BFI Player Classics: 9 good old British films to watch on the new streaming service

Launched by the British Film Institute, this sprawling resource of classic cinema is available to an American audience

The British Film Institute (BFI) has launched a streaming service housing more than 200 classic films from the silent era to the present.

BFI Player Classics is a sprawling resource for those either just dipping their toes into the history of British cinema or looking to discover new depths.

While the service is currently only available to audiences in the US, offering a free seven-day trial followed by a $5.99 monthly subscription, the launch gives us the opportunity to reflect on some of the greatest British films of all time.

Here are nine of the best.

‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976)

This featured David Bowie’s first starring role in a feature film and, in a way, it makes sense that it was such an ethereal one.

The Space Oddity singer portrays an alien who crash lands on Earth as he seeks to find a way to ship water to his drought-stricken planet.

Though the film received wildly mixed reviews when it was first released, it did win Bowie the Saturn Award for Best Actor.

The film, which is based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, eventually became a cult classic and was lauded for its novel approach to the science-fiction genre.

‘The Lion and the Winter’ (1968)

It is Christmas in 1183, but there isn’t much of a holiday spirit at King Henry II’s chateau. Personal conflicts divide the royal family as the battle for who will be named heir apparent to the throne rages on.

Directed by Anthony Harvey, the British-American film stars a number of heavyweights of English and US cinema, including Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

The film was an immediate critical and commercial success and won Hepburn the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

A cult classic about a cult, The Wicker Man is routinely touted as one of the best British horror films ever made.

'The Wicker Man' (1973). Studio Canal/Shutterstock
'The Wicker Man' (1973). Studio Canal/Shutterstock

The story revolves around a sergeant who travels to the mysterious Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. However, the island’s inhabitants, including the girl’s mother, deny that she ever even existed.

The film starred Edward Woodward and Sir Christopher Lee, and won the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.

‘The London Nobody Knows’ (1969)

This film dismantles London, to show how it was before its extensive redevelopment in the late 1960s.

Narrated by Lolita actor James Mason, the 45-minute documentary is based on the 1962 Geoffrey Fletcher book of the same name and offers a candid look at a city on the verge of transformation.

From exploring the Bedford Theatre before it was torn down and replaced by a nondescript office block, to the Victorian slums around Camden, which have now been replaced by apartment buildings, The London Nobody Knows intimates viewers with a number of locations that no longer exist, but also shows us around bustling street markets and areas that still thrive today.

‘The Ladykillers’ (1955)

The great Alec Guinness leads a motley pack of inveterate criminals in this black comedy.

The film holds a perfect 100 per cent rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

It tells the story of a group of criminals who rent a room in an elderly widow’s home as they prepare for a bank robbery, only to find out she may be their most formidable obstacle.

The Ladykillers was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and won the Bafta for Best British Screenplay.

‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ (1970)

This psychological thriller was the last film directed by Basil Dearden before the filmmaker died in a car accident in 1971.

'The Man Who Haunted Himself' (1970) Studio Canal/Shutterstock
'The Man Who Haunted Himself' (1970). Studio Canal/Shutterstock

It stars Roger Moore, who would go on to take on the role of James Bond a few years later, and is based on the 1957 Anthony Armstrong novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham, a nail-biting take on the tale of Jekyll and Hyde.

Though the film was far from a box office success, it is considered one of the best in Moore’s illustrious career. Initial criticisms were lacklustre, but The Man Who Haunted Himself has aged remarkably well, with more recent reviews praising both Moore’s performance and Dearden’s directorial approach, barring the dizzying 360-degree camera spins.

‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973)

One of the better and more faithful adaptations of the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novel, this Richard Lester classic offers plenty of exhilarating swordplay and humour.

The film features several British stars, including Oliver Reed, Michael York, Sir Christopher Lee, as well as American ones such as Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain and Geraldine Chaplin.

Originally intended to be a three-hour epic, it was instead split into two shorter features, the second being released in 1974 as The Four Musketeers.

‘Peeping Tom’ (1960)

A psychological horror that caused a storm of controversy upon release, Peeping Tom is a difficult watch even by today’s standards.

'Peeping Tom' (1960). Moviestore/Shutterstock
'Peeping Tom' (1960). Moviestore/Shutterstock

The film revolves around a serial killer who films his victim’s dying moments. Its subject matter spurred a backlash that effectively ended director Michael Powell’s filmmaking career in the UK.

However, it received a reappraisal in the decade following its release, which caused Powell to lament in his autobiography: "I make a film that nobody wants to see and then, 30 years later, everybody has either seen it or wants to see it."

‘Paperhouse’ (1988)

This dark fantasy film is based on the 1958 Catherine Storr novel Marianne Dreams.

The story follows a girl aged 11 who, while suffering from granular fever, finds that whatever she draws becomes vivid and disturbing in her dreams.

Famed film critic Roger Ebert praised Paperhouse for distilling every image “to the point of almost frightening simplicity”, going on to say that though it is classified as a fantasy thriller, the scenes are so real and concrete “they seem more convincing than real-life dramas”.

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Updated: June 2, 2021 03:56 PM

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