Top 10 UK Director Debuts
By Marek Steven
Shifty director Eran Creevy
Eran Creevy’s critically lauded UK thriller Shifty is out now on DVD. Shifty is a fantastic debut film that was rightly critically lauded on theatrical release. The performances, structure and general direction are all flawless in this hard-hitting outer London tale. It suggests Creevy could have a quality career as a successful British filmmaker. He might want to look at the early careers of these 10 fantastic UK directors and at the films that launched their careers…
Arguably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from the UK, Hitchcock did as much as anyone has to shape modern cinema. His very early work is not what he is known for The Man That Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935) came fairly early in his careers. Hitchcock mastered a variety of styles of cinema, but obviously particularly is known for the suspenseful thriller. His key skill generally was for narrative and for creating an unparalleled audience engagement with his stories.
The influential Roeg exploded onto the film world almost 40 years ago with the psychedelic assault of Performance (1970). His drugs and sex focused debut is actually quite a profound film which is also authentically ‘of it’s time’. The glamour of the gangsters and rock stars is the path into a mediation on identity and the individual. He followed Performance with outback fable Walkabout (1971) and the horror classic Don’t Look Now (1973) before his career sadly waned somewhat.
The visionary British director John Boorman is often sadly overlooked. He switches between genres almost as experiments, and has crafted some of the best cinema of the last 50 years. His true feature debut was the American noir masterpiece Point Blank (1967). Point Blank’s widescreen look is stunning and Lee Marvin packs a huge wallop both then and now. Boorman is also known for Deliverance (1972) and the fantastic epic Excalibur (1981), which looks set to re-made.
Ever since Stephen Frears launched his period deception tale Dangerous Liaisons in 1988, there seems to be surprise the quality of each of his new films. This may change one day as he seems almost incapable of making a bad movie. Take such diverse settings as the US set geekery of High Fidelity (2000) the contemporary London drama of Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and hugely successful biopic The Queen (2006). He is fantastic model for up and coming directors like Shifty’s Creevy.
South Shields born, Ridley Scott is rightly one of the best-known directors of modern times. Scott has made some of the most exciting, influential and visually astonishing movies ever. Some of his key work includes Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), but one of his most overlooked gems is his feature debut The Duellists (1977). The flawless Napoleonic era duelling tale is a stunning, atmospheric tale. Interestingly he looks set to return to finally return to sci-fi (and possibly the Alien series) for his next work.
The kinetic opening credits of the Glasgow set Shallow Grave (1994) announced the arrival of a thrilling directorial new talent. The claustrophobic thriller is actually one of his best films. Boyle has gone on to have regular critical and commercial successes with Trainspotting (1996), 28 Days Later (2002) and of course the behemoth that is Slumdog Millionaire (2008). He has numerous projects on the go, so we can look forward to more hits in the future.
The raw poverty depicted in the TV movie Cathy Come Home shocked BBC viewers in 1966. Loach followed it with the beautiful and poetic ‘kitchen sink’ movie debut Poor Cow (1967). Fantastic performances from Carol White and Terence Stamp (Soderburgh used clips from Poor Cow in his film The Limey) mix sublimely with Loach’s all seeing eye and subtle direction. One of the UK’s most respected directors, Loach also looked at the underclass in great movies like Kes (1970), Riff-Raff (1991) and Sweet Sixteen (2002).
Mike Leigh takes unconventional looking actors and shabby homes and makes them distinctive, beautiful and often very lovable. After some TV work his key early movie was the powerful critical success of Naked (1993). The performance Leigh took from David Thewlis is close to genius. Naked is a tough film that opened the doors for more hard-hitting dramas from up-and-coming directors. He has too many good films to list but the recent Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) is as good an example as any of the unwavering quality of his work.
Working with small budgets, the Nottingham-based Meadows stealthily dipped into the mainstream by making quality films since his feature debut Small Time in 1996. The believe characters and dialogue of Small Time were a sign of things to come in films like the popular Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) and the acclaimed skinhead tale This is England (2006). Much like Creevy’s Shifty, Meadows often makes films that are loosely based on people and situations he has directly experienced.
After making his mark with BBC documentaries Saul Dibb burst onto the feature film world with the hard-hitting Ashley Walters starrer Bullet Boy (2004). The low budget debut covered a controversial area (gun crime in London estates) with taste and subtly that suggested a long career ahead. Following up with the lush Keira Knightly period film The Duchess (2008) proved that the ability to direct believable performances is a skill that works in any setting. The Duchess was a great success and we have a new UK directorial talent to watch.