There’s not much about filmmaking that Martin Scorsese doesn’t know. So it’s only right that even the premiere filmmakers of the day look up to the director as a professor of cinema. It’s a moniker that has followed him for some time as he not only possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema’s history but is also happy to share it whenever he can. That’s exactly what happened when acclaimed filmmaker Edgar Wright got in touch with Scorsese to ask for a list of his favourite British films.
Wright had reached out to the director after trying to work his way through the acclaimed list of 39 foreign films Scorsese said every filmmaker should watch. Wright spoke on The Empire Film Podcast with Quentin Tarantino when he confessed that he had only seen “about 20” of the 39 films mentioned in Scorsese’s list. With lockdown ruling out any work on his own projects, Wright, like the rest of us, sat down and created an epic watch list for himself.
The podcast is the stuff movie dreams are made of. It sees Tarantino and Wright sit down and geek out about all things cinema. Whether it’s the palpable audience reaction of their favourite subversive cinema moments or the annoyance of streaming sites cutting off the credits of films, the two directors genuinely engage about their love of film. During the conversation, Wright mentions the famous list Martin Scorsese once drew up for a lucky student who had won the chance to meet and interview the director.
A few years ago the young filmmaker Colin Levy spent hours in the editing room of his high school, completing his five-minute short film which would go on to win him the national Young Arts award. The prize for winning such an award was a sit down one-on-one meeting with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull filmmaker.
Remembering the moment, Levy wrote an article on his blog, describing it as: “It was a defining moment in my path as a filmmaker,” while admitting that personal tour of Scorsese’s office, editing bays and more came as a huge shock to the system. “Martin Scorsese was intimidating, to say the least. But very jovial, very talkative, and he took me seriously. (Or convinced me, at least.) I pretty much kept my mouth shut,” Levy continued to explain in his blog post.
“I felt like I was in a movie,” continued Levy. “Why he spent so much time with me I do not know, but it was amazing just to be in his presence. A few weeks afterwards I laboured over a thank-you card, in which I expressed the overwhelming impression I had gotten that I don’t know enough about anything. I especially don’t know enough about film history and foreign cinema. I asked if he had any suggestions for where to start.”
Scorsese responded with 39 foreign films that would make up the base of education in cinema. It was a story that caught Wright’s attention and demanded he, an acclaimed director himself, should at least complete the module now set out by Scorsese. It led to Wright not only catching the films on his home screen but also trawling through YouTube to find Scorsese’s thoughts on each film. Something which, thanks to the aforementioned encyclopaedic knowledge, comes easy for the Taxi Driver creator.
After such a lengthy and hearty lesson in the great and the good of foreign cinema, Wright thought it only right that he reach out to Scorsese to share his appreciation. What he perhaps didn’t intend to receive was not only a warm thanks and recognition of his appreciation but also, after a nudge, another list of films for Wright to make his way through — this time focusing only on British cinema.
Noted down by Tom Davidson, we now have a complete list of Martin Scorsese’s favourite British films, and it makes for an essential list for any budding filmmaker. There are some giant titles missed off in the list, but that’s only because of the company at hand, meaning Scorsese is well aware that Edgar Wright needs no introduction to the Ealing Comedies, for example, and he “assumes” he has already seen most of the big hitters.
So while it isn’t the most robust list of British films, it is a list that will challenge any filmmaker. You can listen to the full podcast below.
Martin Scorsese’s 50 favourite British films:
Kind Hearts & Coronets — Robert Hamer (1949)
Station Six Sahara — Seth Holt (1962)
Brief Ecstasy — Edmond T. Greville (1937)
The Halfway House — Basil Dearden (1944)
Went The Day Well — Alberto Cavalcanti (1942)
Nowhere to Go — Seth Holt (1958)
The Nanny — Seth Holt (1965)
Madonna of the Seven Moons — Arthur Crabtree (1945)
The Man in Grey — Leslie Arliss (1943)
So Long at the Fair — Terence Fisher (1950)
Stolen Face — Terence Fisher (1952)
Four-sided Triangle — Terence Fisher (1953)
The Sound Barrier — David Lean (1952)
This Happy Breed — David Lean (1944)
Guns at Batasi —John Guillermin (1964)
Green for Danger — Sidney Gilliat (1946)
The Mindbenders — Basil Dearden (1963)
To the Public Danger — Terence Fisher (1948)
It Always Rains on Sunday — Robert Hamer (1947)
A High Wind in Jamaica — Alexander Mackendrick (1965)
The Queen of Spades — Thorold Dickinson (1949)
Hue and Cry — Charles Crichton (1947)
Pink String and Sealing Wax — Robert Hamer (1945)
The Blue Lamp — Basil Dearden (1950)
The Good Die Young — Lewis Gilbert (1954)
Mandy — Alexander Mackendrick (1952)
Vampyres — José Ramón Larraz (1974)
Uncle Silas — Charles Frank (1947)
The Legend of Hell House — John Hough (1973)
Night of the Eagle — Sidney Hayers (1962)
The Flesh and the Fiends — John Gilling (1960)
The Snorkel — Guy Green (1958)
Taste of Fear — Seth Holt (1961)
The Damned — Joseph Losey (1963)
Plague of the Zombies — John Gilling (1966)
Quatermass and the Pit — Roy Ward Baker (1967)
Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde — Roy Ward Baker (1971)
The Devil Rides Out — Terence Fisher (1968)
The Asphyx — Peter Newbrook (1972)
Underground — Anthony Asquith (1928)
Shooting Stars — Anthony Asquith (1927)
Sapphire — Basil Dearden (1959)
Whistle and I’ll Come To You — Jonathan Miller (1968)
Dead of Night — Alberto Cavalcanti (1945)
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne — Jack Clayton (1987)