26 Best Movies to Watch From UK Film Council

Staff & contributors
Written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, this 2003 French film is, in the strictest sense, an animated comedy film. It's the one that introduced Chomet's name to an international audience. Triplets' visual style, however, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Focusing on ugliness and imperfection, the characters are deliciously exaggerated, while the animation steers clear of the naturalist hyperrealism, cutesiness, or porcelain perfection of other animated movies. That doesn't mean it's not incredibly detailed. Without much of a dialogue, it tells the story of a young orphan boy, who loves to watch the vivacious jazz of the The Triplets of Belleville trio, and grows up to become a Tour de France racer. He gets kidnapped by sinister characters (the French mafia?) and the beloved jazz trio of his childhood and others come to his rescue. While this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is a fiercely original piece of hand-drawn animation and a strange, surreal experience.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Beatrice Bonifassi, Betty Bonifassi, Charles Linton, Jean-Claude Donda, Lina Boudreau, Mari-Lou Gauthier, Michel Robin, Michèle Caucheteux, Suzy Falk

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Rating: PG-13

You might have to wipe some sweat from your forehead once you've finished watching this blistering political thriller. It doesn't make any sense to us that this 2006 movie by documentary director Kevin Macdonald made less than 20 million in box office revenue when it came out, but that makes it even more A Good Movie to Watch material. In addition to being thrilling entertainment, it offers insight into an easily overlooked chapter of recent world history and taut moral dilemmas. The dramatization of Giles Foden's novel features two intense performances: James McAvoy plays the sometimes naive (and maybe a bit too enthralled by power) Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, who becomes the personal physician of none other than Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Uganda”, Amin is played by Academy Award-winning character actor Forest Whitaker, who perfectly captures his mood-swinging, crazy brutality. He also completely nails his Ugandan-English accent. An amazing watch!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga, Adam Kotz, Barbara Rafferty, David Ashton, David Oyelowo, Devon Diep, Dick Stockley, Forest Whitaker, Giles Foden, Gillian Anderson, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Martina Amati, Sam Okelo, Simon McBurney, Stephen Rwangyezi

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rating: R

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner, Angela Curran, Anna Keaveney, Anthony O'Donnell, Billie Cook, Billy Seymour, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Conway, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Fenella Woolgar, Gerard Monaco, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, Imelda Staunton, Jake Wood, James Payton, Jane Wood, Jeffry Wickham, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Griffiths, John Warman, Judith Scott, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Lesley Sharp, Liz White, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Nicholas Jones, Nicky Henson, Nina Fry, Paul Jesson, Paul Raffield, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Richard Graham, Robert Putt, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Troughton, Sandra Voe, Sid Mitchell, Simon Chandler, Sinéad Matthews, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Ellis, Vincent Franklin, Vinette Robinson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Awkward. That is how Oliver Tate can be described, and generally the whole movie. But it is professionally and scrutinizingly awkward. Submarine is a realistic teen comedy, one that makes sense and in which not everyone looks gorgeous and pretends to have a tough time. It is hilarious and sad, dark and touching. It is awesome and it's embarrassing, and it's the kind of movie that gets nearly everything about being a teen right, no matter where you grew up.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrienne O'Sullivan, Ben Stiller, Claire Cage, Craig Roberts, Darren Evans, Elinor Crawley, Gemma Chan, Lydia Fox, Lynn Hunter, Melanie Walters, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Sarah Pasquali, Sion Tudor Owen, Steffan Rhodri, Yasmin Paige

Director: Richard Ayoade

Rating: R

Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Lestuzzi, Danny Cunningham, Darren Tighe, Elizabeth Kelly, Enzo Cilenti, Fiona Allen, Helen Schlesinger, John Simm, John Thomson, Kate Magowan, Keith Allen, Kenny Baker, Kieran O'Brien, Lennie James, Margi Clarke, Mark E. Smith, Martin Hancock, Naomi Radcliffe, Neil Bell, Paddy Considine, Paul Popplewell, Peter Gunn, Peter Kay, Ralf Little, Raymond Waring, Rob Brydon, Ron Cook, Sean Cernow, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Simon Pegg, Smug Roberts, Steve Coogan, Toby Salaman, Tony Wilson

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Rating: R

In a different change of pace, this biopic focuses on John Lennon’s reckless adolescence and family life instead of his soon-to-be iconic music. It brings an epic rockstar many of us have known our entire lives down to a more relatable level. The young Aaron Taylor-Johnston gives a very angsty performance which feels a little over the top at times. Anne-Marie Duff does comes off too flirtatious for a newly formed mother-son relationship but Kristin Scott Thomas outshines them all with her steely demeanor.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Buchan, Angela Walsh, Angelica Jopling, Anne-Marie Duff, Baillie Walsh, Chris Coghill, Colin Tierney, Dan Armour, Daniel Ross, David Morrissey, David Threlfall, Jack McElhone, Josh Bolt, Kerrie Hayes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lizzie Hopley, Ophelia Lovibond, Paul Ritter, Richard Syms, Richard Tate, Sam Bell, Sam Wilmott, Simon Lowe, Thomas Brodie-Sangster

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Rating: R

You might expect a movie about the Irish struggle for independence from the British Empire during the 1920s to be a sweeping historical epic a la Braveheart, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is instead a heartbreaking miniature portrait of the human impact that the brutal occupation has on the residents of a small County Cork village. Cillian Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, a young medical student who is about to up sticks for London when he witnesses first-hand the savagery of British forces on his neighbors. Galvanized into action, he joins the local branch of the IRA, which is led by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney).

What makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley so potent isn’t just its depiction of the fierce local rebellion that Damien and his comrades wage against the British forces — it’s also its gutting exploration of the cyclical war that began to rage amongst the freedom fighters once the British left. As Damien puts it, “It's easy to know what you're against, quite another to know what you're for” — a dilemma that wedges the two brothers apart to bitter ends.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Aidan O'Hare, Alan Ready, Alex Dee, Anthony Mark Streeter, Antony Byrne, Bill Hurst, Cillian Murphy, Colin Parry, Damien Kearney, Denis Conway, Frank Bourke, Frank O'Sullivan, Gerard Kearney, Jamie Lomas, Keith Dunphy, Kieran Aherne, Liam Cunningham, Mark Wakeling, Martin Lucey, Mary Murphy, Myles Horgan, Neil Alan Taylor, Neil Brand, Noel O'Donovan, Orla Fitzgerald, Pádraic Delaney, Richard Oldham, Roger Allam, Sabrina Barry, Scott Peden, Sean McGinley, Shane Casey, Siobhan McSweeney, Tom Charnock, William Ruane

Director: Ken Loach

Francois Cluzet, who you may remember from The Intouchable, plays a man whose wife is killed and is accused of murdering her. To make matters even more confusing, signs that his wife is actually still alive surface. This well thought out thriller is at all times the furthest thing from boring and has, among other great components, well crafted chase scenes as the protagonist looks for 8 years of unanswered questions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Mercouroff, André Dussollier, Anne Marivin, Brigitte Catillon, Christof Veillon, Danièle Ajoret, Dorothée Brière, Éric Naggar, Eric Savin, Florence Thomassin, François Berléand, François Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche, Guillaume Canet, Hugo Sélignac, Jalil Lespert, Jean Rochefort, Jean-Noël Brouté, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Joël Dupuch, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laurent Lafitte, Ludovic Bergery, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Martine Chevallier, Mikaela Fisher, Nathalie Baye, Olivier Marchal, Philippe Lefebvre, Samir Guesmi, Sara Martins, Thierry Neuvic

Director: Guillaume Canet

Rating: Unrated

A sincere portrayal of the gritty British working class life through the coming-of-age story of a girl who loves rap music and dancing to it. It features a stunning and powerful performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis who had no acting experience whatsoever, and who was cast in the street after she was spotted fighting. She plays Mia, a 15 year old teenager whose world changes drastically when her mother's new boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) turns his eyes to her. Don't watch this movie if you are looking for a no-brainer, definitely do watch it if you are interested in films that realistically portray others' lives and let you into them.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Geary, Carrie-Ann Savill, Charlotte Collins, Grant Wild, Harry Treadaway, Jack Gordon, Jason Maza, Joanna Horton, Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender, Raquel Thomas, Rebecca Griffiths, Sarah Bayes, Sydney Mary Nash, Toyin Ogidi

Director: Andrea Arnold

Rating: Not Rated

This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Badi Uzzaman, Ben Roberts, David Bradley, David Hobbs, Edna Doré, Eileen Davies, Gary Powell, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Karina Fernandez, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Mary Jo Randle, Meneka Das, Michele Austin, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Ralph Ineson, Ruth Sheen, Stuart McQuarrie

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: PG-13

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jason Shelton, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Paul Marra, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

The Guard played by Brendan Gleeson is a new character in cinema that appeals to the funny bone inside all of us. A character like this can make any movie lovable. It also features Don Cheadle playing an FBI agent who is in town to solve a crime under Gleeson's jurisdiction. An overall great movie with great writing. Please note, for those who have a hard time understanding different accents, subtitles are advised.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Brendan Gleeson, Conor Moloney, Darren Healy, David Pearse, David Wilmot, Dominique McElligott, Don Cheadle, Fionnula Flanagan, Gary Lydon, John Patrick Beirne, Katarina Čas, Laura Hitchings, Laurence Kinlan, Liam Cunningham, Liam O'Conghaile, Mark O'Halloran, Mark Strong, Mícheál Óg Lane, Owen Sharpe, Paraic Nialand, Pat Shortt, Ronan Collins, Rory Keenan, Sarah Greene, Wale Ojo

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Rating: R

Ralph Fiennes plays a mild-mannered British diplomat in Kenya who is stunned by the news of his wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) sudden death while in the company of another man. He sets off to investigate the suspicious death––and secret life–-of his late wife, within a tangle of personal betrayals, political threats, and corporate conspiracies. This film presents an exquisite contrast between Justin’s (Fiennes) gentle, contemplative demeanor and the progressively gripping details he uncovers; between rapturous romanticism and darkly corrupting interests. It’s a touching, smart, and suspenseful feast of a movie.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Anneke Kim Sarnau, Archie Panjabi, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, Donald Apiyo, Donald Sumpter, Gerard McSorley, Hubert Koundé, Jeffrey Caine, John Keogh, Juliet Aubrey, Nick Reding, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter King Nzioki, Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes, Richard McCabe, Rupert Simonian, Sidede Onyulo, Teresa Harder, Thomas Chemnitz

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Rating: R

Artist and filmmaker Clio Barnard put herself on the map of new British talents with her 2010 debut The Arbor, a daring, genre-bending biopic about Bradford-born playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tragic personal and impressive artistic life. Coming from a poor working class family with seven siblings, Dunbar wrote her first play age 15. She died in 1990, aged 29, and left a legacy of three plays in total. Knowing how under-appreciated her work has been, Barnard decided to revive the life that imbued Dunbar's creations. Rather than staging a conventional documentary, the director features interviews with family and friends, performed and lip-synced by actors in front of the camera. She also adds re-enactments of the plays that feature the estate where Dunbar grew up, as well as archival footage of her TV appearances. The Arbor is an experimental documentary, but that doesn't prevent it from being touching, humane, and a special tribute to art flourishing in adverse circumstances.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Christine Bottomley, Danny Webb, Gary Whitaker, George Costigan, Jimi Mistry, Jonathan Jaynes, Josh Brown, Kate Rutter, Kathryn Pogson, Kulvinder Ghir, Lizzie Roper, Manjinder Virk, Matthew McNulty, Moey Hassan, Monica Dolan, Natalie Gavin, Neil Dudgeon, Robert Emms, Robert Haythorne

Director: Clio Barnard

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Jim Moore, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13