inventions: whether that is Baby Driver‘s slick matching of action to the beats of its funky soundtrack, having nearly everything in the first act of Hot Fuzz working to foreshadow the reveal of Sandford’s sinister secret society, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World drawing heavily on the style of its comic book source, Wright brings something original and offbeat to each new film. True, his works might not be the big award-winners, but that doesn’t mean everything and Wright has accrued plenty of praise in other places. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, especially, are firm fan favourites and quintessential examples of British comedy.
From the seven deadly exes to a bite at the King’s Head, each of Wright’s films develop a different narrative and varied themes, and he’s even had the chance to work with bigger budgets in his last few, but the differences don’t matter. Wright manages to make each movie something particularly memorable, often referencing great tales and sometimes even himself!
As a well-established, award-winning British director, Mike Leigh is known for his work in the realm of social realism, often compared to the likes of Ken Loach for his ‘slice of life’ movies and a continuation of the kitchen sink drama. One of my personal favourite Leigh films Life Is Sweet (1990) depicts the everyday life of a working-class family, based in North London during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Nicola (Jane Horrocks) is a point of focus in the film, a character that realistically portrays the realities of having an eating disorder as she refuses to work on ideological grounds, furiously critiquing everything from politics to the men in her life. Most recently, Leigh directed the historical drama Peterloo (2018). Leigh’s latest depicts the brutality of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, when British forces attacked the peaceful, pro-democracy rallygoers to great bloodshed. Mike Leigh is a critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated director, and has even received an OBE for his contributions to the film industry. These are just a few of the many reasons why he is an important British director to honour and remember.
Richard Curtis is a director, producer and screenwriter whose work spans many genres. He is almost a genre in and of himself. As a writer, Curtis has been behind classic British TV comedies such as Blackadder, Mr. Bean, and The Vicar of Dibley, household favourites across the nation. However, Curtis’ career in film may be what he is best known for: writing 13 films, eight of which he also produced, and directing three of those. Though he has been involved in raucous comedy The Boat That Rocked (2009), WWI epic War Horse (2011) and recent Beatles tribute Yesterday (2019), Curtis, for me, represents the British rom-com genre, working on classic titles such as Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003). As a director, his work on Love Actually and About Time (2013) is beautiful to watch for very different reasons. The former is a classic Christmas film that elicits all those warm feelings integral to great rom-coms and is watched, without fail, every year come December. About Time is more of a nuanced tale, blending elements of tragedy and comedy in equal measure to produce that same heartwarming feeling with a bit more of an edge that cuts deep. Richard Curtis’ creative talent has impressed itself on many who cherish his films, whether they want a romantic comedy or something more.