Need a Pick Me Up? Try These Inspiring British Feel-Good, Underdog Films

The quirky theatrical one-sheet for "Pride". (Photo: CBS Films)
The quirky theatrical one-sheet for "Pride". (Photo: CBS Films)
For all their famous cynicism, the British are extremely adept at making feel-good movies. You know, the ones where a longshot protagonist is inspired to go up against the Establishment, the more acclaimed competitor or his or her own physical or societal limitations? Think Billy Elliot or The Full Monty and you know exactly the kind of story I’m talking about.

Two such films are coming out in limited release the weekend of October 10th. One Chance starring James Corden dramatizes the real life struggles and triumphs of unlikely Britain’s Got Talent winner and opera singer, Paul Potts. The film has a superb supporting cast which includes Julie Walters, Colm Meaney and Mackenzie Crook.

The other film coming out (pardon the pun) is Pride, the true story of a group of gay activists who set out to support a Welsh community at the height of the Thatcher years mining strikes. Boasting a stellar cast headed up by Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West, this film is destined to join the canon of fun, yet inspiring, British underdog films.

However if you’re like me and don’t live in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago where limited release films are often shown, or getting to your regional art house theater is a logistical nightmare, we sometimes just have to be patient and wait for these little gems to make it to DVD or streaming services. I reckon many of us are in that boat so I’ve compiled a small collection of humorous, heart-warming films you may not have heard of that can be watched on-line as we speak. My hope is that this list might hold you over for a little while, at least.

Like many people who are suddenly laid off from their life’s work, Frank Richmond (Peter Mullan) is adrift. Without his job as a shipbuilder in his hometown of Glasgow, Frank must face the fact that he and his wife Joan (Brenda Blyth in) have a distant relationship and he is estranged from his surviving son (Jamie Sives). On a Clear Day is the story of a man determined to regain his sense of purpose and control of his life. With the help of his friends, Frank makes it his goal to swim the English Channel and reclaim his self-respect in the process. 

On a Clear Day is available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

A mining community under threat is the setting for yet another underdog classic called Brassed Off. Starring Ewan McGregor, Stephen Tompkinson, Jim Carter and the late, great Pete Postlethwaite, these colliery employees put their frustration and hopes into performing in the company’s brass band. When their headstrong leader Danny Ormondroyd (Postlethwaite) falls ill, it’s up to the rest of the musicians to gather up the determination to compete in the national competition or throw in the hat. 

Loosely based on Yorkshire’s Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Brassed Off is ready for you to stream on Netflix tonight.

Switching from music to hairdressing may seem like quite a leap, but the competition is just as fierce, if not more so. The British Hairdressing Championships are underway and for current champion Raymond Robertson (Bill Nighy) the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. That’s because his biggest rival Phil Allen (Alan Rickman) has reluctantly come out of retirement to compete for his family’s business. Blow Dry is simultaneously a humorous look at the high fashion hairstyling industry and the touching story of a man who must struggle to leave his grudges and broken heart behind in order to reconcile with the most important people in his life. 

Please disregard how much the trailer makes this look like a Josh Hartnett rom-com. Stream it on Netflix and see for yourself that Blow Dry is the story of a team of talented small town underdogs opposing a big city “artiste”.

Proving that truth is stranger (or at least more interesting) than fiction, Made in Dagenham is another dramatization of real life events, this time the sewing machinists’ strike at the Ford Dagenham plant in 1968 is in the spotlight. Though Sally Hawkins’ character Rita O’Grady is fictional, the film illustrates how female factory workers went all the way to Westminster to demand equal pay for equal work. Sadly this is still a timely issue today. 

Also starring the greatly missed Bob Hoskins, as well as Roger Lloyd-Pack, Daniel Mays and Geraldine James, Made in Dagenham is a look back into the history of British civil rights. It can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.

Due to the success of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical version, you may already be aware of the final entry on my list. Kinky Boots is a film about a down-and-out shoe company on the verge of closure. That is, until the new and reluctant company owner, Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) has a coincidental yet fortuitous meeting with Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a flamboyant female impersonator. The drag queen’s complaint of needing women’s footwear in men’s sizes turns on a light bulb in Charlie’s head. Now he just needs to convince his staff and the shoe industry that men’s fetish footwear is a profitable enterprise. 

Kinky Boots is, at its heart, a movie about tolerance, acceptance and thinking outside of the box. It’s available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

So, if you’re feeling the need for a bit of cheery inspiration, I hope you’ll dip into one of these titles. I guarantee you more than a few laughs and a warm feeling in your heart as well. What’s your favorite underdog film? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Carmen Croghan

Carmen Croghan often looks at the state of her British addiction and wonders how it got so out of hand.  Was it the re-runs of Monty Python on PBS, that second British Invasion in the 80’s or the royal pomp and pageantry of Charles and Diana’s wedding? Whatever the culprit, it led her to a college semester abroad in London and over 25 years of wishing she could get back to the UK again.  Until she is able, she fills the void with British telly, some of her favorites being comedies such as The Office, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, Alan Partridge, Miranda and Green Wing. Her all-time favorite series, however, is Life On Mars. A part-time reference library staffer, she spends an inordinate amount of time watching just about any British series she can track down which she then writes about for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK, I Learned from the BBC.  She is excited to be contributing to Telly Visions and endeavors to share her Anglo-zeal with its readers.

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