What’s Missing from the 49 Best British Films List?

Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant in ‘Withnail and I’

We can’t resist a “Greatest” or a “Best Of” list, and the Radio Times has released a big one this week, employing longtime film critic Barry Norman to compile the 49 very best British films of all-time. (Why the odd number, you might ask? The magazine wants readers to vote for No. 50.) The list includes most of the expected contenders — The 39 Steps, Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Bridge on the River Kwai are automatic inclusions — but there are a few head scratchers. Namely, the two most recent choices, 2010′s Oscar winner The King’s Speech and a film from just this past November, the Bond flick Skyfall.

Skyfall is sticking my neck out a bit, but I think it’s the best of the Bond films so far and I think it will be watched in years to come,” said Norman.

That’s a hefty call to make so soon, and I, like The Daily Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, prefer the endlessly re-watchable Casino Royale (Daniel Craig‘s Bond debut) to the solid but not transcendent Skyfall. And The King’s Speech soars primarily on its great performances and little else.

Here are a few movies that I would have included on such a list:

Withnail and I 1987
One of best buddy comedies ever made, featuring a cadaverous Richard E. Grant at his wittiest, future Eighth Doctor Paul McGann at the height of his sexy, and some of the best lines ever recorded (many of them delivered by Richard Griffiths, a creepy hoot as lecherous Uncle Monty).

My Beautiful Laundrette 1985
A truly surprising love story between a young Pakistani man living in London and his streetwise white ex-classmate (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what remains his most down-to-earth, accessible performance).

Peeping Tom 1960
For a list overflowing with Powell & Pressburger classics, this deeply unsettling Hitchcockian thriller, a Michael Powell solo work and film theorist’s dream, is a major omission.

Here’s Norman’s full list:

Barry Lyndon 1975

Black Narcissus 1947

The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957

Brief Encounter 1945

Chariots of Fire 1981

A Clockwork Orange 1971

The Cruel Sea 1952

The DamBusters 1954

Dr No 1962

Don’t Look Now 1973

Dracula 1958

Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994

The Full Monty 1997

Gandhi 1982

Get Carter 1971

Gladiator 2000

Great Expectations 1946

Gregory’s Girl 1980

Henry V 1944

I Know Where I’m Going! 1945

if… 1968

The Ipcress File 1965

Kes 1969

Kind Hearts and Coronets 1949

The King’s Speech 2010

The Lady Vanishes 1938

The Ladykillers 1955

Lawrence of Arabia 1962

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 1943

Local Hero 1983

The Long Good Friday 1979

A Matter of Life and Death 1946

Monty Python’s Life of Brian 1979

Naked 1993

The Railway Children 1970

The Red Shoes 1948

The Remains of the Day 1993

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning 1960

Secrets & Lies 1995

Sense and Sensibility 1995

The Servant 1963

Shakespeare in Love 1998

Skyfall 2012

The Third Man 1949

The 39 Steps 1935

This Sporting Life 1963

Trainspotting 1996

Whisky Galore! 1949

Zulu 1964

What would you add to or remove from Norman’s list? Tell us below:

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

See more posts by Kevin Wicks