9 of the best British films you've never seen

Fair warning: when I started this list I wasn’t planning to fill it solely with dark and depressing films, but that’s definitely what’s ended up happening.

It might be that I’ve always been drawn to films with challenging subject matters, or it might be that British directors are just really damn good at making realistically gritty movies.

Either way, the nine films below aren’t always easy to watch. They are very good though and you totally should watch them — you just might need to be in the right mood.

1. This is England

Stephen Graham puts in an impressively  scary performance as Combo in 'This is England'.

Stephen Graham puts in an impressively  scary performance as Combo in ‘This is England’.

Image: optimum releasing

What’s it about?

A young boy who gets caught up with a gang of racist skinheads in the early ’80s.

Why should you watch it?

Shane Meadows is arguably one of the best British directors out there at the moment, and This is England is one of his finest films. The dialogue is gritty and realistic, Danny Cohen’s cinematography is on-point, and the whole thing just seems to encapsulate the era in which it’s set. Also, if you do enjoy it, Meadows has made a bunch of TV sequels that follow the same group of characters later in the decade.

Watch the trailer:

2. Dead Man’s Shoes

Richard and Anthony heading back home in one of the film's opening shots.

Richard and Anthony heading back home in one of the film’s opening shots.

Image: optimum releasing

What’s it about?

A man wreaks (a very violent) revenge on the men who tormented his younger brother while he was away in the army.

Why should you watch it?

Shane Meadows again, this time with a very bleak (but extremely tense and well acted) thriller. Paddy Considine plays the main character Richard with a blank-eyed intensity that fills all of his scenes with a kind of lurking menace, and the spare dialogue adds a grim element of realism to the whole thing.

Watch the trailer:

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Ezra Miller as the exceedingly creepy Kevin.

Ezra Miller as the exceedingly creepy Kevin.

Image: artificial eye

What’s it about?

A woman struggles to cope with life in the aftermath of a horrendous crime committed by her son.

Why should you watch it it?

We Need to Talk About Kevin wasn’t Ezra Miller’s first film (he’d already been in a handful of movies and appeared as a returning character in Californication by that point), but it was probably the one that really accelerated his career. It’s not hard to see why, either. He’s impressively creepy as Kevin, acting as a mysterious focal point for the film’s dark subject matter. Tilda Swinton is equally great as his troubled mother, and the film is shot beautifully by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay.

Watch the trailer:

4. Fish Tank

Be warned, Fassbender fans: Michael does not play a nice guy in this film.

Be warned, Fassbender fans: Michael does not play a nice guy in this film.

Image: artificial eye

What’s it about?

How the life of a 15-year-old girl is suddenly turned upside-down when her mum gets a new boyfriend.

Why should you watch it?

Before Michael Fassbender had rocketed to his current magnetic levels of X-Men fame, he was appearing in awesome independent films like this one. And it really is an awesome film. The subject matter is dark and it’s often uncomfortable to watch, but the acting is flawless and Andrea Arnold’s dialogue and direction are absolutely spot on.

Watch the trailer:

5. Wuthering Heights

Solomon Glave is excellent as a young Heathcliff in 'Wuthering Heights'.

Solomon Glave is excellent as a young Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Image: artificial eye

What’s it about?

It’s an adaptation of the 1847 novel by Emily Brontë, which tells the story of a homeless boy’s turbulent relationship with the daughter of the man who takes him in.

Why should you watch it?

Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights isn’t a perfect film, but the cinematography and the sound mixing are perfect. The sights and sounds of the moor are infused with so much life and movement that the landscape almost becomes a character in its own right.

Watch the trailer:

6. Kill List

Nothing says 'creepy' quite like a woman in a white dress waving slowly at you from a dark roadside.

Nothing says ‘creepy’ quite like a woman in a white dress waving slowly at you from a dark roadside.

Image: optimum releasing

What’s it about?

Two former soldiers are hired to kill three seemingly unconnected people for reasons that aren’t clear. As their mission progresses, though, weird stuff starts to happen.

Why should you watch it?

Kill List is a really fun blend of thriller, horror, and mystery that swings unpredictably between tense and — occasionally — borderline-farcical. Somehow it gets away with it, though. Without wanting to give too much away, you spend the first three quarters of the film wondering what the hell is going on, and the last quarter wondering what the hell you’re watching.

Watch the trailer:

7. Tyrannosaur

Olivia Colman is stunning in 'Tyrannosaur'.

Olivia Colman is stunning in ‘Tyrannosaur’.

Image: optimum releasing

What’s it about?

An angry widower becomes friends with a charity shop worker trapped in an abusive relationship.

Why should you watch it?

Most of the films on this list are challenging or uncomfortable to watch in some way, but Tyrannosaur is one you really need to brace yourself for. The themes of anger, violence, and domestic abuse are examined with such a blunt realism by writer/director Paddy Considine (yep, the main guy from Dead Man’s Shoes) that the film is very, very tough going in places. So why should you watch it? Well the acting is incredible (especially the always-brilliant Olivia Colman), and despite some critics labelling it “poverty porn”, I’d argue the film takes a close and challenging look at some important issues.

Watch the trailer:

8. The Selfish Giant

The cinematography is just one reason to watch 'The Selfish Giant'.

The cinematography is just one reason to watch ‘The Selfish Giant’.

Image: film4

What’s it about?

A scrap dealer who uses two troubled teenage boys to help him make money (it’s also a retelling of an Oscar Wilde story).

Why should you watch it?

As you’ve probably guessed this is another fairly dark one, but it’s also a moving story about childhood friendship and a comment on the way society treats teenagers who get labelled “difficult”. It’s also beautifully, beautifully shot.

Watch the trailer:

9. Shallow Grave

Ewan McGregor was still in his early twenties when this one came out.

Ewan McGregor was still in his early twenties when this one came out.

Image: polygram filmed entertainment

What’s it about?

Three flatmates let their spare room to a stranger who abruptly dies, leaving them with a full suitcase of money. They decide to keep the cash and dispose of the body, and disaster ensues.

Why should you watch it?

You’ve probably heard of Scottish director Danny Boyle (and if not you’ll almost certainly have heard of Trainspotting, which is probably his best-known film), but you might not be familiar with his earlier work. He made Shallow Grave two years before Trainspotting, and while it’s not quite on that same cult level it’s still a really fun watch. The plot is a little like the start of a Coen Brothers’ film, and the story really gets into its stride in the third act, when the main characters’ friendships start to unravel (Christopher Eccleston does an excellent job of morphing from shy and nerdy to creepy and intense).

Watch the trailer:

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