22 Best Movies to Watch From BBC Films

Staff & contributors
Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Briana Shann, Dan Li, Dave Johns, David Murray, Dylan McKiernan, Hayley Squires, Kate Rutter, Kema Sikazwe, Ken Loach, Li Dan, Malcolm Shields, Natalie Ann Jamieson, Sharon Percy, Shaun Prendergast, Stephen Clegg, Steven Richens, Viktoria Kay

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: R

The British social-critical director of I, Daniel Blake and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, delivers another scathing indictment of our economic system, the slashing of worker protection, and the gig economy. While these are indeed the themes of this affecting drama, Loach always makes it about the people. In this case, a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy workers are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are made fully responsible for packages until they reach their respective recipients. From peeing in a bottle to save time to seamless monitoring by an overlord hand-held device, Sorry We Missed You manages to capture the indignity and gives you an intimate introduction to the human cost of having everything delivered to your doorstep at a moment's notice. Thanks to Loach's use of amateur actors, it has a raw and real feel to it without being melodramatic. Sorry We Missed You makes sure that the habitually unseen take center stage.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charlie Richmond, Debbie Honeywood, Katie Proctor, Kris Hitchen, Maxie Peters, Rhys Mcgowan, Rhys Stone, Ross Brewster, Sheila Dunkerley, Stephen Clegg, Vicky Hall

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: 0, 12

Directed by David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises is at times brutal—such is the famous Canadian director's trademark—and operates at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge. Starring a tattooed, ruthless, and terrifying Viggo Mortensen as a very convincing Russian strong-arm gangster as well as Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, it features intense psychological drama and a gritty crime story. Midwife Anna (Watts) delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian prostitute, who dies while giving birth, and later learns that she was forced into prostitution by the Mafia. To keep this knowledge from seeping out, she gets entangled deeper into London's criminal underbelly, whose various factions and languages are aptly showcased by Cronenberg. Add to all this a smart script and Mortensen's daring performance and you have yourself an intense auteur thriller in signature Cronenberg style.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandar Mikic, Aleksander Mikic, Alice Henley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Papava, Donald Sumpter, Elisa Lasowski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Josef Altin, Mina E. Mina, Naomi Watts, Raza Jaffrey, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sinead Cusack, Tamer Hassan, Tatiana Maslany, Tereza Srbová, Tony Cook, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amber Batty, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Gary Lilburn, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Marie Jones, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Nika McGuigan, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: PG-13

You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

, 2014

It’s 1984 and miners in England are on strike against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plans to close pits. Their cause has unlikely appeal for Mark Ashton, a human rights activists who decides to take a group of people who had joined an early Gay Pride parade in London to rural England to show support for the (often socially-conservative) miners.

You can see how things might go wrong, but in this case they didn’t. This heartwarming tale is based on a true story. An easy, funny, and relevant movie about the bond that oppression brings to the oppressed. Super earnest, too.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abram Rooney, Adam Ewan, Alexander Perkins, Andrew Scott, Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Bryan Parry, Chris Overton, Christian Patterson, Dean Ashton, Deddie Davies, Derek Barr, Dominic West, Dyfan Dwyfor, Ed Coleman, Faye Marsay, Freddie Fox, George MacKay, Giles Cooper, Henry Garrett, Imelda Staunton, Jack Baggs, Jaimi Barbakoff, James McGregor, Jâms Thomas, Jessica Gunning, Jessie Cave, Jim McManus, Johnny Gibbon, Jordan Metcalfe, Joseph Gilgun, Joseph Wilkins, Joshua Hill, Julie Barclay, Karina Fernandez, Kyle Rees, Lauren Johns, Lee Shepherd, Lisa Palfrey, Liz White, Matthew Flynn, Matthew Seadon-Young, Matthew Tennyson, Menna Trussler, Monica Dolan, Neal Barry, Nia Gwynne, Olwen Medi, Paddy Considine, Rhodri Meilir, Richard Shanks, Roger Morlidge, Ross Waiton, Russell Tovey, Sean Hart, Sophie Evans, Tomos Eames, Will Haddington

Director: Matthew Warchus

Rating: R

A sincere portrayal of the gritty British working class life through the coming-of-age story of a girl who loves rap music and dancing to it. It features a stunning and powerful performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis who had no acting experience whatsoever, and who was cast in the street after she was spotted fighting. She plays Mia, a 15 year old teenager whose world changes drastically when her mother's new boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) turns his eyes to her. Don't watch this movie if you are looking for a no-brainer, definitely do watch it if you are interested in films that realistically portray others' lives and let you into them.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Geary, Carrie-Ann Savill, Charlotte Collins, Grant Wild, Harry Treadaway, Jack Gordon, Jason Maza, Joanna Horton, Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Griffiths, Sarah Bayes, Sydney Mary Nash, Toyin Ogidi

Director: Andrea Arnold

Rating: Not Rated

Herself tells the story of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a single mother who runs away from her abusive husband to start a new life with her children. When welfare and charity prove to be insufficient with their help, she takes things into her hands by building a house of her own.

This Irish movie, co-written by star Clare Dunne, may be small in scale and budget, but it is affecting in big and powerful ways. Despite what girlbosses might tell you, chasing full independence isn't always as easy or even empowering as it looks, especially when you're stuck in the lower rungs of society like Sandra; Herself takes the honest approach by showing us the unglamorous side of making it on your own. It also has meaningful things to say about marriage and divorce, so if you were moved by Marriage Story or Kramer vs Kramer, you may feel the same about Herself, which references the latter two's iconic courtroom scenes.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anita Petry, Cathy Belton, Clare Dunne, Conleth Hill, Ericka Roe, Harriet Walter, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Jane Brennan, Lorcan Cranitch, Molly McCann, Peter Gaynor, Ruby Rose O’Hara, Sean Duggan, Tina Kellegher

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Rating: R

, 2013

Remember the name Rufus Norris. "Broken" is his directorial debut and he handles it like a seasoned pro. Also keep an eye out in the future for its young star, Eloise Laurence, who shows all the natural ability of a young Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster. Laurence plays "Skunk", a twelve year old trying to make sense of life - and whose task isn't made any easier by her own family's internal struggles, or the other families living in the peaceful-looking cul-de-sac where much of the action takes place. We're informed from the get-go that some sort of tragedy will befall the girl, but we don't know what shape it will take, or what the outcome of it will be. The tension builds from there, with a little relief along the way, thanks to her often-amusing performance as she witnesses the confusing actions of her elders. Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy are also in good form, both of whom seem happy to complement Laurence's presence rather than try to upstage her. "Broken" is equal parts cute, frightening, and brutally tense. It's well worth checking out.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alicia Woodhouse, Andrew Frame, Bill Milner, Charlie Booty, Cillian Murphy, Clare Burt, David Webber, Denis Lawson, Eloise Laurence, Faye Daveney, George Sargeant, Lily James, Lino Facioli, Martha Bryant, Michael Shaeffer, Nell Tiger Free, Nick Holder, Nicola Sloane, Paul Thornley, Penny Layden, Robert Emms, Rory Kinnear, Rosalie Kosky, Seeta Indrani, Tim Roth, Zana Marjanovic

Director: Rufus Norris

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

Genre: Drama, Family, History

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bruno Chitsulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Eddie Mbugua, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo, Fredrick Lukhere, Grace Msiska, Hope Chisano, Joseph Marcell, Kelvin Chimpokoser, Khalani Makunje, Latifa Tambala, Lemogang Tsipa, Lily Banda, Lomuthi Jere, Maxwell Simba, Noma Dumezweni, Owen Chikanken, Philbert Falakeza, Raymond Ofula

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rating: TV-PG

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jackie Quinn, John Comerford, Leanne Mullen, Lisa Taylor, Rory McCann, Tommy Flanagan

Director: Lynne Ramsay

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.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amelia Clarkson, Angela Curran, Ben Roberts, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Craig Roberts, Edwina Elek, Eglantine Rembauville-Nicolle, Emily Haigh, Ewart James Walters, Freya Parks, Freya Wilson, Georgia Bourke, Harry Lloyd, Holliday Grainger, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Jayne Wisener, Joe Van Moyland, Joseph Kloska, Judi Dench, Lizzie Hopley, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Ned Dennehy, Romy Settbon Moore, Rosie Cavaliero, Sally Hawkins, Sally Reeve, Sandy McDade, Simon McBurney, Sophie Ward, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Tamzin Merchant, Valentina Cervi

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: PG-13

A hilarious comedy about politics in the UK and US. The secretary of State for Internal Development Simon Foster accidentally backs the plans for a war in the Middle East and suddenly finds he has a lot of friends in Washington. What follows is a difficult to follow maneuvering of pro- and antiwar factions in both governments. The harder it gets to follow what's going on in the movie the more it resembles our present day politics and the funnier it becomes.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alex MacQueen, Anna Chlumsky, Chipo Chung, Chris Addison, David Rasche, Del Pentecost, Enzo Cilenti, Eve Matheson, Gina McKee, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Doherty, James Gandolfini, James Smith, Janelle Schmidt, Joanna Brookes, Joanna Scanlan, Johnny Pemberton, Lucinda Raikes, Mimi Kennedy, Natasha Sattler, Olivia Poulet, Paul Higgins, Peter Capaldi, Rita May, Samantha Harrington, Steve Coogan, Tom Hollander, Will Smith, Zach Woods

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: Not Rated

A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan's performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys  impressive load and variety of emotions. An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven't lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character's problems and joys will feel like your own.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alfred Molina, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Bel Parker, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, Connor Catchpole, Dominic Cooper, Ellie Kendrick, Emma Thompson, James Norton, Kate Duchêne, Matthew Beard, Nick Sampson, Olivia Williams, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, William Melling

Director: Lone Scherfig

Rating: PG-13