Monday, July 28, 2008

Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and Dame Judi, oh my!

I'm a diehard fan of British period films, and for the most shallow reasons. The more silk gowns, the more carriages, the more corsets, the more gruff men in breeches, the more drawing room intrigue, the better. I've seen tons of these movies. Now that JB and I have Netflix, I'll be seeing even more (I hear JB now, yelling "nooooo...." at the mere thought of yet another Jane Austen adaptation).

During my time as a fan, I've come up with an hypothesis:

There are only about 30 British actors. In the whole world.

(This hypothesis must be qualified by the following: Of course there are movie extras and break-out young stars and bit-part actors. And there are British movies not based on literary classics, but I don't watch those. )

Otherwise, I'm not kidding. I dare you to pick up a British period film that doesn't feature at least one of the characters from the Harry Potter movies.

Watching a well-made British period film is kind of like playing the Wal-Mart game. (For those of you who don't live in Alabama, this is where you and your friends go to Wal-Mart in your hometown and the winner is whoever sees the most people he or she knows while you're there.) You can watch nearly any BBC-style film from the past 20 years and find yourself remarking, "There's the nurse from the Harry Potter movies!" or, "Didn't she play Caroline Bingley in the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice?" or "Look, there's Dame Judi Dench again!"

As further unbiased proof, check out this article that an reviewer posted on his favorite British period films (which, by the way, misses most of the best ones). You'll see the same actors' names over and over again. Helena Bonham-Carter is in there at least three times.

I don't say this to cast disparity on any of these people. On the contrary: it's reassuring to see them in a movie because then you know it's probably going to be a classy affair. And it's entertaining to figure out where else you've seen them.

Here's my top list of Best British Films Based on a Classic Novel (in no particular order):

Pride & Prejudice (1995 A&E miniseries)
Jane Eyre (2006 PBS miniseries)
A Room With a View (1985)
Sense & Sensibility (1995)
Emma (1996) (ok it's probably not British-made but I love it anyway)
Pride & Prejudice (2007) (ditto above)
Cranford (2008 PBS miniseries)
North & South (2007)
I Capture the Castle (2003)
The Forsyte Saga (2002 miniseries) (*added 8/29/08--can't believe I forgot this one! Thanks charlybrown!)

These are just the ones that came to mind. There are tons of others. The Harry Potter films employ most of Great Britain's 30 actors. You'll see some in Atonement and lots in Gosford Park. You can also catch a few in Shaun of the Dead (I'm talking about you, Bill Nighy), the Bridget Jones movies (ahem, Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent) and rom-coms like Love Actually (Emma Thompson! Alan Rickman! Colin Firth!!). And let's not forget all the Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare adaptations. Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet are my favs.

Are you a die-hard fan? Have you memorized every line from the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice? What are some of your favorite British films?

Helena Bonham-Carter and Julian Sand in A Room With a View

Post Script: I don't mean to offend the British or any lovers of British film, or to insinuate that the only films to come out of England are period dramas. Take this post as the tongue-in-cheek rant it is, and know I have only love in my heart for all things British.


Anne Bonny said...

Have you seen the new Sense and Sensibility yet? You must! Its really good! I just barley saw the Gweneth Paltrow version of Emma, and I liked it.

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

They are great to watch, but thank God we don't have to dress like that today. That's far too much work for me.

Charleybrown said...

I totally agree with you that it's comforting to see the same familiar faces pop up in these films. We even started a game of Six Degrees of Separation in our facebook group for period dramas.

I like your list of top British Films - I would definitely add Wives and Daughters and Forsyte Saga! Not to forget - Bleak House, Daniel Deronda, Our Mutual Friend, as well as SOME of the other Jane Austen films.

cerrissa said...

I got quite a laugh out of this post :) i love it!! oh and i just saw a bbc version of North and South(i know how much u loved the book). It's is amazing! i think it contends with the bbc pride and prejudice at the top of the list for me. I think that is partially because it is reallly long and the guy that plays Mr. Thornton is HOTTTT :)

oh and btw, i'm coming home Aug 21 for my bday. Maybe we can play while i'm home :)

cerrissa said...

i'm now realizing that i was soo excited about the post i didn't read as closely as i should and see that u have it on your list :)

Michelle said...

I love that about British films. And I'm glad that EVERY major British actor or actress is in the Harry Potter films. It is comforting.

Most of my favourites are on your list already, but I would have never added the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, but no one's perfect :)