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Martin Scorsese lists his 50 favourite British movies

Although Martin Scorsese is regarded as one of the pioneers of a unique style of American cinema that emerged in the second golden age of Hollywood, his taste is anything but limited. 

As a lover of all forms of cinema, the director has spoken of his passion for a number of different sources of filmmaking across his long career. With a deep love of classic Japanese cinema, as well an admiration for a variety of European directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Michael Powell, Scorsese has pulled in references from a broad scope. In fact, Powell later became a close friend of Scorsese and introduced him to his then-wife, Thelma Schoonmaker, who became Scorsese’s own editor. 

Powell, who directed the psychosexual thrillers Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom, has been mentioned as one of the possible focuses on the new documentary on British cinema that Scorsese has reportedly been working on for some years now. Despite the fact that said documentary is yet to apparate, Scorsese has clearly been building towards such a project for some time.

The documentary is the culmination of a lifetime’s passion for British cinema, one that was laid bare when Edgar Wright asked Scorsese for a definitive list of his favourite British films. Wright reached out to the director in the midst of working his way through Scorsese’s list of 39 essential foreign films and wanted to focus on those films by British directors such as Powell, Ken Loach and Alfred Hitchcock. Wright said: “I think Martin Scorsese writes and talks about British film, better than most British filmmakers and critics…sometimes, you need someone like Scorsese, to tell their own country what’s great.”

As Wright pinpointed, it is likely Scorsese’s detachment from British culture that has allowed him to find so much interest in the breadth of UK cinema. Powell, for example, interrogated a distinctly British set of societal values in his films, while David Lean made a career of adapting classic British books for the screen, such as E.M Forster’s A Passage To India, which dissected the complex relationships between Briitish colonialists and India’s native population. For an American outsider such as Scorsese, it is possible films such as these convey something new and unfamiliar, and they are all the more fascinating as a result.

Responding to Scorsese’s list, Wright wrote: “By the way, what are your favourite British films when you were growing up? You spoke a lot about Powell & Pressburger, Hitchcock, and David Lean, what are some other ones?”. In return, Wright was inundated with over 50 titles that spanned the history of British cinema – from Anthony Asquith’s 1927 drama Shooting Stars about a young girl who plans to escape to Hollywood – to the 1987 film The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, featuring Maggie Smith as a lonely piano teacher. 

The fascinating thing about Scorsese’s taste in British films is that there seems to be no snobbery involved whatsoever. The director regards pulp-horror flicks such as The Devil Rides Out to be just as valuable and worthy of note as more high-brow pieces like Jack Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater. The dizzying selection Scorsese gave to Edgar Wright reveals a fascination with the minutiae of British life and an insatiable appetite for the unique form of screen storytelling that has been developing in Britain since the 1920s.

Martin Scorsese’s 50 favourite British movies:

  • Station Six Sahara (Seth Holt, 1963)
  • Brief Ecstasy (Edmond Gréville, 1937)
  • The Halfway House (Basil Dearden, 1944)
  • Went the Day Well? (Alberto de Almeida 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 Mind Benders (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)
  • Burn, Witch, Burn (Sidney Hayers, 1962)
  • Flesh of the Fiends (John Gilling, 1969)
  • The Snorkel (Guy Green, 1957)
  • Scream of Fear (Seth Holt, 1960)
  • These Are 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, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, 1945)
  • The Enfield Haunting (Kristoffer Nyholm, 2015)
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (Jack Clayton, 1987)
  • The Pumpkin Eater (Jack Clayton, 1964)
  • The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
  • The Seventh Veil (Compton Bennett, 1945)
  • Yield To The Night (J. Lee Thompson, 1956)

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