In honour of absolutely nothing, I thought I'd pull together a list of my favourite British movies and TV shows. This is not a list of ones I consider "the best," just ones I happen to love. I'm hoping to do one for British books soon too. So brew yourself a nice cup of English tea and enjoy!
(This list is not in any particular order!)
Pride and Prejudice 1995
It's become kind of a cliche to admit you love this version of P&P, but it really is excellent. Forget all the wet-shirt Darcy nonsense and enjoy Jennifer Ehle's performance as an intelligent and thoughtful Lizzy. The 1980 version with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul is also really well done and often overlooked in the shadow of its more famous counterpart.
Again I'm stating the obvious here, but this soap opera is very addictive. My favourite is the first season. The second season was okay and the third season pretty much jumped the shark for me - but I keep coming back anyway. I especially loved the feminist Lady Sybil and her Irish revolutionary chauffeur romance storyline from Season 1.
I first saw this show on a visit to England in 1999 and I've loved it ever since. (By the way, the episode I saw was the infamous Puritans vs. the "rude turnip.") The series set in the Regency period is absolute perfection. Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson are delightful as the sarcastic and exasperated Blackadder and mentally unstable dogsbody Baldrick, respectively. And forget House - Hugh Laurie is at his best as the insanely dim-witted Prince of Wales. Stephen Fry also has a wonderful cameo as a bullying Duke of Wellington. The episode "Dish and Dishonesty," where Baldrick gets elected as an MP, is one of my favourite episodes from any show, ever.
Doctor Who (New series 1-4)
I will admit up front I've never seen the original Doctor Who and I had no interest in the show after series 4. However, I loved the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant years. Even though there were some seriously dark moments in the show, it never lost its sense of fun. Highlights for me include the introduction of Donna in "The Runaway Bride" and the three-story arc of the Master's return at the end of series 3.
Sense and Sensibility 1995
Not surprisingly, there are a number of Jane Austen movies on this list. This version of S&S was my first introduction to the world of Jane Austen when I saw it in the theatre as a thirteen-year-old. I instantly fell in love with the Regency era through this movie. I still enjoy watching it - not just for the great story, but for the wonderful settings and costumes. (Fun fact: I got a private tour of Montacute House, where the Palmers live, on a visit to England in 2006). Although many people think of Snape when they think of Alan Rickman, for me he will always be Col. Brandon. And speaking of Alan Rickman -
It's hard to believe it's been ten years since I first saw this warm and fuzzy movie in the theatres. Describing its many tangled plotlines is almost impossible if you haven't seen it, but here are some highlights: Bill Nighy playing a hilarious and awful aging rock star, Colin Firth having his heart broken and mended in France; Martin Freeman being adorable and Martin Freeman-y; Hugh Grant playing a prime minister who falls for one of his household staff. And that leads me to...
Bridget Jones' Diary
Even though I'm not a fan of chick lit and bumbling heroines, I just can't help loving this movie. I always end up rooting for Bridget, who is a screw-up but less awful than everyone else around her. The wimpy fight between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant toward the end gets major bonus points, as does the fact that the story is based on Pride and Prejudice. Bonus points also to Colin Firth for being so cute as Mark Darcy and James Callas for playing Bridget's flamboyantly sassy guy pal. And yes, I even love the sequel that everyone hates and will watch it every time it's on TV.
Honestly, everything Graham Linehan does is pure gold and I can't decide which of his creations I like best, so I'm just sticking them all on this list. In Black Books, Dylan Moran plays a disheveled (and that's putting it nicely) bookstore owner, whose only contact with the outside world are his customers and his friends, alcoholic Fran (Tamsin Grieg) and cheerful assistant Manny (Bill Bailey). My favourite episode is Locked Out, where Bernard has to survive one night in the outside world and ends up working for a fast-food restaurant, Fran goes ga-ga over a deep-voiced man, and Manny has to resort to eating bees to survive. It's even crazier than it sounds.
The IT Crowd
I was only introduced to this show recently, and already it's in my top 10. In The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan proves he's the master at finding ensemble casts that compliment each other perfectly. Katherine Parkinson plays Jen, an IT manager who knows nothing about IT, but is great at reining in her wayward employees and wearing fabulous outfits. Her two uber-nerd employees are Roy (Chris O'Dowd), a scruffy and somewhat lecherous Irishman, and Moss (Richard Ayoade), who is a technical genius but can't comprehend the real world. Expect lots of insanity and comedy of errors.
Graham Linehan's first show isn't technically "British" but the humour definitely is. Dermot Morgan plays a disgraced priest who is banished to Craggy Island, a remote parish off the west coast of Ireland, as punishment. There he must share a parochial house with two deranged priests: Father Jack, who is constantly drunk, angry, and insane; and wide-eyed man-child Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon). My favourite episode is "Speed 3" but it's too ridiculous to even describe. If you like your humour beyond absurd, you'll love this.
I can't even talk about how much I love this movie. My brain pretty much imploded with laughter the first time I saw this and I haven't gotten it back yet. All I'll say is: if you love traditional British murder mysteries, but love seeing traditional British murder mysteries turned on their head even more, you need to watch this movie. I think I've seen it five times now and I'm still catching new jokes that fly fast and furious. I'm impatiently waiting for The World's End.
Northanger Abbey (2007)
Of all the newer (post 2000) adaptations of Jane Austen, this one is my favourite. NA is my second favourite Jane Austen, and this is a fun adaptation. JJ Feild plays a teasing and flirtatious Henry Tilney, and Felicity Jones strikes just the right note as the daydreaming Catherine Morland. Look out for a pre-famous Carey Mulligan as the scheming Isabella Thorpe.
The Vicar of Dibley
This is not just one of my favourite British shows, but one of my top three favourite shows of all time. It's my ultimate go-to, cheer-me-up comfort show. Dawn French plays a female vicar who goes to work for a sleepy little English village called Dibley. She ends up being the only sane woman in a village of loveable loonies. Let me just say that I want to live in Dibley in general and the vicar's house in particular. Not to spoil anything if you haven't seen the show, but Richard Armitage shows up at the end as a handsome stranger and - SWOON!
Even though Ricky Gervais's character makes you extremely uncomfortable, I was hooked on the original version of this show. Tim and Dawn's will-they-or-won't-they romantic storyline had me on the edge of my seat. The Tim vs. annoying co-worker Garth sub-plot was also extremely funny and so true to real life.
Okay, so maybe I have saved the best for last after all. This show could hardly get more perfect in terms of cast, script and setting. The British have done their duty to women the world over by giving us extremely excellent chocolate and the combination of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. And on behalf of women everywhere - thank you, England!
There are so many other great British TV shows and movies that I enjoy, but that's all I have time for now. Please let me know if I've made any huge omissions!
ETA: I can't believe I forgot to add The Supersizers! My favourite documentary series. Giles and Sue are so funny and great together. The perfect mix of hilarity and history!