6 Best Movies to Watch by Penelope Wilton

Staff & contributors

Named after the Celtic concept of heaven, Summerland is a rare queer period drama that feels hopeful rather than despairing. The film takes us to the countryside in World War II, where our protagonist, the reclusive writer Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton), studies the folklore about Summerland. We know that her isolation wasn’t fully chosen; her refusal to marry causes adults to gossip and causes children to speculate that she’s a witch. But this all changes when a young evacuee is entrusted to Alice’s care.

Gemma Arterton shines as a reluctant guardian stifled by repressed grief, and she makes Alice’s dynamic with Frank (Lucas Bond) and her former lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) incredibly believable. And while it would have been lovely to see more of Vera, even just their first meeting easily captures that heady sense of pure enchantment with another person. It’s no wonder that Alice has to cling to folklore the same way we do. For many of us, it’s the only way we can express our hopes, fears, and dreams.

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Amanda Lawrence, Amanda Root, Casper Allpress, Daniel Eghan, David Ajao, David Horovitch, Dixie Egerickx, Fergal McElherron, Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessica Gunning, Joshua Riley, Lucas Bond, Martina Laird, Nimmy March, Penelope Wilton, Rakhee Thakrar, Sally Scott, Siân Phillips, Thomas Coombes, Toby Osmond, Tom Courtenay

Director: Jessica Swale

Rating: N/A, PG

, 2013

When it comes to British period dramas, aristocrats are rarely portrayed as Black until relatively recently, with colorblind casting tending to focus more on acting talent rather than how race would affect and shape a character. That being said, while rarely acknowledged, Black descendants of British aristocracy actually did exist, and one of whom has been depicted in Belle. With the excellent Gugu Mbatha-Raw making her film breakthrough here, Belle reckons with the difficult questions of race and sex in 18th century Britain, contemplating the real woman’s options in a world determined entirely by blood and inheritance, a discussion brushed aside in other period dramas, but one that should be examined. While director Amma Asante does take plenty of liberties in the actual facts, she also excellently balances both the fictional romance and the historical realities Dido Elizabeth Belle had faced, making both parts as compelling and as essential as each other.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alan McKenna, Alex Jennings, Andrew Woodall, Daniel Wilde, Emily Watson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, James Northcote, James Norton, Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, Natasha Williams, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Tom Wilkinson

Director: Amma Asante

Rating: PG

Based on the novel of the same name, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is as comforting as the title suggests. It's a pleasure to meet the society—getting to know each character feels like getting to know some welcoming neighbors. Despite their trauma from the German occupation of the British island, these club members remain their bookish albeit secretive selves. Lily James is just doe-eyed and charming enough to make us care about the book club, the same way her character Juliet does. The streamlined plot still keeps the intrigue and comfort of the original novel. And while its romance doesn’t quite take off, the real gem of the film is the earnest assertion that family can be best found in terrible times.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alexa Povah, Andy Gathergood, Bernice Stegers, Bronagh Gallagher, Clive Merrison, Dilyana Bouklieva, Florence Keen, Glen Powell, Gregory Mann, Jack Morris, Jessica Brown Findlay, Joanna Hole, Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Lily James, Marek Oravec, Matthew Goode, Michiel Huisman, Mike Newell, Nicolo Pasetti, Penelope Wilton, Philip Ridout, Pippa Rathborne, Richard Derrington, Stephanie Schonfield, Steve Morphew, Tom Courtenay, Tom Owen

Director: Mike Newell

Rating: TV-14

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel invites us to an earnest meditation on old age and change. The film centers on a group of British retirees traveling to the titular hotel in India, in hopes of a good retirement. The group cast is an excellent choice: prominent names from British movies and television line the cast, and it’s a pleasure to see them act alongside each other with equal screen time and their own detailed plotlines. Their plotlines inspire empathy towards different struggles that the elderly face: finding love again, dealing with accumulated debt, and handling loss. All of these are tough, but especially when you feel your time has run out. The best of these plotlines are the ones that acknowledge loss but still persist through accepting changing circumstances and actively going for one's desires.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Diana Hardcastle, Glen Davies, Honey Chhaya, Jay Villiers, Judi Dench, Lillete Dubey, Liza Tarbuck, Louise Brealey, Lucy Robinson, Maggie Smith, Nina Kulkarni, Patrick Pearson, Paul Bentall, Paul Bhattacharjee, Penelope Wilton, Rajendra Gupta, Ramona Marquez, Richard Cubison, Ronald Pickup, Sara Stewart, Siddharth Makkar, Simon Wilson, Tina Desai, Tom Wilkinson, Vishnu Sharma

Director: John Madden

Rating: PG-13

One of those movies that even if you know all the jokes by heart, you'll still laugh at them whenever you see the movie. The chemistry between Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright is exceptional, and the jokes are spot-on.  The movie starts with Shaun character trying to turn his life around by winning back his ex and reconnect with his mother. Only problem? Oh yeah, everyone is coming back from the dead.  

Genre: Comedy, Horror

Actor: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Bill Nighy, Carol Barnes, Chris Martin, David Walliams, Dylan Moran, Edgar Wright, Finola Geraghty, Garth Jennings, Jeremy Thompson, Jessica Hynes, Joe Cornish, Jon Buckland, Jonny Buckland, Julia Davis, Julia Deakin, Kate Ashfield, Keir Mills, Keith Chegwin, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Lauren Laverne, Lucy Akhurst, Lucy Davis, Mark Donovan, Mark Gatiss, Martin Freeman, Matt Lucas, Michael Smiley, Nick Frost, Nicola Cunningham, Patricia Franklin, Paul Kaye, Paul Putner, Penelope Wilton, Peter Baynham, Peter Serafinowicz, Phyllis MacMahon, Rafe Spall, Reece Shearsmith, Rob Brydon, Robert Popper, Simon Pegg, Sonnell Dadral, Steve Emerson, Tamsin Greig, Tim Baggaley, Trisha Goddard, Vernon Kay

Director: Edgar Wright

Rating: R