13 Best British Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
The British social-critical director of I, Daniel Blake and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, delivers another scathing indictment of our economic system, the slashing of worker protection, and the gig economy. While these are indeed the themes of this affecting drama, Loach always makes it about the people. In this case, a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy workers are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are made fully responsible for packages until they reach their respective recipients. From peeing in a bottle to save time to seamless monitoring by an overlord hand-held device, Sorry We Missed You manages to capture the indignity and gives you an intimate introduction to the human cost of having everything delivered to your doorstep at a moment's notice. Thanks to Loach's use of amateur actors, it has a raw and real feel to it without being melodramatic. Sorry We Missed You makes sure that the habitually unseen take center stage.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charlie Richmond, Debbie Honeywood, Katie Proctor, Kris Hitchen, Maxie Peters, Rhys Mcgowan, Rhys Stone, Ross Brewster, Sheila Dunkerley, Stephen Clegg, Vicky Hall

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: 0, 12

Grounded by Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall’s powerhouse performances, this gut-wrenching family drama from Mike Leigh is an acting juggernaut. Penny and Phil are a working-class couple whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating and pushed to the brink when their son, played by a young James Corden, is hospitalized. 

While Manville and Spall are centered as the leads, Leigh draws a staggering amount of depth from Corden as well as a young Sally Hawkins who plays a neighbor. Despite being one of Leigh’s grimmest films, there is still a profound sweetness lingering at the edges as the story teeters between despondency and hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Alison Garland, Badi Uzzaman, Ben Crompton, Brian Bovell, Daniel Mays, Daniel Ryan, Di Botcher, Diveen Henry, Dorothy Atkinson, Edna Doré, Emma Lowndes, Gary McDonald, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, James Corden, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Kathryn Hunter, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey, Mark Benton, Martin Savage, Matt Bardock, Maxine Peake, Michele Austin, Oliver Golding, Parvez Qadir, Paul Jesson, Peter Stockbridge, Robert Wilfort, Russell Mabey, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Kelly, Timothy Bateson, Timothy Spall

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

, 2021

This offbeat drama is about a Syrian refugee who gets sent to a remote island in northern Scotland. “There was a better signal in the middle of the Mediterranean,” another refugee tells him when he arrives. Omar is as the title suggests stuck: until his asylum request is processed he can't work or continue his journey onwards. His situation is frustrating and difficult, but it's also full of absurdities, as Omar is stuck around some very weird people.

Limbo perfectly portrays the duality between sad and nonsensical in the refugee experience. In the entrance to the isolated and rundown facility that houses Omar, a handmade sign said "refugees welcome". The next day a "not" is added between "refugees" and "welcome", in the exact same paint. 

If you like Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's work, this has a similar brand of dark humor to his also refugee-themed 2017 drama The Other Side of Hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amir El-Masry, Amir ElMasry, Cameron Fulton, Ellie Haddington, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif, Kenneth Collard, Kwabena Ansah, Lewis Gribben, Ola Orebiyi, Qais Nashif, Raymond Mearns, Sanjeev Kohli, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sodienye Ojewuyi, Vikash Bhai

Director: Ben Sharrock

Rating: R

Happy Valley and Line of Duty to Luther and Sherwood, the BBC has produced some of the finest police dramas in recent TV history, and Better is a worthy addition to the roster. It’s not as refined as the mentioned shows, but it’s grounded by a riveting, morally conflicted performance by Fazard. The breakdown of her conscience, the constant negotiation between obligation and survival, the road toward redemption—Fazard embodies it all with rugged grace. It’s not often we get the point of view of a corrupt cop, and when we do, we rarely see them with this much screen time and backstory. Better is an okay crime thriller, but it’s even better as a character study of the well-meaning, desperate, and brilliant Lou. 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Andrew Buchan, Carolin Stoltz, Garry Cooper, Gavin Spokes, Leila Farzad, Lucy Black, Olivia Nakintu, Samuel Edward-Cook, Zak Ford-Williams

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

Rye Lane knows it’s treading familiar ground by having its charming leads fall in love as they walk and talk their way through a beautiful city. So instead of experimenting on a tried-and-tested setup, it smartly focuses on specificity. It hones in on the characters’ Gen Z woes and cranks up the British references, giving itself character and charm for days. It also finds other ways to be inventive as it trades plot twists for bold editing and camerawork. Rye Lane is a refreshing entry into romcom cinema, but it is also obviously a big fan of it as it holds plenty of homages and subversions of the genre. This one is made for and by romcom fans, and it's always nice to see a modern love story set during our times.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Hewkin, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Colin Firth, David Jonsson, Delroy Brown, Gary Beadle, George Taylor, Karene Peter, Levi Roots, Llewella Gideon, Malcolm Atobrah, Marva Alexander, Michael Dapaah, Munya Chawawa, Omari Douglas, Raine Allen-Miller, Sandra Daley, Simon Manyonda, Vivian Oparah, Yasmin Al-Khudhairi

Director: Raine Allen-Miller

Rating: R

Bank of Dave is a simple but well-told film that feels utterly satisfying from start to end. Dave is the little guy who only wants to give back to his community, but stopping him from achieving his noble goals are the big guys in suits with vested interests and too narrow a focus to appreciate the good that Dave is after. The film is David versus Goliath, countryside versus cityside, socialist versus capitalist (or, if you like, ethical capitalism versus unethical capitalism). You know who will triumph in the end, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall enjoyability. The dialogue is smart and stirring, and you can’t help but root for the film’s small heroes to win big. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Lukis, Angus Wright, Cathy Tyson, Drew Cain, Florence Hall, Freddie Bolt, Harry Michell, Hopi Grace, Hugh Bonneville, Jo Hartley, Joe Elliott, Joel Fry, Naomi Battrick, Paul Kaye, Phil Collen, Philip Gascoyne, Phoebe Dynevor, Rick Allen, Rick Savage, Roger Morlidge, Rory Kinnear, Steve Edge, Vivian Campbell

Director: Chris Foggin

Rating: PG-13

Doctor Foster, but this, unfortunately, isn’t it. 

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Ashley Benson, Claire Rushbrook, Eric Balfour, Jenna Coleman, Jonathan Keltz, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Morgana Van Peebles, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Talia Balsam

Rating: TV-MA

“There is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” a famous socialist belief goes, but like many activists, Jo is trying to curb that. She marries her two conflicting passions, coffee and the environment, by establishing a vegan cafe that only serves plant-based drinks. If a customer so much as mentions dairy, they're humiliated before being kicked out of the place. It’s both impressively assertive and gratingly obnoxious, which is something you could also say about the tone the entire film strikes. It’s well-meaning in its attempt to shed light on the ongoing climate crisis, but rather tone-deaf in trying to place the blame on everyday consumers rather than large-scale corporations. The editing choices, while meant to be cheeky, also go overboard with the cuts and colors, making it more annoying than anything else. Which is a shame, because apart from a noble cause, Coffee Wars also has a funny script and engaging performances going for it. It also gives us an insightful look into the highly competitive coffee tournaments being staged around the world. If only Coffee Wars let things brew for longer, maybe removed some elements and expanded others—specifically, dwell more on the contradiction of wanting to change a system while participating in it—then it would’ve been even more enjoyable and educational than it is. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Freddie Fox, Hugh Dennis, Jenny Rainsford, Jordan Stephens, Kate Nash, Lydia West, María Conchita Alonso, Owain Arthur, Ray Fearon, Rosie Cavaliero, Sally Phillips, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Tobias Forrest, Toby Sebastian

Director: Randall Miller