Back to IndieWire

Best Brit Directors

Best Brit Directors

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a hit in the U.K. I can’t wait. Until then, we can revel in the Brits’ celebration of their superior directing talent pool. The London Telegraph film critics have picked a top 21 list, for some reason, of the best British directors of all time.

The top of the list seems about right, although I would have ranked Carol Reed ahead of Nic Roeg:

1 Alfred Hitchcock

Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from us) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else.

Teasing career-best work from substantial actors (Cary Grant, James Stewart), Hitchcock made several truly great films – North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), Rebecca (1940), Rear Window (1954) – in dizzyingly diverse styles. If he did not invent suspense in cinema, he certainly perfected it, blazing trails of influence that are still dutifully followed. DG

2 Charlie Chaplin


Chaplin is one of the few British directors who would make it on to a list of the world’s all-time greatest. He is also, bizarrely, one whom the British don’t seem to like very much. Is it because of the vein of sentimentality that runs through many of his films?

Yet they also contain some of the most delightful scenes in the history of cinema. Marvel at the wit of the boot-eating sequence in The Gold Rush, gasp at the artistry of the roller-skating in Modern Times, laugh yourself insensible at the boxing-match in City Lights. Well worth enduring a little heartstring-tugging for. PG

3 Michael Powell


Powell dreamed of heaven in black and white in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), built the high Himalayas on a mundane studio backlot in Black Narcissus (1947), portrayed ballet as a beautiful, demonic obsession in The Red Shoes (1948) and imagined the filmmaker as a tormented psychotic in Peeping Tom (1960).

As his career peaked in the 1940s and ’50s, he shared his directing, producing and writing credit with Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee who passionately embraced his adoptive country. A match made in heaven, it spawned an unparalleled suite of utterly British, gloriously visionary, exquisitely disturbing fantasies. SJ

4 David Lean


An unfashionable name to bandy about today, Lean represents what we might call officer-class film-making: his films had scale, grandeur, a cold, snobbish edge, but also a poignancy redolent of an empire’s last gasp. His earlier works Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) delivered efficiently in dramatic terms. But after Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lean became enslaved by size: each epic took years to plan and execute. Ryan’s Daughter (1970) was simply not worth it, but the ravishing visuals of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), his most ambitious film, and the lesser Dr Zhivago (1965) are burned into the collective memory. DG

5 Nicolas Roeg


British cinema’s most tireless formal fidget, Roeg burst onto the scene with the psychedelic blitzkrieg that is Performance (1970). In the 37 years since, his reputation has waxed and waned, but his fractured and elliptical style makes him one of the most influential of all modern directors. An unsettling eroticism snakes its way through most of his movies, from the stunning Australian outback fable Walkabout (1971) to the shattering horror classic Don’t Look Now (1973). You never quite know where you are in a Roeg film: he jumbles up beginnings and endings, cause and effect, leaving you disoriented, hypnotised, bamboozled. A new feature called Puffball is out this year. TR

Mike Leigh and Ken Russell seem to be out of favor. They were very influential in their way. And I never heard of Bill Douglas. Where’s Mike Newell? Bill Forsythe? Who else is left off? (Ex-pat Stanley Kubrick was American-born.)

[Photo montage by The London Telegraph]

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Uncategorized and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox