The Best Films of Sally Hawkins

The Best Films of Sally Hawkins

November 23, 2023

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Sally Hawkins is an English actress who has successfully translated her experience as a stage actress to the big screen. Now, over two decades later, she is a force to be reckoned with on the screen. No matter how big or small her role, she commits fully and always delivers a stellar performance. Even though she’s highly sought after post-The Shape of Water, she’s been a part of many wonderful productions, and we’ve narrowed down some of the very best films on the list below.

1. Paddington 2 (2017)

best

9.0

Country

France, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Paul King

Actors

Aaron Neil, Alex Jordan, Ben Miller, Ben Whishaw

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

Proving that children’s entertainment can be legitimate art like any other kind of cinema, the sequel to 2014’s Paddington displays a stronger love for community and storytelling than many other adult-oriented productions. It may be cutesy and innocent, but Paddington 2 also uses its stunning visual effects and intricate production design to prop up a sophisticated story about discrimination, staying true to one’s self, and (most surprisingly) the prison-industrial complex. It’s a proper throwback to another era of family movies that offers something far more substantial to young children and genuinely moving moments for the parents and children at heart.

2. Submarine (2011)

best

8.6

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Richard Ayoade

Actors

Adrienne O'Sullivan, Ben Stiller, Claire Cage, Craig Roberts

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Lighthearted

Awkward. That is how Oliver Tate can be described, and generally the whole movie. But it is professionally and scrutinizingly awkward. Submarine is a realistic teen comedy, one that makes sense and in which not everyone looks gorgeous and pretends to have a tough time. It is hilarious and sad, dark and touching. It is awesome and it’s embarrassing, and it’s the kind of movie that gets nearly everything about being a teen right, no matter where you grew up.

3. Vera Drake (2004)

best

8.6

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Mike Leigh

Actors

Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner

Moods

Depressing, Tear-jerker, Thought-provoking

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

4. Layer Cake (2004)

best

8.4

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Matthew Vaughn

Actors

Ben Brazier, Ben Whishaw, Brinley Green, Burn Gorman

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

5. All or Nothing (2002)

best

8.1

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Mike Leigh

Actors

Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Alison Garland, Badi Uzzaman

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Slice-of-Life

Grounded by Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall’s powerhouse performances, this gut-wrenching family drama from Mike Leigh is an acting juggernaut. Penny and Phil are a working-class couple whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating and pushed to the brink when their son, played by a young James Corden, is hospitalized. 

While Manville and Spall are centered as the leads, Leigh draws a staggering amount of depth from Corden as well as a young Sally Hawkins who plays a neighbor. Despite being one of Leigh’s grimmest films, there is still a profound sweetness lingering at the edges as the story teeters between despondency and hope.

6. Paddington (2014)

best

8.1

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Paul King

Actors

Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry

Moods

A-list actors, Easy, Feel-Good

In a global movie industry of children’s entertainment that often feels like it isn’t even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren’t inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday “civil” society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that’s far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

7. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

7.9

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Mike Leigh

Actors

Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Caroline Martin, Eddie Marsan

Moods

Feel-Good, Heart-warming, Lighthearted

Happy-Go-Lucky is a Mike Leigh feel-good movie tells the story of Poppy, a North London teacher, whose story we follow through a number of different situations: driving lessons, solving work issues, having fun with friends, all while trying not to lose her optimism. The acting is superb, Sally Hawkins is a gem as Poppy, and one cannot describe it, one simply has to see it and enjoy it, because it leaves you smiling 🙂

8. Jane Eyre (2011)

7.6

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Actors

Amelia Clarkson, Angela Curran, Ben Roberts, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Moods

Sunday

A sleek revision of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre features Mia Wasikowska as the titular governess and Michael Fassbender as her employer-and-lover-with-a-secret, Rochester — both lending stunningly aggrieved performances to the tale of their burgeoning love affair. The film is somber yet wonderfully polished as it plays out their individual complexities and growing passions. This film is also notable as the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Fukunaga, who would go on to great acclaim for his work on the first season of True Detective as well as Beasts of No Nation. Fans of Fukunaga’s work are just a likely to enjoy this one as are devotees of well-crated adaptations of classic literature.

9. Never Let Me Go (2010)

7.6

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Mark Romanek

Actors

Amy Lennox, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Garfield, Anna Maria Everett

Moods

A-list actors, Slow, Thought-provoking

A dark and sophisticated slow-burning drama, Never Let Me Go is adapted from the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as boarding school raised teenagers eager to explore the outside world when they learn a secret that will threaten their very existence. Anything more is a spoiler, watch it.

10. Maudie (2016)

7.5

Country

Canada, Ireland

Director

Aisling Walsh, Female director

Actors

Billy MacLellan, Brian Marler, David Feehan, Denise Sinnott

Moods

A-list actors, Easy, True-story-based

This moving biopic is about Maud Lewis, the legendary Canadian painter who suffered from arthritis. In the film, Maud gets away from her controlling family by finding a job as a live-in housekeeper for a local fish peddler. It is there where she begins to paint, before marrying the fish peddler in spite of their different personalities. Sally Hawkins, who plays Lewis, brings undeniable spark and soul to the role, for which she had to undergo an astonishing physical transformation.

Maudie is a beautiful and uncomplicated film that challenges the conventions of marriage and relationship roles, while at the same time celebrating Maud Lewis’ paintings and life’s simple pleasures.

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