London Calling

To my faithful fans (all two of you): so sorry for my unintentional hiatus from posting of late. Sadly I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. Real life things like work and the new fall TV schedule (ok, so not exactly “real life”) have been distracting me. I have several unfinished posts, but just not as much uninterrupted, quality writing time as I would like to polish them. Perhaps procrastination plays a role, but I’m unable to confirm or deny such rumours…

In the midst of working, TV and movie viewing, and not really writing, I’ve been enjoying the steady presence of fall. I love living in a place in the world that has seasons. And fall is my absolute favourite. Leaves turning colour, crispy air, back to school energy… Forget New Year’s resolutions – lots of times change centers around the fall. For example, about 15 years ago, right around this time, I went off on an adventure to live and work in England on a working holiday visa. Every so often (i.e. every fall), I get a little nostalgic for those days. I really enjoyed my time in the UK: the people, the music, the pints and pubs, the brollies and wellies, the accents, the castles, the off-colour humour, the “u” in words like colour and humour… I found it all fun and novel and felt genuinely at home there despite (or perhaps because) everything seemed just slightly off-center.

Not too long ago I saw a cute little British movie called “Stone of Destiny”, a “based-on-true-events” story about a Scottish college student who recruits his nationalist friends to rescue the Stone of Scone, which was stolen from Scotland by King Edward I and placed in Westminster Abbey in 1296. It wasn’t the best film ever, but it did seem quintessentially British with quirky, passionate characters immersed in the politics of Britain in the 1950s. It made me miss living in England and got me thinking about what other distinctly British films make me yearn for Mother England…

The result? I thought I’d put together a series of posts listing movies that make me want to move somewhere in the UK. I’ll preface it (as usual) with the disclaimer that these are not necessarily the “best” British movies. But I think they are thoughtful, touching, charming movies about people living and working in the UK and depict the beautiful, diverse landscapes, landmarks, and lifestyles that represent the appeal of the British Isles. Hopefully at some point, I’ll pull some together for Scotland and Ireland, but for this initial post in the series, we travel to various parts of England:

The Full Monty

Robert Carlyle and pals get their “kit off” in The Full Monty (Source)

Sorry “Magic Mike”, you were no match for “The Full Monty”. I can still remember seeing this for the first time sitting in the front row of the Oxford Theatre balcony (in Halifax NS) with my friends laughing until we cried during the final scene when the intro to Tom Jones’ “You Can Leave Your Hat On” begins the climactic strip tease. A film more about finding dignity in undignified times than about stripping per se, “The Full Monty” has a lot of heart and explores the challenges of what it was like for men living in the struggling steel mill town of Sheffield after the bottom fell out of the industrial boom in the 60s/70s. A hesitant, rag-tag group of former steel mill employees have the entrepreneurial brainwave to take to the stage in the buff, or “the full monty”, to earn some much needed cash. Watching the men navigate their pride, fears, and body-image issues against the backdrop of Sheffield’s crumbling economy felt at the same time uniquely English and unquestionably human. I totally adore this movie and yes, it makes me want to immediately get on a plane and head to Northern England.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

The fun and eccentric cast of Four Weddings and a Funeral (Source)

Okay, I’m about to say something some might find a little shocking. I really didn’t like this movie when I first saw it. I was really slow to warm up to Hugh Grant as an actor. I remember thinking that I just didn’t “get” a lot of the humour in this movie and found the lack of subtlety annoying. It’s since grown on me (perhaps that dry, deadpan British humour is an acquired taste?) as has Hugh Grant as a performer who is at his best playing the bumbling, awkward, unlikely (but simultaneously too-good-to-be-true) romantic lead. I think I developed an appreciation for “Four Weddings” when I set aside my initial aversion to Hugh Grant and concentrated on the absolutely stellar supporting cast. John Hannah (who makes another appearance later in this list), Charlotte Colman, Kristin Scott Thomas (yes, she was “supporting” way back then), and Simon Callow provide delightful, charming, and heart-warming characters that I want to move back to England and befriend.

A Fish Called Wanda

Stodgy barrister John Cleese falls for Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda (Source)

“A Fish Called Wanda” paired Monty Python alums John Cleese and Michael Palin in this screwball comedy about scheming American bank robbers (played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline), love, greed, and deception. It’s been ages since I’ve seen this and I need to rectify that immediately if not sooner. This movie never fails to make me laugh out loud – it’s Britain vs. America at its most absurdly entertaining. Michael Palin’s stuttering character of Ken is pure comic genius, and I know it’s coming but still laugh every time Kevin Kline goads him on, “It’s K-K-K-Ken! C-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me!” The quartet tried to recapture the magic with 1997’s “Fierce Creatures”, which was considerably less memorable. I’ll stick with Wanda and move to an English country estate, thank you very much.

Saving Grace

Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson light up more than the screen in Saving Grace (Source)

Long before he became “TV’s Craig Ferguson”, late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson wrote the screenplay and starred in this delightful comedy set in Cornwall, England. It’s about a widow (the incomparable and charming Brenda Bleythn) who tries to cope with the overwhelming debt her husband left her and save her house by starting a marijuana growhouse aided by her stoner gardener (Ferguson). (If you’re familiar with the Showtime series Weeds, this plot likely sounds very familiar, but you saw it here first, kids). Appearances from the likes of prolific British comedians like Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly, Shakespeare in Love) as the liberal town doctor help round out the quirky, small English-hamlet feel. For fans of the Gilmore Girls, think Stars Hollow only British. Who wouldn’t want to live in a town where people dance naked around a marijuana bonfire?!

Sliding Doors

Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah start off as strangers on a train in Sliding Doors (Source)

I saw “Sliding Doors” for the first time in the theatre when I was living in Reading, England and remember liking it, but with each subsequent viewing it’s grown on me more and more. Set primarily in London, I not only feel affection for the characters and the appealing (if somewhat predictable) “what if” storyline, but get a chance to relive some memories as well of taking the underground (or “tube” to locals), getting rowdy watching a match at the pub, and traversing the various bridges that span the Thames. This movie also solidified my love of British curse words and all things John Hannah. I never actually lived in London, but Reading was only 40 miles west by train, so I spent a good amount of time there – enough to make me feel nostalgic when I watch this movie.

Now that the list is complete, I notice two things 1) all of my “inspire me to move back to England” movies are comedic so it may be entirely possible that I not only want to return to England, but in fact would like to live in a British comedy; and 2) all of these movies are at least 10 years old so I feel obliged to include some honourable mentions that are a bit more recent like Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually, and Billy Elliot (okay, maybe that’s not-so-recent either). Oh, and all of the Harry Potters of course. Even though I can’t afford to literally go back to England, these movies at least allow me to go back for a couple of hours anyway. That’ll have to do. For now…

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9 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. Marcia Sanford says:

    Rarely do I watch a movie several times, and I really I love ” A Fish called Wanda”, and could watch it over and over and over…

  2. Rhondaroo says:

    Excellent post! Now I want to go to England ASAP! Well, as soon as I watch “A Fish Called Wanda” (I forgot about K-K-Ken! I’m laughing out loud!) and “Four Weddings and A Funeral” (One of my all time favorites. Andy McDowell is the only thing wrong with that movie.).

    “Notting Hill” is another one I love for the British vibe. “A King’s Speech” too.

    If you get around to writing about Ireland, be sure to see “Matchmaker” with Janeane Garofalo if you haven’t already. I always want to jump on a plane after I see that.

    • Janet Allen says:

      Thanks! I also thought about Notting Hill – another movie where the cast of supporting characters is so wonderful and endearing. And you were the one who introduced me to Matchmaker – never fear… it will be on the list!

  3. Unbelievably I still haven’t seen A Fish Called Wanda! I also feel that I should re-watch Sliding Doors, I wasn’t all that impressed with it the first time around. Perhaps I too will like it more on second watching. Great post by the way!

  4. Thank you! Yes, A Fish Called Wanda I highly recommend for pure, unadulterated ridiculousness. Sliding Doors on the other hand is a bit “chick-flicky” for some tastes… not necessarily the best movie on my little list, but it sure is packed with London-y goodness. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Hi Janet, I so agree with you about living in a place with four seasons and Autumn is my favorite as well, I LOVE seeing the gorgeous foliage on my way to work every day.

    I LOVE British movies and British actors, most of my faves hail from there. I adore Four Weddings, I have the dvd and glad that you mention Saving Grace, Craig Ferguson is such a hoot, too bad he’s not acting anymore. I haven’t seen Sliding Doors yet but I do like John Hannah so I should give that a watch.

  6. Totally! Glad to know I’m not alone! I do very much enjoy Craig Ferguson – he’s totally raunchy and a little bit nuts, but terrificially funny. He’s done some voice over work, but other than that he’s just been doing the late night thing. I also think he’s written a couple of books which I’d be kind of curious to check out… I suspect he’s a pretty good writer. Thanks for your comment, and it’s safe to say if you like John Hannah, you’ll probably enjoy Sliding Doors – he’s totally charming in it.

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