While Batman Vs Superman, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men Apocalypse and other mega franchises are expected to dominate cinemas in 2016, let’s hear it for the films below. None are sequels, few have titanic budgets, all of them are British and each of them has the potential to be great.
2016 looks to be a particularly strong year for UK crime drama, with Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us and Michael Apted’s Unlocked on their way. Military thrillers are also well represented this year, with Gavin Hood’s Eye In The Sky, Fernando Coimbra’s Sand Castle, and Simon West’s Stratton incoming. There’s also comedy, fantasy, drama, horror and even a musical waiting for you below.
A Street Cat Named Bob (dir. Roger Spottiswoode)
This inspirational real-life story, A Street Cat Named Bob, is based on the book of the same name by James Bowen, an ex-heroin addict whose life on the streets only began to take shape after he took in a stray cat. Bowen and Bob (the ginger puss far cuter than the Twin Peaks character he was named for) made a name for themselves busking and selling the Big Issue in London’s Covent Garden and later found fame in Bowen’s memoir.
Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies, Turner & Hooch) is directing, with Fortitude’s Luke Treadaway in the lead role with support from Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head, and of course Bob, making his screen debut as himself.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (dir. Mandie Fletcher)
In its heyday, Absolutely Fabulous was a real comedy coup. Eddie, Patsy, Bubble, Saffie and co. were hugely funny, endlessly imitable creations. Two decades and change after its 1992 debut, Jennifer Saunders’ sitcom is returning in movie form, with a screenplay by Saunders and the return of the original gang plus the usual deluge of celebrity cameos.
To wit, Saunders, regulars Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks, Kathy Burke, Celia Imrie and Helen Lederer will be joined by Gwendoline Christie, Rebel Wilson, Joan Collins, Kim Kardashian West and Dawn French in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, directed by UK comedy veteran Mandie Fletcher. The story sees Edina and Patsy hiding out among the glitterati of the French Riviera after causing “a major incident”…
American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)
Image: Wasp (2003)
Writer-director Andrea Arnold won twenty-two awards, including an Oscar, for her socially realist short Wasp in 2003. Her three follow-up features, Red Road, Fish Tank and a naturalistic adaptation of Wuthering Heights, cemented her deservedly celebrated position in British film.
Arnold is currently working in the US, having directed an episode of Amazon’s acclaimed Transparent and following that up with UK/US co-production American Honey. The film, also written by Arnold, is listed as a comedy drama about a teenage girl who winds up on a chaotic road trip across the Midwest of America. True to form, Arnold has cast a group of young actors largely new to cinema in the film, always an exciting prospect.
A Hundred Streets (dir. Jim O’Hanlon)
A Hundred Streets is a London-based drama weaving together a quartet of stories all set within the same square mile of the capital. It’s based on Square Mile: London, a 2012 short co-written by first-time feature writer Leon Butler, and is being sold as a slice-of-life UK picture.
Idris Elba takes the role of a former rugby player estranged from his wife, played by Gemma Arterton, alongside Samantha Barks, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ken Stott and Jamie Foreman. The film marks the feature directorial debut of In The Flesh and A Touch Of Cloth’s Jim O’Hanlon.
Brotherhood (dir. Noel Clarke)
In 2006, Noel Clarke and Menhaj Huda’s Kidulthood was praised for delivering an unflinching slice of west London life. That film was followed up two years later by Adulthood, a similarly frank account of the so-called “grime generation”, and now, a decade on, the trilogy will be completed with Brotherhood.
Noel Clarke is back directing and writing the third part in his series, which is currently filming and scheduled for release in the autumn. Once again, Clarke will take on the role of Sam Peel, whose release from prison was chronicled in the second film. Co-star Adam Deacon’s well-publicised fall-out with Clarke and personal troubles regrettably mean he won’t be back to complete the trilogy.
Dad’s Army (dir. Oliver Parker)
You can’t argue with the immaculate casting on this revival of Perry and Croft’s classic British sitcom. Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Wilson, Michael Gambon as Godfrey, Blake Harrison as Pike… That bunch alone make Dad’s Army worth a look.
The film comes written by Paddington and Mr Bean’s Hamish McColl, and directed by Ollie Parker (An Ideal Husband, The Importance Of Being Earnest, St Trinian’s, Dorian Gray). Its plot sees Walmington-on-Sea’s protectors discover a spy in their midst. Incidentally, should you require any convincing of how brilliant Toby Jones is in a comedy, look no further than Mackenzie Crook’s fantastic Detectorists.
Eddie The Eagle (dir. Dexter Fletcher)
Dexter Fletcher’s directorial follow-up to infectiously happy Proclaimers jukebox movie Sunshine On Leith is the story of an unlikely British hero. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards’ participation in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games is the subject of this comedy biopic starring Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Taron Edgerton and Hugh Jackman.
Judging by this trailer (give it a try, genuinely), Fletcher and writers Simon Kelton and Sean Macauley have hit the sweet spot in the tradition of both heart-warming sports movies and British comedies. Who can resist an underdog?
Eye In The Sky (dir. Gavin Hood)
Alan Rickman alert: the Rickman makes a rare appearance in UK-funded military thriller Eye In The Sky, in which he appears alongside Helen Mirren and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.
The film, about a military drone mission to capture a terrorist group in Kenya that enters morally dubious territory when a nine year old civilian enters the target zone, comes directed by Ender’s Game and X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s Gavin Hood. The thriller was filmed in South Africa and release has now been scheduled for April 2016.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (dir. David Yates)
Warner Bros. has extended a lush invitation to return to the world of Harry Potter with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, due out in November 2016. Filmed in the UK by a UK director based on the work of one of the UK’s best-known writers (making her screenwriting debut here), it may be a US co-production, but it feels truly British.
Director David Yates continues his wizarding world collaboration with producers David Heyman and Steve Kloves here, with a cast led by Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell. The story, set seventy years before the Harry Potter films, tells of Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and a case of magical creatures that escapes into the no-Maj world of 1920s New York. Here’s the first trailer.
Free Fire (dir. Ben Wheatley)
Since his gripping, low-budget debut, Down Terrace, Ben Wheatley has proved repeatedly that his films are worth seeking out. Kill List, Sightseers, A Field In England and out soon, J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (see below) form a solid back catalogue of features the bold quality of which speaks for itself.
Free Fire, a UK/France co-production which also featured on Den Of Geek’s list of 30 must-see films for 2016, is a crime drama with a very promising team (Martin Scorsese is listed as a producer). Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor join long-time Wheatley collaborator Michael Smiley in this film about a gang deal that goes violently wrong.
High-Rise (dir. Ben Wheatley)
Another from Ben Wheatley, who made his impressive Doctor Who debut last year with Deep Breath and Into The Dalek and now returns to the big screen for this J.G Ballard adaptation. Ballard’s 1975 novel takes place in an affluent modern tower block whose wealthy tenants descend into a primal orgy of violence and destruction.
With a screenplay adapted by Amy Jump – Wheatley’s long-time collaborator and wife – High-Rise features a raft of top UK talent, from Tom Hiddleston to Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Miller and Mad Men and Top Of The Lake’s Elisabeth Moss. Out for general release in March.
I Am Belfast (dir. Mark Cousins)
A niche entry in this collection, I Am Belfast is the latest feature documentary by Mark Cousins (The Story Of Film: An Odyssey). Cousins’ personal ode to Belfast did the festival rounds in 2015 and is due for UK release in April of this year.
An imaginative film essay personifying Cousins’ hometown in the form of Helena Bereen, I Am Belfast has been praised for its childlike wonder and delight in small details of the city, the streets of which Cousins walked armed with a handheld camera, while managing to avoid sentimentalism.
Kids In Love (dir. Chris Foggin)
Indie drama Kids In Love marks the feature debut of rising star director Chris Foggin, who cut his teeth assistant-directing on a host of UK films from The World’s End to Effie Gray, I Give It A Year, My Week With Marilyn and many more. It’s also the first feature from screenwriters Sebastian de Souza (whom you may remember as Matty from Skins and Alfonso on The Borgias) and Preston Thompson.
Will Poulter (The Revenant, We’re The Millers, Son Of Rambow) stars alongside Alma Jodorowsky (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) in a story of young love in the capital, made for approximately £1.5 million. Plenty of new talent to watch here.
Life On The Road (dir. Ricky Gervais)
The Inbetweeners, Alan Partridge, Bad Education… August in the UK is now the traditional release date for British sitcom spin-off movies. 2016’s spot will be filled by Ricky Gervais mockumentary Life On The Road.
The film takes the form of a ‘where are they now?’ documentary following David Brent fifteen years after he came to fame in The Office. It finds the delusional wannabe rock-star touring the UK with his band Foregone Conclusion and er, not enjoying quite the success he dreamed of.
Gervais has written, is directing and will obviously star as Brent in the comedy, the second feature due to arrive from him in 2016. Special Correspondents, also written and directed by Gervais, is the story of an international radio journalist whose plan to fake his own kidnapping goes awry, and stars Vera Farmiga, Kelly Macdonald, Eric Bana and more. It’s due out in April 2016.
Our Kind Of Traitor (dir. Susanna White)
The year’s obligatory John Le Carré adaptation comes written by Drive’s Hossein Amini and directed by Jane Eyre, Parade’s End and Bleak House’s Susanna White.
Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris star as a young academic and lawyer on a tropical holiday that leads them into a tangled story of millionaires, the Russian mafia and British Intelligence. Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgard also star. Its UK release date is now May 2016.
Sand Castle (dir. Fernando Coimbra)
Brazilian director Fernando Coimbra made his English-language debut in 2015 with Netflix’s Narcos, the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. 2016 sees him helm Iraq war thriller Sand Castle, which has lined up an impressive cast including Nicholas Hoult, Henry Cavill and Logan Marshall Green
The film, which began shooting in Jordan at the end of last year, marks the screenplay debut of Chris Roessner. It’s based on Roessner’s experience as a machine gunner in Iraq circa 2003 and follows a squad of soldiers tasked with repairing a broken water system in an unstable Iraqi village while dealing with local resentment over their presence. All signs point to this being a tense war drama well worth a look.
She Who Brings Gifts (Colm McCarthy)
Adapted by Mike Carey from his own dystopian horror novel The Girl With All The Gifts, this one looks a real treat. Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Ripper Street) is calling the shots on the story of Melanie, a special little girl and the perilous journey on which she embarks with a group of adults. (We’re being deliberately vague to protect the story’s surprises.)
It’s a UK/US co-production but what with it being filmed in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, having a Liverpudlian writer, a Scottish director, and a cast including Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine, we’re counting this one as British.
Sing Street (dir. John Carney)
Sing Street isn’t technically a British film, it’s listed as Irish on the IMDb, but as big fans of director John Carney (Once, Begin Again) though, we’ve given it honorary mention. As the only musical on this list, it provides a welcome bit of variety to boot.
Written and directed by Carney, Sing Street is the partly autobiographical story of a boy who escapes family and school life in 1980s Dublin by moving to London with his band. It’s set to open the Dublin International Film Festival in February 2016 before a wider March opening. Among the cast are Game Of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, Orphan Black’s Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jack Reynor.
Spook Train (dir. Lee Hardcastle)
Best known among Lee Hardcastle’s impressively bloody Claymation shorts are a three-minute version of ultra-violent Indonesian martial arts film The Raid and a stop-motion remake of The Thing, starring Pingu (yes, that Pingu). Following their success, Hardcastle attempted to crowd-fund feature-length Claymation picture, Spook Train, in 2014 but the campaign sadly didn’t reach its target.
Not that Hardcastle has let that stop him. According to his campaign updates, Spook Train went into production in March 2015 and is listed on IMDb as “currently filming”. A long endeavour expected to take between twenty and twenty four months, there’s a question mark over whether this one will see the light of day in 2016, but rest assured, whenever it’s completed, it will be extremely dark, extremely gory and extremely fun. Definitely not one for little kids.
Stratton (dir. Simon West)
An action thriller by Simon West, the director of Con Air, The Expendables and multiple Jason Statham movies, can’t possibly go unnoticed on this site. In 2016, English director West is helming Stratton, based on John Stratton, the central character in Duncan Falconer’s series of military novels.
The synopsis for Stratton is short but sweet: “A British Special Boat Service Commando tracks down an international terrorist cell”. Dominic Cooper is in the lead role, with support from Derek Jacobi, Gemma Chan, Tom Felton, Connie Nielsen and more. This one has all the marks of a proper action thriller from a director with a serious action pedigree.
On an entirely different note, another West-directed feature is also listed as having a 2016 release: Tolkien & Lewis, the story of the famous friendship between two Oxford literary dons.
The Brothers Grimsby/Grimsby (dir. Louis Leterrier)
Sacha Baron Cohen returns to the big screen in 2016 with spy comedy Grimsby. The set-up is simple: Mark Strong plays super spy Sebastian Grimsby, Baron Cohen plays his feckless brother Nobby Grimsby. Despite their polar differences, the two are forced to pair up on a new assignment. Who knows, it could be a delightful combination of Ali G meets Paul Feig’s Spy?
Baron Cohen has co-written the screenplay with Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph, Cedar Rapids) and frequent collaborator Peter Baynham (Alan Partridge, Arthur Christmas, Hotel Transylvania, The Day Today), with Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Clash Of The Titans) on directing duties. Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher and Ian Macshane joining Baron Cohen and Strong in the cast.
The Ones Below (dir. David Farr)
A few episodes of Spooks and a co-writer’s credit on Joe Wright’s Hanna aside, you’d be forgiven for thinking David Farr a newcomer to writing-directing. Far from it. Farr established his reputation in the theatre, notably becoming the Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009.
The Ones Below, a psychological thriller with a great debt owed to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, marks his transition to film directing. It’s the story of two neighbouring couples (David Morrissey, Laura Birn, Clémence Poésy, Stephen Campbell Moore), two pregnancies and a campaign of psychological torment.
The Ones Below debuted on the 2015 festival circuit and is due out on wider UK release this March. While the thriller’s festival reviews didn’t garner it universal praise, all seemed to agree that Farr’s theatrical experience makes his future work on screen worth seeking out.
The Other Side Of The Door (dir. Johannes Roberts)
Fans of Johannes Roberts’ celebrated F should keep an eye out for his latest horror movie, The Other Side Of The Door. A UK-India co-production, The Other Side Of The Door tells the story of two parents who suffer a tragic bereavement and turn to the occult to bring about one last encounter with their loved one. In so doing, the natural balance between life and death is disturbed. (Honestly, when will horror movie characters learn?)
Sarah-Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) and Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under, Suburgatory, Law & Order) star in this horror, which was co-written by Roberts and Ernest Riera.
The Survivalist (dir. Stephen Fingleton)
UPDATE: Stephen Fingleton has been nominated for a Bafta in the Outstanding Debut for a British Writer, Director or Producer category for his film, The Survivalist, a sci-fi thriller set in a “kill-or-be-killed world where starvation is rife and strangers are always dangerous.” It tells the story of the titular Survivalist, a man who lives off the grid by his wits, and the uneasy deal he strikes up with a starving woman and her teenage daughter who stumble upon his forest refuge.
The film, dubbed by Indiewire “Mad Max in the countryside” has earned critical praise from several quarters in addition to numerous award nominations and wins for writer/director Fingleton and his cast. The latter includes Martin McCann (’71, X+Y) and Mia Goth (Nymphomaniac Part II). It comes highly recommended and is due for release in the UK this February. With thanks to Tim in the comments section.
Trespass Against Us (dir. Adam Smith)
After Adam Smith made Don’t Think, a 2012 documentary about The Chemical Brothers, a bond was obviously forged. The big beat duo are scoring his next feature film, their second since providing the score for Joe Wright’s 2011 Hanna.
Co-financed by Film4 and from a script by Alexander Siddons, Trespass Against Us is an action thriller about a man seeking to escape his family’s criminal ways. It stars Michael Fassbender, Sean Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Rory Kinnear. Director Adam Smith’s previous small-screen work includes Skins, Little Dorrit and Doctor Who.
Unlocked (dir. Michael Apted)
Director Michael Apted, whose long career includes Bond’s The World Is Not Enough, the second Narnia film, the exemplary Up documentary strand which has revisited the same group of adults every seven years since 1970, and much, much more has recently been working on US television (Masters Of Sex, Ray Donovan). His next feature film will be action thriller Unlocked, from a screenplay by Peter O’Brien.
Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas, Toni Collette and Noomi Rapace star in the film which is the story of a biological terror threat to London and the CIA interrogator dragged into it. With a strong cast and a strong director, this one has a promising pedigree.
War On Everyone (dir. John Michael McDonagh)
The Guard and Calvary director John Michael McDonagh’s next picture, War On Everyone, is a comedy revolving around two corrupt cops in New Mexico whose game of extortion reaches a sticking point when they try to go up against a real villain. Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena are joined by Theo James and Tessa Thompson in the cast.
McDonagh has also written this one, which, if it’s true to form, will have wit and flair by the bucket-load.