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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

a cuppa tea with your ha-ha’s? check out classic British comedies

With the witty Death at a Funeral now playing and Mr. Bean’s Holiday, which is practically a silent movie in the style of Charlie Chaplin, opening this week, the multiplex is a suddenly a treat for fans of British comedy. Need more? You’ve got lots of choices on DVD. Be warned: this is not a comprehensive list — there are too many great British comedies to run down all of them.
Passport to Pimlico: In this clever 1949 farce, a borough of London declares independence from the rest of the city, with unforeseen results. [buy at Amazon] Parodying the deprivations of the war, it is nicely matched up with…

The Mouse That Roared: A decade later, a tiny European duchy declares war on the United States… hoping that it will lose and benefit from America’s post-WWII largesse to its conquered foes. [buy at Amazon]

Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: Or any movies from the Pythons, either collectively or separately (I’m looking at you, Terry Gilliam). [buy Holy Grail at Amazon] [buy Meaning of Life at Amazon]

Local Hero: Again with the tweaking fun at the Americans, this time when a big oil company wants to buy a small Scottish town. [buy at Amazon]

The Tall Guy: See it if only for Elephant!, its musical adaptation of The Elephant Man (though the rest of this romantic comedy is delightfully wacky, too). [buy at Amazon]

A Fish Called Wanda: One of the funniest movies ever made? Could be… [buy at Amazon]

Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: Nick Park’s claymation house knows how to send up the British character and Hollywood cliches, and he does both to hilarious result in these two charmers. [buy Chicken Run at Amazon] [buy Were-Rabbit at Amazon]

Keeping Mum: This little seen film from last year gives us Rowan Atkinson as a rural preacher, Kristin Scott Thomas as his cheating wife, and Maggie Smith as their new maid. Morbid comedy ensues. [buy at Amazon]

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are paving the way to a future of British comedy that, like Nick Park’s movies, combines the best of the British approach with a wise and loving takedown of Hollywood. [buy Shaun at Amazon] [buy Fuzz at Amazon]



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  • Great list. To them, I would add any of the Ealing comedies starring Alec Guiness: particularly KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and THE LAVENDER HILL MOB.

    And if you can find it, there’s a wonderful farce called THE WRONG BOX, which DEATH AT A FUNERAL owes a great deal to. (Its use of the “tontine” was also emulated in a memorable episode of The Simpsons). It features Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine, and many other very funny British actors (though no Alec Guiness, which is a shame). I found a clip on YouTube for anyone who wants a sample:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taLNQWahGbw

  • Dave

    I’ll second Rob’s choices and add The Ladykillers (so much better than the Tom Hanks remake), The Rebel (US title Call Me Genius; it stars Tony Hancock, the archetypal comedy cynic – he famously killed himself in 1968 after his career went south) and proto-horror comedy Carry On Screaming (a favourite of Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss and the rest of the League of Gentlemen – one of their early bonding moments was when they reminisced about watching it on TV as children).

  • misterb

    How about:

    “A Private Function”?

    definitely in the same genre as “Keeping Mum” (which I liked but didn’t seem to appeal to the critics so much), but much more acclaim. And it stars a Python!

  • Charlie S

    Here’s some other good British comedy films with classic British sitcom writers and performers:

    Bedazzled (the original 1967 version) with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore at one of their biggest comedy peaks in film comedy with the short bits of Cook as the Devil and Dudley Moore as Stanly Moon on screen together as well as Cook’s subversive take on 60’s popstars being the best comic highlights of the film.

    Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, for example who went on to do films with celebrity stars like Excess Baggage (Benicio Del Toro, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken) and Vice Versa (Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold) and the recent film Across The Universe, are also legendary British sitcom writers who wrote lesser known film adaptations of their classic British sitcoms, The Likely Lads and Porridge, which are good adaptations of their classic sitcom counterparts, and have alsowritten some decent British music-oriented comedies such as Still Crazy (featuring Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and Bill Nighy).

    Another good film would be the film adaptation of the British sitcom, Rising Damp, featuring the awesome Leonard Rossiter, who starred in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

  • zoetree

    “Silent movie” is exactly what I thought while watching the new BEAN movie. I was pleasantly surprised. Loved DEATH AT A FUNERAL and many others you mentioned. Can’t wait to try a couple you listed. Glad you mentioned KEEPING MUM. I recently saw it on DVD and found it quite funny. A different Rowan Atkinson here, although his silent moments are genius here too.

    Lately I’ve been exploring some of the British TV series. My favorite so far is JEEVES AND WOOSTER.

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