14 Brilliant British Biopics

Nowhere Boy (2009)

The Brilliance: A pre- Kick-Ass Aaron Johnson makes a post- Angus Thongs And Perfect Snogging about turn, bringing restless, blokey charm to his interpretation of a young John Lennon.

Artist (and future fiancée) Sam Taylor Wood takes the helm, directing confidently with a great eye for period deatail. Phenomenal support from Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas, too.

Most British Bit: Smoking in the boy’s loos never looked cooler, while ‘taking a ride on the bus’ earns itself a whole new meaning.

Chariots Of Fire (1981)

The Brilliance: Though we Brits tend to give the Americans a bit of a roasting for their overt patriotism, back in the '80s we thought we’d get in on the self-love action with this ode to British spirit.

Frankly, it couldn’t be more ‘long live the Queen’ if its lead players had worn Union Jack running shorts. Awesome score, stellar cast. It won four Oscars.

Most British Bit: The opening scene, where the lads run across a very grey beach, pretty much sums up a hundred wet Norfolk coast weekends. (Even if it was shot in Scotland.)

Mrs. Brown (1997)

The Brilliance: That’s Queen Victoria to you and us. Dame Judi Dench puts in a typically absorbing performance as our past queen, whose broken heart is mended by the friendship she strikes up with Billy Connolly’s John Brown.

Most British Bit: Dench’s lock-jawed queen is every bit the image of sewn-up, coldly elusive Britishness. Not that we're all like that...

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

The Brilliance: Before Lord Of The Rings , there was some bloke called Lawrence of the Arabia. Damn near defining the term ‘movie epic’, David Lean’s movie is a near-four hour opus of sweeping beauty. Peter O’Toole’s boundary-skirting performance is out of this world.

Most British Bit: They don’t come much more British than T. E. Lawrence, right?

Elizabeth (1998)

The Brilliance: Opulent but never gross, Shekhar Kapur’s tribute to our flame-haired queen is filled with sumptuous costumes, sets and landscapes, and pivots on an incredible turn by Cate Blanchett as the titular ruler.

Most British Bit: Corrupt politicians? That’s all we’re gonna say...

The Killing Fields (1984)

The Brilliance: A raging, thought-provoking drama about the killing fields of Cambodia, where thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime were buried during the Vietnam War.

Bravely journeying into the heart of the political climate that brought about such atrocities, The Killing Fields is one of the most compelling political thrillers ever crafted by Britaish talent.

Most British Bit: Proud hero Sydney Schanberg refuses to leave interpreter Dith Pran behind in a throwback to true British 'leave none behind' war spirit.

Henry V (1989)

The Brilliance: Matching Laurence Olivier’s masterful 1944 version in all-out flag-waving brilliance, Kenneth Branagh’s bloody retelling of Shakespeare’s play blisters with passion.

Most British Bit: Those words - all wonderfully wound up in old British tongue, dreamt up by Shakespeare and adapted for the screen by Branagh - are British through and through.

Shadowlands (1993)

The Brilliance: “I started living when I started loving you,” breathes Anthony Hopkins, playing renowned children’s author and professor C. S. Lewis.

Falling head over heels in love with Joy Gresham, Lewis’ relationship with the feisty poet provides the beating heart of this thoroughly British tragedy.

Most British Bit: “Americans don’t understand about inhibitions.” Yep, we’re never more British than when we’re criticising our cousins.

The Last King Of Scotland (2006)

The Brilliance: Memorable not least for Forest Whitaker’s powerhouse performance as General Idi Amin, The Last King Of Scotland manages to set politics on fire, while ensuring that we peg Shameless ’ James McAvoy as one talent to keep an eye on.

Most British Bit: The gas bit is pure British humour.

Sid & Nancy (1986)

The Brilliance: Gary Oldman proves just what a sneaky acting chameleon he is, punking out to play the Sid half of nutso lovebirds Sid and Nancy.

At its heart, this is a love story – albeit a thorny, twisted one that challenges our definition of the word ‘love’. And is all the better for it.

Most British Bit: Punk is Britain, some might argue. Oldman's re-enactment of 'My Way' is blinding.

Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971)

The Brilliance: More soap opera in tone than its more po-faced royal film comrades, this delve into the life of Mary plays up the relationship between the Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth, benefitting mostly from the brilliant lead performances from Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson.

Most British Bit: The sombre ending chimes with the compassionate resolve of our proud nation. Or something.

The Queen (2006)

The Brilliance: Helen Mirren undergoes an incredible transformation here. It’s only been three years since she stripped off as a sexy mum in Calendar Girls , but here she piles on the years for a staggering performance as our reigning monarch.

The joy is in the imagined lives shuttered behind lock and key, as scriptwriter Peter Morgan ponders what happened in Balmoral when news of Princess Diana’s death shocked the nation.

Most British Bit: Unable to cry in public, the queen breaks down while alone in the countryside. We Brits just love to hide our feelings. Except when we're on Jeremy Kyle .

Creation (2009)

The Brilliance: Real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly unite on-screen for the first time as Charles Darwin and his missus.

It’s a quiet, restrained exploration of Darwin’s crisis of faith over his own evolution theory, which is credited with killing God. Jon Amiel’s artful direction ensures things never get too stuffy, while Bettany gives a clear-minded, heartstring-tugging performance.

Most British Bit: The traditional picnic in the countryside was as quaint then as it is now.

Iris (2001)

The Brilliance: Kate Winslet proves she’s no one trick pony, giving us a glimpse of the talent that will later lead her to Oscar glory, and more than holding her own in the same part as Judi Dench.

If this doesn’t have you in floods of tears, nothing will.

Most British Bit: Us Brits like to push on even in the face of hardship, and John’s unwavering devotion to his wife as she succumbs to Dementia is as much about human empathy as it is about the British spirit.

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.