Watership Down (UK-USA, 1978)
Created 7 years before I was born, Watership Down is a classic film that I feel is somewhat underrated. Based on the novel by Richard Adams, the film is an action-thriller about the exodus of a group of rabbits from their home, in search of a new land and safety, led by a prophet Fiver and his brother Hazel.
Although an animation, the film deals with life, death and relationships in a brutally honest way and the performances are played with a truth I wish more modern animations would replicate.
This is one of the only animations I’ve ever seen that doesn’t dumb down the story or constantly remind you it is a kids film. If anything, it carries some highly mature messages, presented with beautiful art, music and brilliant editing.
Anne of Green Gables (Canada, 1985)
Move a few years forward in time and this delightful mini-series came into being the same year as I did!
The story follows the life of Anne Shirley, a 13 year old orphan who is adopted by an elderly brother and sister on Prince Edward Island, only to discover upon arrival that they were expecting a boy, not a girl.
Played by Megan Follows (one of my top ten actresses) the character of Anne is colourful, uplifting and incredibly inspiring. Like Watership Down, I feel the creators and everyone involved in this series gave the story a truth and sensitivity that makes it timeless. These were the days when dramas were made because the story was touching, or gave some kind of message, not simply to bring in ratings or end every episode with a shock-factor cliff-hanger.
The music, a factor often forgotten these days, is as alive and real as the characters. Anne’s theme is one of my all time favourites.
Also, side note - recognise a certain young actress in a recent popular Netflix series?
Our Mutual Friend (BBC, 1998)
The lovely Keeley Hawes has graced our screens many a time with the likes of Ashes to Ashes and more recently in Line of Duty and The Durrells. But I first saw her in the this beautiful adaptation of Charles Dicken’s novel of the same name.
The story revolves around the murder of John Harmon, a man who was supposed to return to London to inherit a large fortune from his estranged father and marry a woman named Bella Wilfe. Of course, with Dickens, there is so much more going on.
If you want to see an incredible performance between Keeley and the brilliant David Morrissey (see State of Play - the original version!) than look no further. Morrissey’s performance as Mr Headstone, a head teacher hiding a creepy obsession with the sweet and innocent Lizzie Hexham (Keeley Hawes) is equally terrifying and pitiable.
Even at the age of 13 I was completely taken with the actress who played Lizzie Hexham, though I had no idea who she was. There was something about her performance that really struck me.
It is sad that so many British period dramas carry such talent and yet are passed over by audiences as just ‘period dramas.’ This is more of a mystery-thriller so I would definitely give it a go.
Four Weddings and A Funeral (UK, 1994)
From the writer of Blackadder and Love Actually came a British rom-com that was a surprise hit. As far as I know, this is the film that shot Hugh Grant to overnight fame.
The story follows Charles (Hugh Grant) and his circle of friends as they journey through life and romance, through a series of weddings (and a funeral) that gradually unfold their own romantic journeys, while focusing heavily on Charles’ own romantic failings and his growing, unspoken love for Carrie played by Andie MacDowell.
This film is a genuine example of the British comedy and filmmaking that I truly love and that makes me feel proud to be British. Richard Curtis’ humour is special because it always hovers across that invisible line between absurdity and “oh my goodness, I know all these characters and this is all too familiar.”
Another thing I love about this film, is that it never tries to impress. It just moves on, with hilarious moments, quirky characters in the ever turning cycle of human life, something I think Curtis is obsessed with and enamoured by.
I often wonder, if films like these were pitched today, whether they would get made? It’s such a simple story, in a way and although you can often see beautifully planned camera moves and scene compositions, it’s not strictly speaking a ‘cinematic’ film. It’s about ordinary people, bumbling along the murky waters of life and all the ridiculous funny things that occur along the way.
What's a little known TV series or film you think everyone should watch?