These best British comedies are overlooked in the U.S. While there are differences between Brit and U.S. humor, everyone agrees these films are funny.
Over the last century of filmmaking, the broad genre of «comedy» has taken quite a few different routes and gone on more than a few tangents. Perhaps most noticeable is how different geography produces entirely different styles and cultures of comedy. While there are some major differences, British and American styles of comedy are close enough in format for there to be ample crossover, which has given Hollywood great imports from across the pond, including Edgar Wright or Richard Curtis.
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Though British comedy films can often become American classics, as well, there have been quite a few that have fallen through the cracks or just never caught on with American audiences as they did in their home country, meaning that there could be plenty of great films you haven’t seen, but definitely should.
10 Submarine (2010)
Writer/director/comedian Richard Ayoade made his feature-length debut with this droll take on the coming-of-age narrative. Combining a Wes Anderson-esque use of deadpan dialogue delivery with a hefty dose of British wit, Ayoade managed to produce a frequently hilarious, always awkward minor classic of the subgenre.
Craig Roberts is perfectly cast in the lead role of Oliver, a teenage boy with his sights set on losing his flower before his next birthday. Adding to the antics is Oliver’s plans to interfere with the love lives of his parents.
9 Bunny And The Bull (2009)
Bunny and the Bull is a very odd little movie bursting from the seams with absurdist comedy delights. Writer/director Paul King was best known for his writing work on BBC cult hit The Mighty Boosh when he drafted many of that show’s core ensemble to appear in this feature-length head trip.
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When an agoraphobic man decides to relive a trip he took years before with a weird character named Bunny, what follows is a singularly bizarre and consistently hilarious trip down the rabbit hole.
8 The Madness Of King George (1994)
Though this period piece dramedy was reasonably successful with American critics, but it is all but forgotten these days. That is truly a shame because The Madness of King George is a fascinating and funny examination of a nation in the midst of a crisis.
When George, king of England, begins to mentally deteriorate, his court and confidantes are left trying to puzzle out how to keep the country from falling apart. Alternately unsettling and delightful, the film needs a reappraisal, especially in this time of political turmoil.
7 Local Hero (1983)
A great gem lost to time, Local Hero, by writer/director Bill Forsyth, is an amazing and underrated piece of comedic drama from 1983 about an oil executive sent to a small Scottish village to prepare for the company’s newest refinery to begin construction. Of course, from there, things don’t go as planned.
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Featuring an early performance from Peter Capaldi, and a later career performance by legend Burt Lancaster, the film’s low-key script and deliberate pacing are the true secrets of its comedic and dramatic successes.
6 The Tall Guy (1989)
Before he made forever-classics like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually, Richard Curtis made an early foray into screenwriting with this lampoon of the theater industry. Starring Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson in the leads, the show is stolen by Rowan Atkinson in the supporting role as an overexaggerated version of himself.
While the romantic comedy storyline is charming and typical Curtis fare, it is the acute roasting of Broadway and West End musicals (namely of Andrew L. Webber) that cements the film as a forgotten masterpiece.
5 Attack The Block (2011)
This film should have been the next big thing. Instead, it was largely ignored by American audiences and has since cultivated a nice and loyal cult following. Long before he was in Star Wars, John Boyega made his debut as Jonah, a British street kid, and leader of a local gang who encounters extraterrestrial invaders over the course of a long night.
The film is just plain fun to watch, and an endlessly entertaining combination of creature feature thrills and British stoner comedy that works way more than it should. It’s a genius genre comedy that will endure in the right circles for decades to come.
4 Waking Ned Divine (1998)
Another minor indie hit that has since been mostly forgotten, Waking Ned Divine is an unusually smart and hyperliterate comedy about a group of aging friends who come together to mourn and celebrate in the face of the passing of one of their own. Of course, the added comedy comes from the plot device of a lottery ticket that the deceased man recently won, but did not claim.
What follows is a series of hijinks and one-liners that are as clever as they are intelligent. This is a smart man’s comedy and one of the best from the late 90s.
3 About A Boy (2002)
Where did this film go? The only film on this list to be a bonafide hit with the box office and the critics, About a Boy should have been remembered as one of the best comedies of the decade. Instead, it was given a mild-mannered Hulu series and a mild footnote in the career of leading man, Hugh Grant.
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About a Boy has a lot of bite to it, something that elevates it beyond its more cliche plot trappings. Additionally, the film is extremely British in tone, setting, and cast, but was directed by the men behind American Pie. This film was criminally robbed of the legacy that Grant’s best films from the preceding decade received.
2 Withnail And I (1987)
In the film’s native U.K., Withnail and I is a bonafide iconic film. However, perhaps due to the shamelessly dry and very Brtish style of it all, the film is only an underground hit among film school snobs in the United States.
Bruce Robinson’s seminal buddy tragicomedy is a masterpiece of screenwriting and comedic timing, a truly original film that blazes a path all its own, as it follows two alcoholic unemployed actors on «holiday by mistake» to the English countryside. Richard E. Grant as the titular Withnail is one of comedy’s greatest leading roles. This film is nothing short of brilliant.
1 In The Loop (2010)
While In the Loop, a political satire from the creator of Veep, was released in 2010, it received a heap of acclaim from British and American critics alike. Though it is a known film and it did well enough financially, the material is much more suited to our current times than the ones that spawned it.
This is a biting and unforgiving satire of two separate governments falling apart in an attempt to prevent war. The observations and characters presented within bear striking resemblance to our current global state. If you haven’t seen In the Loop, it is the comedy of now and you’re doing yourself a disservice.
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About The Author John Wells (78 Articles Published)
John Wells is a writer, poet, and filmbuff from Asheville, NC. He is currently pursuing a degree in Film Studies from Western Carolina University. Oftentimes John can be found perched behind his laptop screen arguing about movies (when he isn’t watching them, that is). His other interests include performing with his poetry-band, reading super out there books, and arguing philosophy with his dog.
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