Britain in 1950s was a tumultuous country, still struggling with the aftermath of the war and yet trying to catch up with a modern world. In other words, it provides for a perfect backdrop for cinematography. Here is our pick of 10 movies about Britain in 1950s that will surely catch your imagination and make you wonder about all the changes Britain faced in the last 70 years.
Wish You Were Here (1987)
Director David Leland
The movie depicts life in a small English seaside town and 16-years old Lynda’s struggle to assert her sexuality way before the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Starring Emily Lloyd and Tim Roth as a classic British skinhead of 1950, the movie is incredibly honest about the troubles of a teenage girl becoming pregnant at the age when abortion is illegal and contraception is almost non-existent.
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Director Sam Taylor-Wood
The life of John Lennon before the Beatles become famous isn’t a common theme in cinematography, but his teenage years between 1955 and 1960 are crucial to his development as an artist. Lennon grew up with his mother his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). For the first fifteen years of his life, Lennon believed that aunt Mimi is his mother. Once the truth was revealed, it left lasting effects on his personality and led to his identity problems.
Dance with a Stranger (1985)
Director Mike Newell
Ruth Ellis was the last woman hanged by the justice system in Great Britain. Her sentence and death sparked wide debate about the capital punishment and ethics of it. Ellis was played by Miranda Richardson, who was rather unknown prior to this movie. Her excellent performance in Dance with a Stranger made her a star. Her co-star Rupert Everett delivered a stunning role of a wannabe playboy and Ellis’s romantic interest.
The Long Day Closes (1992)
Director Terence Davies
Terence Davies has directed several films about Britain in 1950s, but The Long Day Closes is his best work. The movie can serve as an encyclopedia of popular songs of the era, as many of the quotes used in it come from them. He tried and succeeded in meticulously recreating every aspect of the life in the 1950s, down to even the smallest detail.
84 Charing Cross Road (1986)
Director David Jones
The title of the movie is actually the address of an antiquarian booksellers Marks & Co, which provides for a focal point of the plot. Frank Doel, played by Antony Hopkins, is the bookshop’s chief buyer. Anne Bancroft’s character Helene Hanff is one of their best customers. The trouble is that Helen lives in New York and has never set foot in London. The relationship between her and the bookshop’s staff is developing into a true friendship throughout the movie. In real life, she did come to London in 1973, but by that time, the shop was closed and Frank has died.
The Illusionist (2010)
Director Sylvain Chomet
French animator Sylvain Chomet managed to create this magical movie almost without any dialogues. Edinburgh of 1959 is painstakingly recreated in every possible detail, after years of research Chomet conducted.
Between Two Women (1999)
Director Steven Woodcock
Yorkshire-born writer-director Steven Woodcock tries to depict what a lesbian love looked in the 1950s. Barbara Marten’s Ellen is married to a factory worker and love and romance have long left their home. She finds comfort in a relationship with her son’s teacher, played by Andrina Carroll.
Lesbianism was somewhat ignored in 1950s Britain, unlike male homosexuality, which was outright illegal. That doesn’t mean that social stigma that followed it could easily ruin lives, especially those who dared to express it publicly.
Young Adam (2003)
Director David Mackenzie
Based on Alexander Trocchi’s cult novel with the same name, Young Adam is centered around a barge traveling on channels between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is another example of open sexuality, which we don’t really expect to see in 1950s Britain. Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton’s characters are attracted to each other, but things are complicated by her husband, played by Peter Mullan.
Vera Drake (2004)
Director Mike Leigh
Vera Drake is a loving mother and a wife, who is devoted to her family, as they are to her. The last thing they expect is to discover her secret activities as an abortionist, which is illegal at the time. Despite her charitable motives, Vera finds herself in a world of troubles after her activities are discovered.
Chicken Run (2000)
Directors Peter Lord and Nick Park
Nick Park, one of the most accomplished claymation artists, hails from Preston, a small town that has kept its 1950s feel throughout his childhood and influenced his career in many ways. Chicken Run is just one of the examples of that.
Created as a parody of various World War 2 prison escape movies and voiced by Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, and Julia Sawalha, Chicken Run is a movie about a rebellion on a chicken farm after the owner decides to slaughter every chicken that doesn’t meet the egg production quota and then start a chicken pie business.