The UK film industry is enjoying a boom period, with so many productions underway and planned that new studios are springing up across the country to meet the seemingly ever soaring demand.
In many ways this is a return to the norm – the country was for a long time a major producer of movies, many of which continue to delight and thrill audiences today.
These films are not just popular but also culturally important so it’s good to see studios and streaming services are making the effort to showcase many of them in the best possible quality – restored versions of classics such as The Third Man are getting new Blu-ray releases while BritBox offers a collection of restored classics including Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.
In this article, we look back at three classic films set within the British Isles:
The Manxman (1929)
The film was released in 1929 and shot in Cornwall, instead of the Isle of Man where the story is set. In this silent film, Alfred Hitchcock tells the story of Kate Cregeen, played by Anny Ondra, and her love triangle with a handsome but poor local fisherman and his more affluent lawyer friend.
The film is based on a romantic novel written by Hall Caine. Hitchcock started production on-location on the Isle of Man, but moved the entire production to Polperro in Cornwall, allegedly to get away from the meddling author and Isle of Man resident. The Manxman is the last silent film Hitchcock directed before switching to sound for his next project Blackmail, shot in the same year.
The Edge of the World (1937)
In Edge of the World, director Michael Powell tells the story of the depopulation of the St. Kilda archipelago in the Scottish seas, with the younger generation looking for a better life on the mainland. Powell couldn’t obtain the necessary permits to shoot on St. Kilda and chose the Shetland Islands as an alternative location.
What makes this movie special is Powell’s mixing of documentary and romantic melodrama, and his use of both professional actors and non-professional locals. This approach made for a movie that told the story of the depopulation but also captured the natural beauty of one of Great Britain’s remotest islands.
In 1978, Powell shot Return to the Edge of the World, in which he revisited the island with surviving members of the cast, as a follow-up documentary for the BBC.
The Spy in Black (1939)
Michael Powell directed The Spy in Black two years after the release of The Edge of the World. Known in the US as U-Boat 29, the film tells the story of a German spy who is set ashore on the island of South Walls from his submarine to prepare an attack on the nearby British naval fleet.
This movie marks the first collaboration between Michael Powell and fellow British filmmaker Emeric Pressburger. The duo would go on to create more than 20 films together. The Spy in Black was released in August 1939, weeks before the UK would join the war against Germany. The film was named one of the best movies of the year by the National Board of Review.
If you want to take a holiday from the loud multimillion-dollar productions of 2022, heavy on violence and VFX, and reconnect with film as art and the island scenery of 1930s Britain, then you won’t go far wrong with these three gems.