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5 British Female Drama Directors: Outstanding Talents

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It’s great to know that British female drama directors are among the most prominent film directors. Many of their movies have become timeless classics and international box-office hits, like ‘Mamma Mia’ (2008) and ‘Iron Lady’(2011) , both directed by Phyllida Lloyd as well as Academy Award winners with the likes of Andrea Arnold’s ‘Wasp’(2003).

Extraordinary Behind-The-Camera-Talent from Britain

Everyone knows the British are famous for their trademark “British humour”, comprised of dry, wry wit and razor sharp one-liners.

However, British drama films have their distinct qualities. British dramas are some of the most classic, insightful and artistic pieces of cinema.

Here are some great British film directors to look out for.

Phyllida Lloyd

Lloyd is no stranger to taking on films of large scale from ‘Iron Lady’ (2011) to ‘Mamma Mia’ (2008), both starring the one and only Meryl Streep. Lloyd managed to carry the weight of such productions with flair, without missing a single nuance or failing to consider various characters points of views. I found her ability to blend in many layers of story quite sophisticated, and I felt that her films were like a hand-woven quilt of the highest quality: bold with colour, but still allowing you to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship.

In ‘Mamma Mia’ (2008) this fun, colourful musical could have easily turned into a cheesy disaster if placed into the wrong hands, but Lloyd’s maturity in direction allowed the depth and warmth to shine through, without losing its life and vibrancy.

Recommended Movie: ‘Iron Lady’ (2011)

This biopic of Margaret Thatcher won Meryl Streep her third Oscar. The film details Thatcher’s struggle with dementia in relation to the way that those around her were dealing with it, giving the audience many angles to consider.

While the world knew Thatcher as the formidable politician, Lloyd managed to show the intimate and vulnerable parts of Thatcher’s life in a way that invites us to see the more human side of her – from her struggle to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of politics, to her priorities being torn between her work and family.

Phyllida Lloyd manages to display every subtle shade of human emotion in even the grandest of narratives and boldest of styles.

Lynne Ramsay

Ramsay’s story-telling is audacious and visually appealing. The cinematography, editing and music choices show she is not afraid to use the medium to its full capacity to articulate whatever needs to be said in any given moment.

The subject matter of her narratives is generally controversial to an extent with seemingly morally-ambiguous characters that you will find yourself empathizing with, regardless. Her film ‘Morvern Callar’ (2002) – about a girl who uses her boyfriend’s tragic suicide as an opportunity to break out of her life and have adventure – proves Ramsay’s ability to show tragedy, joy, humour and other facets of human emotion intertwined.

Recommended Movie: ‘We Need to talk About Kevin’ (2011)

Starring the enigmatic Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly, this brave film documents the whirlwind into the  mind of a mother – already complicated in her own right – trying to deal with her potentially psychopathic, menacing son, whose darkness only she seems to be able to see. It is cutting and has us questioning the complex relationship between mother and son.

The cinematography is highly stylized with no shot wasted. The clear motifs and non-linear editing connects significant parts of past and future which takes us into the scattered mind of a woman desperate to put the pieces together and figure out where she went wrong.

The pace of the film varies from bone-chillingly still to frantic and heart-racing in a second. As an audience member, Ramsay will have you eating out of her hand. This non-conventional film is not one that you just watch to kill time. It will leave you haunted for some time after.

Ramsay is as brave a filmmaker as they come, dealing with serious subject matter in the most artistic way. She knows what she wants to say and is not afraid to say it.

Andrea Arnold

An art I feel Arnold has mastered with her films is the ability to display the intricate relationship between a character and their environment. Her films are gritty and honest and seem to take you so close into the characters experience through her cinematic choices that at times you feel as though you can smell the rooms they are in and feel their pulse every second.

From her Academy Award Winning short film ‘Wasp’ (2003), documenting the struggle of a young, unfit mother trying to find love to her film adaptation of the classic novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ (2011) – every character feels relatable. She gives the audience a real, vicarious experience.

Recommended Movie: ‘Fish Tank’ (2009)

A story of a teenage girl living in Britain’s council flats amidst poverty and social degradation, along with her irresponsible, abusive mother and off-beat little sister. She becomes obsessed with mother’s new boyfriend.

The film explores issues of loneliness, isolation and identity-searching in ways that can be depressing. You will feel for this so-called rebellious problem child and be able to see things from her point of view. The title: ‘Fish Tank’ as apt as throughout, you will feel her bottled-up angst as she looks out into the world, longing to break free.

Arnold’s ability to capture the vulnerability in the most abrasive of characters and delicacy in the most indelicate situations is unrivalled.

Sally Potter

In contrast to Arnold’s in-your-face reality, Potter captures emotion in a more stylized way with her romantic and classic form of filmmaking. The filmmaking style may be pretty, but the stories can be heart-breaking.

Potter has made films set in specific periods in history and manages to capture the atmosphere of that period, without losing her own imagination. Some of these pieces include ‘Orlando’ (2002) and ‘Ginger and Rosa’ (2012)

Recommended Movie: ‘The Man Who Cried’ (2000)

A star-studded cast of Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchet, Johnny Depp and John Turturro deliver magnificent performances. The movie tells the story of a young Russian Jewish refugee working as a dancer in Paris on the brink of World War Two, who falls in love with a gypsy but must make brave decisions as the Nazi invasion threatens their love and their lives.

Potter manages to capture the delicate coming of age story as well as the courage and vulnerability of the protagonist and other characters through interesting cinematic choices such as elegant cinematography and breath-taking montages, while allowing the actors the space to shine in their performances.

Sally Potter brings elegance and imagination to tell the tales of human struggle in any period of time.

Sarah Gavron

Gavron has an ability to tackle serious subject matter and guide strong performances in a way that is powerful, without overdoing it. Every scene draws you in with smart cinematic choices from interesting shot choices to gorgeous montages. Her story-telling is layered, displaying every nuance of character dynamic and also streamlined with no scene wasted or pointless.

Gavron is also a successful documentary director with ‘Village at the End of the World’ (2012) which she co-directed with David Katznelson) about an isolated village dominated by sledge dogs, being witty and insightful with a fresh directorial style.

Recommended Movie: ‘Brick Lane’ (2007)

The story documents a young Muslim teenage girl entering into an arranged marriage, forcing her to move to England from her Bangladesh village and is brilliantly directed to express complex themes. The main character deals with a loveless marriage, raising a family and finds her caught up in political strife as well as a complicated love triangle.

Art meets grappling reality as Gavron delivers fine-tuned cinema, together with strong female protagonists.


Women Directors Bringing More and More to Cinema

The films mentioned here are intelligent, brave and artistically advanced, not to mention that many were hugely successful at the box office. This serves to prove that women directors are more than just “chick-flick” directors.

What do you think of the films and directors mentioned?

Any great British film directors you would like to mention?

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