With so many thousands of movies on Netflix, it’s sometimes hard to make a decision on what to watch. It can feel like you’re endlessly scrolling – moving through category after category, 30 minutes at a time, trying to find something that catches your eye. If you find yourself feeling ever so fancy, you’re in the right place. British content is plentiful on Netflix these days — from The Great British Bake Off to Bridgerton — but you might be in the mood for (and actually have the attention span for) a good old-fashioned movie. Well, maybe not too old, because Netflix isn’t great about providing content made prior to 1990, but that’s a story for another time.
Again, with so many choices, what do you go for? A historical drama? A documentary? A little Tom Hardy? No worries, pet, that’s where we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the better finds in British Movies on Netflix.
Croupier (1998) – Directed by Mike Hodges
Croupier might not have been a big hit when it released in 1998, but the film did receive a lot of praise in America and it launched the career of its lead actor, Clive Owen. From veteran director Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Flash Gordon), this neo-noir is about Jack Manfred (Owen), a struggling writer who decides to take on a job as a croupier (a person behind the table at a casino who helps facilitate the game). He spends his time observing the clientele, all the while gathering fodder for his book. Jack is aloof and tries to stay detached but eventually he succumbs and finds himself immersed in the world of the casino. He’s using his experiences for his novel, but his decision to get involved in that world begins to destroy both his relationship with his girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) and his writing.
Croupier opened in the UK to minimal fanfare. When the film was lavished with praise in the US, the distributors re-released the film in the UK where it was reappraised by audiences and critics alike. The film might’ve been destined for Oscar nominations, most especially an acting nod for Owen, but an airing of the film on Dutch TV disqualified it. Oscar or no, Croupier is a special film, and it isn’t always available on streaming. Watch this one while you can.
Legend (2015) – Directed by Brian Helgeland
Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy, together again for the first time! Legend, based on John Pearson’s 1972 biography, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, is about Ronald and Reginald Kray, the twin brothers who ruled London’s underworld in the 1960s. While they owned legitimate West End nightclubs, which attracted celebrities and politicians, they were also involved in your typical kinds of organized crimes like forcing people to pay for protection, assault, and murder. They did love their mum, though. Bless.
From acclaimed writer Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for L.A. Confidential, Legend is basically a biopic but one that is dressed to the nines with its beautiful cinematography and its terrific recreations of 1960s London. While this isn’t the only film about the twins — 1990s Peter Medak’s The Krays starring the rock star brothers from the band Spandau Ballet comes to mind — it is the only one starring Tom Hardy² giving two of the more interesting performances you’ll see on Netflix right now.
Hardy plays both Ron and Reg. It’s not difficult to tell them apart because Ron is the pretty one and Reg, well, Reg wears glasses and is insane. The film follows the twins from Ron’s release from a psychiatric hospital for paranoid schizophrenia to their eventual arrests for their crimes just a few years later. Ron just wants to be a “respectable” nightclub owner and Reg just wants to “play”. Hardy’s performance as the twins is the highlight here. He absolutely pulls it off and the effects of him acting against himself are seamless.
Been So Long (2020) – Directed by Tinge Krishnan
In the mood for a modern love story set in London starring Michaela Coel and, oh yeah, it’s a musical? You’re in the right place yet again. Been So Long, based on the musical of the same name by Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill, is about a single mother, Simone (Coel), who is definitely not looking for love. Naturally, she finds it (or some facsimile of it) when she happens upon Raymond (Arinzé Kene), a super hot man with a past. The two meet and embark on the beginnings of a relationship through song and dance.
Directed by Tinge Krishnan, Been So Long is a refreshing take on romance movies. Sure, love stories as musicals have been done before, but in this film, we have Black musical, set in contemporary times, set to current music, with modern dance. This kind of film isn’t 10p a dozen on Netflix or anywhere else, for that matter. The film doesn’t pretend its female characters aren’t sexual beings, either.
Been So Long’s star, Coel, shines as Simone. She moves through the film singing and dancing with immense grace and power. She’s on a journey not only of finding love but also of self-discovery. Kene (who was in the original production of the play) is wonderful as Raymond. The two exude chemistry and their scenes are together are intense. The supporting cast is great, too, especially Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo as Yvonne, Simone’s best friend. George MacKay, inexplicably and, really, unnecessarily, pops up playing a kebab knife wielding guy who seems to be everywhere all at once in Camden. In case you’re not a huge fan of musicals, go ahead and try this one out. You might forget you’re actually watching a musical as the songs aren’t that plentiful.
Dunkirk (2017) – Directed by Christopher Nolan
Dunkirk tells the story of the mass evacuation of Allied soldiers out of Dunkirk, France early in World War II. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is an epic war film that is stark, brutal, oppressive, and tense. There isn’t much dialogue in the film, but there doesn’t need to be. The images, gorgeously shot by Hoyte van Hoytema (a frequent collaborator with Nolan), are both horrific and dazzling at the same time.
The film follows Private Jensen (Fionn Whitehead) in his desperate attempt to get back to Britain any way he can. He survived being ambushed by the Germans and runs to the beach to find tens of thousand Allied soldiers all trapped with nowhere to go, with the sea on one side and German soldiers on the other. How will Jensen and the rest of the men make it out of France and home to England before the Germans overrun them? Even if you ultimately know how the real event turns out, Dunkirk still makes for stressful viewing. Besides, with a cast that includes Tom Hardy (a second appearance on the list), Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, and Aneurin Barnard (also in Legend), you can’t go wrong.
Rebecca (2020) – Directed by Ben Wheatley
When it was announced that Ben Wheatley was going to direct a new adaption of Rebecca, the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, many started grumbling that there didn’t need to be a remake since Alfred Hitchcock’s perfectly wonderful 1940 version exists. Basically, their chief complaint was, how can you improve on perfection? Apparently, Wheatley didn’t care, and the Netflix-produced film was made.
A young woman (Lily James), working as a companion in Monte Carlo, meets Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), a handsome rich widower and after whirlwind romance, the two marry. The couple return to England and to Manderley, the de Winter family estate, where the new Mrs. de Winter cannot escape the looming presence of his first wife, Rebecca.
While nowhere close to being as good as the original, Rebecca is an interesting watch. There’s a lot of beauty to be found in the film. The stars, James and Hammer, are gorgeous, even if they have zero chemistry together and come across as rather wooden. The costumes and the sets are also beautifully done. The film’s look is reminiscent of Wheatley’s past productions like High Rise and Free Fire, and that’s because, like those films, it was also shot by Laurie Rose. Rebecca, unfortunately, doesn’t feel sinister, which is odd, given Wheatley’s past films. The highlight of the film is Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers. She is tremendous as the housekeeper of Manderley. If nothing else, Thomas is reason enough to watch this film.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – Directed by Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
By far the oldest and certainly funniest film on this list is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It stars the comedy group, Monty Python, whose members are Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese. The film is about Arthur, King of the Britons (Chapman), and his search for members to join his Knights of the Round Table. Along for the ride is his squire, Patsy (Gilliam). He eventually runs into his knights, who include Sir Galahad the Pure (Palin), Sir Bedevere the Wise (Jones), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Cleese), and Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Idle). Comedy ensues as Arthur gathers his Knights and they search for Camelot.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail marks the directorial of both Gilliam and Jones. To describe the jokes and the silly things that happen would be pointless. If you’ve seen the group’s TV show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then you know what you’re getting: irreverent humor where nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred. If you haven’t seen any of the Python’s work (well, you should go watch their aforementioned TV show), the humor in the film has something for everyone. Please don’t let the fact that this movie is 47 years old dissuade you from watching it. It’s classic humor that never grows old.
The Dig (2021) – Directed by Simon Stone
Set just before the outbreak of World War II, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires a local amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the rather sizeable burial mounds located on her estate, in Sutton Hoo, England. Based on the 2007 John Preston book of the same name, The Dig reinvents the real life discovery of the medieval treasures found in the burial mounds in Sutton Hoo, including a ship containing a trove of Anglo-Saxon artifacts.
The film boasts wonderful acting from both Fiennes and Mulligan, and sees them supported by a cast that includes Lily James, Ben Chaplin, and Johnny Flynn. This isn’t a movie that is fast paced and filled with action; it moves along like a soft breeze. Let’s just say, this is a film your mom would probably like. So grab a cuppa, wrap up in your favorite blanket before pressing play on The Dig. It’s a perfect film for that rainy Saturday afternoon.
The Sparks Brothers (2021) – Directed by Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright, probably most famous for his Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End), puts on his documentarian cap for The Sparks Brothers, a film about Ron and Russell Mael, brothers of the rock duo Sparks.
Wright’s film is very journeyman-like, nothing fancy, just following the brothers chronologically throughout their career. For those unfamiliar with Sparks, this film is definitely a primer of the band throughout their 50 years of existence — the brothers are interviewed extensively for the film. Also included are interviews with musicians, fans, record producers, and rock critics, including Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Beck, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Todd Rundgren, and Neil Gaiman. If you aren’t a fan of the band before watching The Sparks Brothers, by the end of the 140-minute run time, you will be.
Red Joan (2019) – Directed by Trevor Nunn
Real life “Granny Spy” Melita Norwood was the inspiration for Red Joan, the 2013 novel by Jennie Rooney. Norwood was secretary for the British Non-Ferrous Metal Research Association and passed along nuclear secrets to the Soviets which shortened the time it took for them to develop their own nuclear bomb. The film, Red Joan, like the book, changes the story up a bit. Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is arrested for espionage in the year 2000. She asks her son, a lawyer, to represent her and he is present as detectives interrogate her about her activities when she younger. The film goes back and forth between Joan’s life, from when she was a student a Cambridge (with young Joan played by Sophie Cookson) up through her time working for the government’s Tube Alloys project during World War II where she was privy to the nuclear secrets that she then passed on to the Soviet Union.
While the trailer makes it out that Dench is the star of the show, it’s Cookson who does most of the work. She’s joined by an outstanding cast of co-stars including Tom Hughes, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Ben Miles, and the film is directed by renowned theatre director Trevor Nunn. Red Joan isn’t the first film he’s directed, though he’s primarily worked on Shakespeare adaptions for film and television, with his most notable film being 1986’s Lady Jane. If you like a bit of espionage with a portion of Judi Dench on the side, then Red Joan is for you.
Effie Gray (2014) – Directed by Richard Laxton
Based on the true-life story of English art critic and philosopher John Ruskin and his marriage to, and subsequent annulment from, Euphemia Gray in the mid-1800s, Effie Gray stars Dakota Fanning as Gray along with Greg Wise as Ruskin. Gray was only 19 when she married the much older Ruskin, having been matched with him when she was just 12. Their marriage was doomed from the start when Ruskin refused to consummate the marriage. Gray is miserable living with Ruskin’s parents as they ridicule her every chance they get. Eventually, Gray falls in love with painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) after he paints a portrait of Ruskin. Causing a huge scandal, Gray leaves Ruskin and applies for an annulment from Ruskin so that she may marry Millais.
Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1995 for her adaption of Sense and Sensibility, not only wrote Effie Gray, but she also appears as Lady Eastlake, a writer and confidante to Gray. The film has a stacked list of co-stars including David Suchet, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, and Claudia Cardinale. There’s one thing these British movies have in common: they’re populated with immense talent.
The Professor and the Madman (2019) – Directed by P.B. Sherman
The Surgeon of Crowthorne (known as The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary in the US) is a 1998 non-fiction book by Simon Winchester that tells the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the man who was one of its earliest contributors, Dr. William Chester Minor. The film version, known as The Professor and the Madman, stars Mel Gibson as Professor James Murray, who in 1879 was put in charge of compiling what is now known as the OED along with Sean Penn as Minor. Minor contributed more than 10,000 entries to the dictionary all the while imprisoned in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum after being found not guilty due to insanity for killing George Merrett. The film also stars Natalie Dormer, Steve Coogan, Ioan Gruffudd, Jennifer Ehle, and Eddie Marsan.
Because of a fight that saw Gibson and director Farhad Safinia in a battle with Voltage Pictures, both men disavowed the project, refusing to promote it. The film is now credited as being directed by the pseudonymous P.B. Sherman. Despite the struggle to get this film released, as well as the notorious reputations of both leads, The Professor and the Madman is worth a watch. The story is an interesting one, and again, the leads and their co-stars give terrific performances.