the queen

Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II with compassion, dignity, and absent of satire in the days following the death of “the people’s princess” former Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer in this docu-drama. The film is so realistic that Tony Blair quoted dialog from it in his own biography—erroneously of course! Mixing real footage with dramatized scenes, this fast paced little film is fun to watch even when you know the outcome. Helen Mirren had considerable influence on the scene where the Queen encounters a buck while hunting on her estate, and it’s a pivotal point in the film. [uk, 2006]

carrington

This artistic period piece explores the unconventional and unwavering love between a delicate, gay writer and his devoted female companion, painter Dora Carrington. That the love could never be properly fulfilled results in great sadness as each partner dabbles in other love relationships. Emma Thompson provides the movie’s soul as foil to the flashier wittier role inhabited by Jonathon Pryce. [uk, 1995]

hilary and jackie

A tormented tale of sisterly rivalry and love based on a true story. Hilary is plain and grounded sister. Jackie is a flamboyant and famous Cellist. Yet, despite Jackie’s glorious golden locks, sexy way with a cello, and glamorous jet-setting lifestyle, she desperately wants what Hilary has: her husband, her children, her rural life. Emotionally wrenching performances by both talented leads, and, of course, luscious music. [uk, 1998]

wonderland

This scruffy glimpse of London working class life finds beauty in the ordinary. Wonderland centres on three working class sisters who stumble along seeking fulfillment. One hopes for love, the other wants stability, the third craves pleasure. Circling around their lives are children, ex-husbands, estranged siblings, one-night stands, future lovers, bickering parents, and barking dogs. It’s poignant and realistic without being grim. And the cinematography makes wet city traffic look better than all the sweeping velds in Africa. [uk, 2000]

little voice

Call it a small victory for shy people. Here the mute-like Little Voice or LV lives in a domestic hell cloistered in her bedroom terrorized by her overbearing mother and aching for her dead father. While Ma tries to get her hands into the local slimeball’s shiny pants, LV, who has virtually no speaking voice, belts out tunes by Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich, and other classic divas in her room. Jane Horrocks reprises her stage role singing for real, and pretty much owns the movie. [uk, 1998]

life is sweet

An early film by Mike Leigh, champion of working-class British life, this often hilarious portrait of a slightly off-beat family. Dad’s dream, much to the chagrin of his family, is to own a chip wagon. The teenage twin daughters can’t stand each other. One twin who refers to everyone as “fascist” is also a border-line anorexic. Jane Horrocks [Little Voice, Career Girls] is perfect as the fascism obsessed teen. Believe it or not, this is a wonderfully uplifting film, and true to it’s title, life is sweet. [uk, 1990]

secrets and lies

The gritty story of a successful black adoptee who tracks down her birth mother only to discover mom is not only psychologically unstable and barely educated, but also white. Add a couple battling infertility, and an unforgettable family reunion, and you have skeletons tumbling out of the closet. Raw, painful, and hilarious, Mike Leigh’s film is the most powerful exploration of the fallout of closed adoption records to date. [uk, 1996]

career girls

Eons away from the perky babes of Friends come two very real English misfits, warts and all. As the two working girls reminisce on their time together as students, each reveals her hurts, disappointments, vanquished dreams and plans for a sunnier future. Leigh exposes the insecurities, self-consciousness, and meanness of early adulthood so jarringly, it’s amazing to think any of us survived, let alone are able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. [uk, 1997]

bend it like beckham

“Who’d want a girl who plays football all day but can’t make chapattis?” This crowd pleasing cross-cultural girl sports movie breaks a new movie taboo: Girls can not only play sports – and well – but they can be Asian as well. Here Jess plays a soccer-obsessed teen of Indian heritage who’ll do anything to play her favorite game, and spends most of the movie evading her traditional parents’ watchful eyes. Pic features not just culture clash gags, but genuinely athletic footage and a cameo by the titular hero. (uk, 2002)

me without you

Holly and Marina are lifelong friends who cannot imagine existence without each other from girlish pacts to interest in boys through sharing lovers they are together for better or for worse. This film challenges how women define best friends, what they give and receive in the bargain, and how friendship is often as dark and dangerous as it is fulfilling and supportive. Strong performances by Dawson’s Creek’s Michelle Williams as Holly and by Trudy Styler as Marina’s mother bring emotional depth to a familar coming of age story. Recommended, especially for viewing with childhood friends. [uk, 2002]