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Top 10 Signs You're Watching a British Movie

VO: Richard Bush WRITTEN BY: Robert Palin
Forget the Hollywood gloss and straight, white teeth, we’d rather have grey skies, dingey pubs and dodgy slang! Hello and welcome to WatchMojo UK. Today, we will be counting down our picks for Top 10 Signs You’re Watching a British Movie. For this list, we are looking at commonly seen and overused stereotypes, locations and general conventions that may make sense to us but could baffle and bewilder overseas audiences. Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Signs You're Watching a British Movie


Forget the Hollywood gloss and straight, white teeth, we’d rather have grey skies, dingey pubs and dodgy slang! Hello and welcome to WatchMojo UK. Today, we will be counting down our picks for Top 10 Signs You’re Watching a British Movie.

For this list, we are looking at commonly seen and overused stereotypes, locations and general conventions that may make sense to us but could baffle and bewilder overseas audiences.

#10: It Only Exists in London

Many of the United Kingdom’s iconic films fail to acknowledge any sort of life outside the capital, forever perpetuating the myth that the UK is just London surrounded by a bunch of fields. Whether it’s the Hugh-Grant-dominated 1990s rom-coms or some sort of quirky, happy-go-lucky family film in which they all cram into a zone one townhouse, you are guaranteed to see plenty of the city. And what British film wouldn’t be complete without those much-used establishing shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament?

#9: Stylised Swearing

From regal rants to disgruntled gangsters, the air in British films tends to be as blue as the sky is grey – and the sky is really rather grey. As Colin Firth proved to us in “The King’s Speech” and Nick Frost in “Shaun of the Dead”, swearing really can be made into an art form! It’s no secret that we Brits love ourselves a bit of creative cursing, and so there are plenty of potty-mouth put downs to please even the most prudish of patriots. Some of the bad language is more subtle, but for every under-the-breath s-bomb, there is Malcolm Tucker in full force.

#8: Niche Cameos

Almost like an inside joke, a very British film trait is apparently random walk-ins of well-known homegrown celebrities. Although they can sometimes be quite high profile, like Kate Moss appearing in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” or Lemmy’s part in “Eat the Rich”, there are others which only we Brits would appreciate. It’s a great chance for our beloved TV personalities and musicians to showcase their sometimes questionable acting skills as shouts of ‘It’s that guy from that thing!’ can be heard from cinemas nationwide.

#7: The Rise of the Underdog

We Brits sure like to see our onscreen everymen rising up against the odds and succeeding at their impossible tasks – whether it’s getting the girl, in some way proving themselves or just generally saving the day. These heroes certainly don’t wear capes. Sometimes they wear dressing gowns, and in some cases, they don’t wear anything at all! Self-deprecating, awkward and extremely over-British at times, they’re the ones who grow in self-belief as the movie progresses whilst still remaining loveable and down to earth. If these guys can do it, anyone can!

#6: Budget Blockbuster

The British don’t quite do blockbusters like the folks overseas, but that’s not to say that the fruits of our labour aren’t equally as brilliant. With plenty of over-the-shoulder rig shots and shaky footage that doesn’t at all seem out of place, Brit flicks have a real immersive feel to them. It is often said that British films look ‘gritty’, and it is this iconic style that makes our movies so recognisable. One of the greatest films to use the handheld technique is arguably “28 Days Later”, which can almost leave you literally breathless!

#5: A Legendary Soundtrack

If you’re born slippy or just a cosmic dancer, you simply can’t deny that Some British films have seriously epic soundtracks. Injecting life and personality into the movies they accompany, these bangers become the heart of the movie itself – helping to make it even more famous. The iconic opening chase scene to “Trainspotting” wouldn’t be the same without the military-style drum beats of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, and the ska and reggae rhythms heard at the beginning of “This Is England” really help to set the scene. Then there’s the “Full Monty” queue scene, the “Billy Elliot” dancing scene, aand we could go on…

#4: Foreign Villains

Think of any British spy or secret agent movie and there’s a high chance you’ll also think about the central character fighting off a foreign nemesis. Often flamboyant and always European, these overseas foes are a force to be reckoned with, ranging from terrifying Russian businessmen who like to play golf to... terrifying German businessmen who like to play golf. Looking back, these stereotypes are outdated, which is probably why spy parody “Johnny English” made French villain Pascal Sauvage, with his plot to steal the crown jewels, so tongue in cheek.

#3: Gritty Northern Towns

We’ve all heard of the so-called “North/South Divide”, but British films seem particularly determined to hammer home the supposed split. For those movies that aren’t set in and around the townhouses of central London, there are the lengthy terraces and regional accents of the north and the midlands. Life in these towns and cities is often depicted as cold, grey and working class - just think of most Shane Meadows or Ken Loach films ever made. But that’s why they’re loved. These films show something a little bit more real about the UK, proving we aren’t all high tea and Hugh Grant.

#2: Jokes You Don’t Get

British films tend to be much more subtle with their jokes when compared to American movies. Such is the case that audiences may not always pick up on various off-the-cuff comments amidst a smattering of sarcasm. Some films may even require a second or third watch to pick up on the wry one-liners you missed before. The gags are everywhere in British movies, seamlessly intertwined in typically modest British fashion. And even films that seem 100% serious may surprise you with their dark, extra-added moments of unexpected humour.

#1: Realistic, Bittersweet Moments

So much for hopeful Hollywood endings. British films typically take the fairy tale idea of living happily ever after and run it over repeatedly in a vintage Mini Cooper. Focussing on realism first and foremost, you know you’re watching a British movie when the story isn’t always a happy one. In these cases, we often follow some sort of emotional journey, or it could be that the protagonist is tortured and bullied, such as in “Kes” and “This Is England”. But if you’re expecting to see all their problems disappear, sadly you’re in for a shock. Because life’s not always like that, and British movies bring the bleak in a big way.
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