Ever since Monty Python paved the way for British satire comedy in the 1970s, their TV and cinema haven’t been the same. Their criticism of the system and mockery of human nature was done charmingly and with such bravado that it seemed like no one else could do it as well as they did.
And yet, this kind of humor turned out to be Britain’s best product. The self-reflection, absurdity of life, and grim circumstances seem like excellent combos for creating iconic cinema. From cult classics to hidden gems, the list of the best and most ridiculous British dark comedies continuously expands, leaving room for more.
‘The Death of Stalin’ (2017)
Written and directed by the fantastic Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin has a stellar roster. Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev, and the other cast includes Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Palin, one of the original cast members of Monty Python.
The Death of Stalin depicts the aftermath of Josef Stalin’s death. With only a few people knowing what happened, they decide to hide his demise from the public and attempt to seize power instead. Although it sounds like an exciting political thriller, this movie is anything but – the characters verge on caricature so much that some scenes are downright absurd.
‘Four Lions’ (2010)
Four Lions is a crime comedy about four terrorists from Sheffield. While these two concepts may not seem to go together, the movie primarily revolves around questioning one’s strength of faith, identity, and beliefs. However, it delivers those questions in a comedic and almost satirical way.
Four Lions is frequently on the list of the best British comedies, and many viewers would be happy to see Kayvan Novak (‘What We Do In the Shadows‘) and Riz Ahmed (‘The Night Of,‘ ‘Sound of Metal’) in the starring roles. This may be one of Novak’s best performances, and almost certainly a breakout role for Ahmed, although he’d acted before.
‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004)
A lot can be said about Shaun of the Dead and its status as one of Britain’s best horror movies. It does fall into the category, but it’s a lot more than that. One of the most critically-acclaimed and beloved dark comedies of all time, Shaun of the Dead is often high on everyone’s list of favorites.
Following the first few days of a zombie apocalypse, it combines gags and fantastic wit with some of the most gruesome zombies on film. It’s no wonder, then, that this is one of Edgar Wright‘s best feature films. Besides the zombies, the movie depicts the struggles of growing up and keeping friendships. Millennials might relate to it now more than ever.
‘Human Traffic’ (1999)
British cinema has many films about music and nightlife. One such famous movie includes 24-Hour Party People. But some folks may not know about a feature that preceded that legend – Human Traffic. For everyone who has heard and seen it (perhaps even more than once) all that’s left to say is: “Any jungle in, guy?”
Human Traffic came out at the cusp of the 21st century when raves and music started changing. It’s one of the movies about how people used to party in the 90s, but also a dark depiction of the other side – drugs. It may seem to glorify them to some, but that was the reality of British club culture (some may argue it still is.) The film is filled with iconic dialogues (like the phone call between Danny Dyer and John Simm) and has an epic soundtrack.
‘Sexy Beast’ (2000)
Ray Winstone plays a retired gangster lounging in his Speedos in Spain and Sir Ben Kingsley plays a violent and unhinged sociopath. Yes, that’s the dark, gritty and comical Sexy Beast. Although there may not be a lot to laugh about, the movie paved the way for others to make the crime genre more entertaining.
Sexy Beast doesn’t just sport strong violence; it’s also riddled with ridiculous behind-the-scenes facts. Apparently, Kingsley modeled his psychopathic character after his grandmother. His acting was so immersive, that other cast members would forget their lines. Meanwhile, Winstone prepared for the role by tanning in Spain and eating delicious food. Don’t be fooled – this movie is still about how gangsters rarely have a way out of a life of crime. But it gets ridiculous very often, which was likely intended that way.
‘Death at a Funeral’ (2007)
Before The Death of Stalin, there was Death at a Funeral. It revolves around the oldest son (played by the phenomenal Matthew Macfadyen) trying to keep his father’s funeral together by the threads. Everything starts coming apart before it’s even begun, and there’s not much he can do to save the day.
Death at a Funeral is one of those awkward yet hilarious dark comedies about death. In many cultures, death is considered serious and is by no means a laughing matter, but British black humor tends to dismantle that seriousness quite effortlessly. There’s slapstick, toilet humor, macabre humor, and a bunch of metaphors, including a fantastic appearance by Peter Dinklage.
‘In Bruges’ (2008)
In Bruges is, incredibly, Martin McDonagh’s debut feature. This movie was so dark and ridiculous that it felt like only a seasoned professional could make it. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have turned out to be a fantastic duo, too, as McDonagh has also directed them in The Banshees of Inisherin this year.
The movie revolves around two hitmen who must lie low in Bruges, Belgium, and wait for their boss’s instructions. Anticipation and guilt fill Colin Farrell’s Ray, who he portrays faithfully. Brendan Gleeson as the anchoring and almost zoned-out Ken is a fantastic counterpart to Ray. This combination leads to hilarious dialogues and a surprisingly gripping tale of sightseeing in a Belgian town.
It’s tough to choose between Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but Snatch has an unexpected advantage – Brad Pitt. What might be the role of his lifetime, Pitt plays a boxer from a caravan community just outside of London. His fate gets intertwined with two boxing managers Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham).
Snatch has some of the most memorable quotes in film – from Brad Pitt’s honest question: ‘D’ya like dags?’ to Rade Sherbedzia’s description of a heavy gun: ‘If it doesn’t work, you can always hit them with it.’ It’s clear Guy Ritchie has a sense of comedic (and overall) timing, as the jokes sometimes run under the radar. It has a rewatchable quality and is one of the best crime comedies of all time.
‘Dr. Strangelove’ (1964)
Although it’s obvious Brits always had a funny bone, Dr. Strangelove is one of the first satirical dark comedies still reigning over the genre. Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers in three roles (Doctor Strangelove, Captain Mandrake, and the President), this movie depicts a war room meeting filled with misunderstandings and close-call nuclear bombings.
Although the director is American, and so is most of the remaining cast, the movie was filmed in the UK and many critics classify it as a British film. It has the signature dark British humor, as one of the co-writers was the Welsh author Peter George, who wrote the book that inspired the film.
‘In the Loop’ (2009)
Another signature Armando Iannucci piece, In the Loop, directly ridicules the modern British government. Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander and James Gandolfini took the wheel in this satire about American and British politicians attempting to stop an Iraq invasion and a war with each other.
In the Loop is a spin-off of Iannucci’s satirical sitcom The Thick of It about the inner workings of the British government. It’s safe to say Iannucci has delivered some of the best modern comedies; although they’re heavily political, they rely on a lot of real-life events – showing viewers just how ridiculous some politicians are.
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