Top 10 British Films of 2011

2011 was a great year for British film. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Harry Potter might have grabbed the headlines but there was plenty more on offer as these films show.

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2011 was an exceptional year for the British film industry. Despite the UK Film Council’s demise, prompting fears the loss would pose problems within the industry, British film has thrived thanks to well placed public and private funding as well as international investment.

Having recently spoken to Roger Morris, boss of Elstree Studios, which hosted the production of critical hit The King’s Speech, it was encouraging to hear he was enthusiastic about the prospects of British film going forward.

Of course, money means nothing if the talent isn’t there. But going by these films British cinema hasn’t enjoyed such a golden period for many years. Working with international partners has allowed the industry to make big blockbusters such as the Harry Potter films while emerging talent has been nurtured through lottery funding and public funds by observant executive producers who have pinpointed some great new filmmakers.

The films themselves have done the talking. The sheer diversity of the ten films featured in this list tells its own story – science-fiction horror, period drama, supernatural thriller, social comment, hard-hitting drama, light-hearted comedy, offbeat coming-of-age, cutting-edge documentary, big-budget fantasy. It is all there.

10. Submarine (Richard Ayoade)

“Submarine benefits from an offbeat sense of humour that appears rooted in a nostalgic if guarded look at the moment when idealistic innocence goes head to head with real life disappointment.”

Read my full review

9. The Awakening (Nick Murphy)

“The Awakening might not be unique but it celebrates the great traditions of haunted house films by following convention with effective scares, a sense of style and strong performances.”

Read my full review

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (David Yates)

“Harry’s story comes together with an epic battle that has been brilliantly brought to life on screen.”

Read my full review

7. Attack The Block (Joe Cornish)

“Attack The Block is an intelligently conceived and executed film debut from Joe Cornish.”

Read my full review

6. Kill List (Ben Wheatley)

“Kill List is an assured piece of filmmaking that interestingly sees kitchen sink drama in the age of 21st century recession intermingled with the raw, ferociously violent energy seen in recent Brit horrors Eden Lake and Dead Man’s Shoes.”

Read my full review

5. Project Nim (James Marsh)

“Marsh’s intelligent construction of the story focuses on the human aspect of Nim’s tale, and consequently questions the moral and ethical implications of the scientific investigation without preaching on animal welfare issues.”

Read my full review

4. Weekend (Andrew Haigh)

“Most interestingly is how Weekend challenges a perception built on heterosexual overload in films dealing with love, sex and companionship.”

Read my full review

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

“Alfredson’s film could be framed on the wall as a piece of fine art.”

Read my full review

2. The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper)

“The King’s Speech is an inspirational story about one man’s battle to overcome his affliction. It is also about a burgeoning friendship that transcends the classes and demystifies the British monarchy.”

Read my full review

1. Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)

“Peter Mullan’s brutal temper bubbles and boils beneath the chiselled lines of a weathered face that has a thousand stories to tell.”

Read my full review

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    Nice list, it’s been a bloody brilliant year for Brit cinema. I’d have Attack the Block, Tyrannosaur and Submarine and isn’t We Need to Talk About Kevin British too? Haven’t seen King’s Speech yet.

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    Thomas Reply

    Very nice list, these are all worth checking out! But it brings us back to the question of what constitutes a “British” film… The King’s Speech is half a great film, but it’s also only half a British film, when you look at production and distribution money involved (I just read the other day in Kermode’s latest book that Australia celebrated it as it’s first ever Best Film Oscar winner). Harry Potter is thoroughly American in terms of the production, while featuring almost every living British actor, and directors from all over the world. What all these films you mention (and We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I agree definitely belongs on that list and I like much better than at least five of the films you mention on your list) have in common is their Britishness in style and topic. And even though British topics will remain a niche (despite the lack of language boundaries, most of British topics do not find a US market), every year there is a solid number of excellent edgy movies tackling this Britishness.

  3. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Funny, as I’m reading this, the end credits of Project Nim are playing on my TV screen 😉 Fairly interesting movie indeed. I liked The King’s Speech but didn’t it was worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. Beyond the excellent performances, it’s a rather forgettable movie IMO. Have yet to check out Tyrannosaur but looking forward to it! Nice list Dan 😀

  4. Avatar
    Scott Reply

    Indeed it has been a great year for British film making!!

    I am happy to report I have seen and loved all of the films listed (for once!)

    Happy Friday Dan!

  5. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    Interesting idea for a post, thanks for sharing, Dan! I have so far only seen 3 of your 10.

    I will join the bandwagon that We Need to Talk About Kevin deserves a mention, was by a Scottish director(Lynne Ramsay), starring a Brit(Tilda Swinton). Perhaps was a co-production US and UK ?

    The Trip (comedy with Steve Coogan) is among my faves from UK, which technically was made in 2010, but received a wide release outside of film festivals in 2011

    I should get my act together and watch Tyrannosaur as soon as possible!

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Pete: We Need To Talk About Kevin – good one!

    @Thomas: Interesting point. I think the great thing about regional film is how that instructs its culture, character and purpose. But we rarely see this wherever you look these days because the money is in pandering to convention and everything is so influenced by American cinema which is perhaps the worst culprit for lacking cultural identity. Most of the time these “blockbusters” lean towards the idealised vision and the so-called American Dream.

    But I think some of my favourite British films this year were uniquely “British” in nature – Tyrannosaur, my favourite, couldn’t have been made by anyone who didn’t grow up on a council estate in the Midlands; likewise, Weekend, Attack The Block, Submarine and Kill List all have a very regionally cultured feel about them.

    But it is difficult to say what a film’s country of origin is – it certainly isn’t the obvious: where it is set. We Need To Talk About Kevin might have been funded by British money but it doesn’t feel like a British film – American setting, American characters etc.

    But things like the foreign investment for Harry Potter has been crucial in making this great franchise so successful.

    I’m not sure about The King’s Speech, as far as I was aware it was wholly funded by British money – about 12% was lottery funding through the UK Film Council and 65% from London’s Prescience.

  7. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    Ashamed to say I’ve only seen Attack the Block, King’s Speech and Harry Potter. Not ashamed though to say that Attack the Block was easily my favorite film of last year period. So much fun.

  8. Avatar
    Amy Reply

    Brilliant list, although I’m still yet to see Kill List, Weekend and Tyrannosaur. I adored Submarine, TTSS and Attack the Block. British films have never been better; hopefully we’ll continue to produce a similarly amazing standard this year!

  9. Avatar
    niels Reply

    I need to get to some films in this list. I’ve only seen “Submarine”, “The King’s Speech” and “Project Nim”, all good.

    I’m surprised to see “The King’s Speech” since I thought it was released in late 2010. I will be checking out Tyrannosaur soon!

  10. Avatar
    Andina Reply

    I haven’t watch some on your list. But Tyrannosaur is one of the movies I want to see now. You also make me want to check out Weekend. Great year for British, and great list.

  11. Avatar
    Novroz Reply

    Thank you for this Dan 🙂
    I have been leaning more to British movies than American lately,I take note of all these movies and find the one I haven’t watched.

    Your country sure have original idea for a movie 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Louise Reply

    Not seen many of the films on the list but totally agree with the high billing for The King’s Speech and Tinker Tailor – although I probably would have reversed their order. One of my favourite British films last year was an indie called Forget Paris, doubt it was well distributed but if you get the chance to see it you should.

  13. Avatar
    Blandine Etienne Reply

    Love the cast & director Richard Ayoade but I couldn’t love Submarine. I hate to use the phrase “tries too hard” but that’s exactly what I thought.

    Olvia Colman deserved an Oscar nod for her performance in Tyrannosaur. Only knew her from Peep Show & Hot Fuzz so this was such a revelation.

    Attack The Block was great, such a treat.

    Need to get cracking because I haven’t seen about half of the movies on here and 2012 is 3/4 done!

  14. Avatar
    Raghav Modi Reply

    Great list… I’m done with about 50% of those. Would have added The Guard in it too maybe?

  15. Avatar
    movies4forever Reply

    You should put The King’s Speech in top, it’s one of the best movies of 2011. BTW great list and respect to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, great film

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