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The top 23 British films of 2023

From thought-provoking to quirky to heartwarming or hilarious, here’s our pick of the year’s finest homegrown flicks

By Anna Smith

Typist Artist Pirate King, Dir: Carol Morley

Actress Monica Dolan is a delight in Carol Morley’s roadtrip drama, in which she plays Audrey Amiss, an artist who persuades her psychiatric nurse (Kelly Macdonald) to drive her across Britain. An imaginative take on a real-life character, it’s charming, poignant and witty with lovely supporting turns from Gina McKee and Kieran Bew.

How to Have Sex, Dir: Molly Manning Walker

Young Brits party abroad in this vibrant, funny drama that takes a thought- provoking look at gender dynamics and consent. Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) has
a post-GCSE holiday with her friends Em (Enva Lewis) and Skye (Lara Peake), where they get to know the lads in the apartment next door. This one is hotly tipped for the BIFAs and BAFTAs.

Blue Jean, Dir: Georgia Oakley

A lesbian PE teacher tries to keep her private life under wraps in Georgia Oakley’s award-winning debut starring Rosy McEwen. It’s a timely reminder of life in Britain under Section 28, where teachers were forbidden from “promoting homosexuality” — and it’s also an entertaining trip back to the 80s.

Tish, Dir: Paul Sng

Tish Murtha was an extraordinary photographer, capturing vivid black-and-white portraits of people in her local community, from children in the street to nights in the pub. This fascinating documentary pays tribute to her work, while also highlighting the challenges for a young working- class woman in the 1970s and 80s.

Klokkenluider, Dir: Neil Maskell

Kill List actor Neil Maskell turns writer-director with this smart, darkly funny thriller about
a couple of whistleblowers who are in over their heads. Holed up in a safe house with a couple of bodyguards, they wait for a meeting with a British journalist. Slow-moving, but full of character and intrigue.

Scrapper, Dir: Charlotte Regan

Child actress Lola Campbell puts in an extraordinary performance in this charming, imaginative drama about a cheeky 12-year-old who reconnects with her father, played by Harris Dickinson. It’s a sweet story told with a fantastical streak and a big heart from debut director Charlotte Regan. Another one to watch out for this film awards season.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, Dir: Hettie MacDonald

Jim Broadbent goes on a long walk in this well-crafted weepie based on the book by Rachel Joyce. After discovering his friend is in a hospice, he decides to hike the length of England, and encounters a series of characters along the way. Penelope Wilton is perfectly cast as his wife.

Saltburn, Dir: Emerald Fennell

This darkly comic take on class clashes went down a storm at the opening night of the BFI London Film Festival, and it’s best enjoyed in a crowd. Barry Keoghan stars as a student who falls into the company of a charismatic posh boy (Jacob Elordi) and his extravagant family. Rosamund Pike, Archie Madekwe, Richard E. Grant and Carey Mulligan co-star.

Empire Of Light, Dir: Sam Mendes

Olivia Colman puts in a poignant performance in Sam Mendes’s film loosely inspired by his childhood. Set in a beautiful old cinema on the coast, it stars Colman as an employee with mental health issues, and Micheal Ward as her new friend. Toby Jones’s turn as the avuncular projectionist helps make this a love letter to cinema.

Pretty Red Dress, Dir: Dionne Edwards

Fragile masculinity is just one of the themes explored in this thought-provoking drama about an ex-convict (Natey Jones) who takes a liking to a sparkly red dress he bought for his partner (Alexandra Burke). Her discovery takes the entire family on a journey full of revelations. A playful blend of grittiness and warmth.

Girl, Dir: Adura Onashile

An arresting debut from British-Nigerian filmmaker Adura Onashile, Girl follows a mother and daughter who move from West Africa to Glasgow. The film made a splash when it opened Glasgow Film Festival and explores issues such as integration, loneliness, trauma and parenthood.

Lola, Dir: Andrew Legge

A found-footage sci-fi about two women who build a time-travel machine (sort of), Lola has a winning premise. Set during the Second World War, it follows two sisters (Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini), who discover a way of seeing broadcasts from the future. Their attempts to change fate are initially seen as heroic, but ultimately get them into deep trouble. Uneven, but undeniably fascinating, with lots of Bowie references.

Wham!, Dir: Chris Smith

An entertaining documentary about the pop band, this gives an insight into the industry as well as busting a few common misconceptions — one being that George Michael was always the dominant member of the group. With full access to the songs and Andrew Ridgeley, it’s a tribute to the memory of both Michael and the band itself.

The Old Oak, Dir: Ken Loach

Ken Loach bows out of the directing game with a typically passionate take on British working-class life. Dave Turner stars as a pub landlord who befriends Syrian immigrants in northeast England. Local tensions rise, but kindness and community spirit prevail in this heartfelt script penned by Loach regular Paul Laverty.

The Great Escaper, Dir: Oliver Parker

Michael Caine and the late Glenda Jackson make a fantastic double act in this heartwarming film based on a true story that hit the headlines. Caine plays the chap who gave his nursing home staff the slip to attend the 70th D-Day anniversary in France, while Jackson plays his sharp-witted wife. A little sentimental, but undeniably moving. 

The Eternal Daughter, Dir: Joanna Hogg

You get two Tilda Swintons for the price of one in this sleek, beautifully acted mystery about a daughter on a hotel trip with her elderly mother (both played by Swinton). With genre trappings and a sense of intrigue, this is a shift of mood for writer-director Joanna Hogg, while coming from a similarly personal place to her work such as The Souvenir.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Dir: Shekhar Kapur

Lily James and Shazad Latif star in an accessible romcom about a documentary maker who’s filming the story of her best friend’s arranged marriage. Penned by Jemima Khan and directed by Shekhar Kapur, it’s a light and witty watch set in both London and Pakistan.

Polite Society, Dir: Nida Manzoor

Nida Manzoor’s spirited action comedy sees a ballsy British-Asian teen trying to prevent her older sister from getting married. Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) has trained herself up in martial arts and puts a plan together with her mates to save her sister. The plot takes some wacky turns but it’s certainly never dull.

She Is Love, Dir: Jamie Adams

Haley Bennett and Sam Riley star as divorcees who bump into each other in a hotel, years after they split. He’s with his girlfriend, and there are plenty of fraught silences before some poignant and funny moments as they reconnect. Shot during lockdown, it features impressive improv from both actors. 

Medusa Deluxe, Dir: Thomas Hardiman

Possibly the first British murder mystery to be set in the world of competitive hairdressing, Medusa Deluxe sees a community divided by the death of a contestant. Star Clare Perkins is terrific fun alongside Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Kayla Meikle and more.

Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story, Dir: Peter Beard & Bruce Fletcher

This ground-breaking documentary follows 35-year-old Otto Baxter as he writes and directs his first short film The Puppet Asylum, a sweary horror film about a demonic baby. It sees Otto, who has Down’s Syndrome, exploring his life and traumas with an imagination and sense of humour. An intriguing film that smashes stereotypes.

And Then Come the Nightjars, Dir: Paul Robinson

The moving story of friendship between a Devon farmer and his veterinary pal, this is based on Bea Roberts’ award-winning stage play. A compassionate look at life in the farming community, it’s set against the backdrop of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, exploring the devastating effect it had on both livestock and livelihoods.