Thursday, 17 March 2016

25 of the best British film posters of all time - including a few sub-par ones that I just happen to like

Just as the film itself was designed to rouse an exhausted country's spirits in 1944, so one assumes the vibrantly coloured, visually clamorous poster also played its part in stiffening the sinews and summoning up the blood. Not all of the posters below are quite as stirring...

...and not all the films they were advertising are as great as Olivier's classic. I've gone for a mix of great film and great (or at least interesting) poster - for instance, Hope & Glory isn't one of my favourite films, but the poster is superb. I'll start with two arty posters by James Boswell (no, not that one) for two grittily realistic British movies (I saw the crime drama, Pool of London, recently, and it's not half bad):

Both Ealing films: here's a superb poster for one of the studio's comedies - one of the most arresting film posters of the 1950s, I reckon:

From the Walter Winchell quote on the poster for this splendidly creepy British horror film (it's the one where Hugo the ventriloquist's dummy takes on a life of his own and Michael Redgrave ends up a gibbering looney) I suspect it might be an American poster: 

"Steady as she goes, Number One":

"Oh, you great beast! You great bullying brute you, knocking a child about! You're a disgrace to your uniform! Why, you're no better than a German, - that's what you are!" The irony being that the soldiers disguised as Royal Engineers in this intriguing 1942 film set in an English village are German - the swine!: 

From the crease marks on this poster for Powell and Pressburger's 1947 film, I assume its genuine - but it's so unlike other British film posters of the time, it might not be. Whatever, it casts a powerful spell - as, indeed, does the film: 

"You know what's happened, don't you?... I've fallen in love with you." Sniff, sniff! Clever,poster:

"Not bloody likely!" Not enough Wendy Hiller - but it would grab one's attention:

Here's a poster for a pretty decent 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film, in which John Gielgud plays Somerset Maugham's spy, Ashenden:

The "not suitable for children" warning that doesn't seem right, somehow - I mean, Oliver Twist?:

A hero looking suitably heroic:

Moody, even by Harold Pinter's normal standards:

A bit like Wolf Hall, only much better written:

I keep meaning to do a list of the Chilliest Movies of All Time, starting with this one:

By way of contrast, here's one of the sleaziest posters I've ever seen, advertising the twisted psycho-slasher film which destroyed director Michael Powell's career in 1960 :

Well, you gotta 'ave vese on da list, doncha?:

"The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed." Strangely enough, this 1968 horror film still works rather well:

Richard Burton is a psychopathic, mother-fixated, homosexual London gangster in the next film - generally recognised as one of Anita Brookner's finest screenplays:

"Ho, ho, ho! Well, if it isn't fat stinking billy goat Billy Boy in poison! How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!" (Surely a simple "hello" would have sufficed.) This poster was on my various walls at university - until some eunuch jelly defaced it:

Unwatchably unpleasant now. Great poster, though:

As I said, not one of my favourite films, but a splendidly memorable poster:

I'll end with a rather strange poster for a 1956 film I'd never heard of, in which John Mills plays a school music teacher who gets fired because of his enthusiasm for "modern" music, and is helped in getting his job back by his grateful pupils. If it's so great to be young, why does he have white hair and look as though he's about to give himself a brain haemorrhage? Go daddy-o!

If anybody's interested in obscure old British films, they're now to be found on a number of channels on the Sky platform. The best - Talking Pictures TV (TPTV), which is available on Sky and Freeview - is a treasure trove of hidden gems, and of some truly dreadful old rota quickies that should have stayed buried, but which I'm still interested to watch (for five or ten minutes). London Live - whose demise has been prophesied since its launch - seems to have the rights to the Ealing Studios back catalogue (or maybe the films are simply out of copyright - I don't know how the system works) and they usually have two or three of the films spattered across the weekly schedules. (London Live also shows lots of modern British gangster films, but a man can only take so much Ray Winstone.)


  1. PEEPING TOM: a most disturbing film and one I found even more so when I came to know its author Leo Marks. He was introduced to me as the husband of a hard-drinking painter I knew well and represented on occasions. A charming, short, stocky man with a handshake like an industrial vice, he was quick to tell me had a history as an accomplished amateur boxer and a celebrated code-breaker. An intriguing character. The Peeping Tom connection took longer to was quite chilling to sit in the amiable, bohemian, liberal atmosphere of the Chelsea Arts Club sunlit garden with such a man.
    Some years later I saw the film again - in genuine discomfort. 'Tis a funny old world.

    1. The life that I have
      Is all that I have
      And the life that I have
      Is yours.
      The love that I have
      Of the life that I have
      Is yours and yours and yours.
      A sleep I shall have
      A rest I shall have
      Yet death will be but a pause.
      For the peace of my years
      In the long green grass
      Will be yours and yours and yours.

      That famous poem was written by Marks and issued by him to the French SOE spy Violette Szabo - SOE spies used these poems because Marks thought that encrypts were too easily broken - he revolutionised the codes used by British agents, taught them how to code, and deciphered the codes they sent back. A genius, but all accounts. His father owned the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road. His autobiography, "Between Silk and Cyanide: A Code Maker's War, 1941-45" is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. And you met him! What an honour!

    2. That poem has also haunted me. Such tenderness, candour and sensitivity in stark contrast to the brutality of Peeping Tom. Eleanor Gaussen, his wife, was a most determined boozer. Dropping in to her studio at any time of day or night there was always a cheery welcome and an open bottle of white wine. He handled her 'condition' with great kindness and finesse.