Since Monty Python paved the way for British satirical comedy in the 1970s, their television and cinema were not the same. Their critique of the system and mockery of human nature was done with such charm and bravado that it seemed no one else could do it as well as they did.
And yet, this kind of humor turned out to be Britain’s finest product. Self-reflection, the absurdity of life, and grim circumstances seem like great combos to create iconic cinema. From cult classics to hidden gems, the list of the best and most ridiculous British black comedies keeps growing, leaving room for more.
“The Death of Stalin” (2017)
Written and Directed by Fantastic Armando Iannucci, Stalin’s death has a stellar roster. Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev, and the other cast includes Jeffrey Drum, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaac, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Pallinone of the original actors of Monty Python.
Stalin’s death depicts the aftermath of Josef Stalin’s death. With only a few people knowing what happened, they decide to hide his disappearance from the public and attempt to seize power instead. Although it sounds like a thrilling political thriller, this film is anything but – the characters border on the caricature so much that some scenes are downright absurd.
“Four Lions” (2010)
four lions is a detective comedy about four Sheffield terrorists. While these two concepts don’t seem to go hand in hand, the film mostly revolves around questioning his strength of faith, identity, and beliefs. However, he delivers these questions in a comical 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 Rice Ahmad (‘The night of,”The sound of metal’) in the lead roles. This is perhaps one of Novak’s best performances, and almost certainly a breakout role for Ahmed, despite having 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 top horror films. This falls into the category, but it is much more than that. One of the most critically acclaimed and beloved black comedies of all time, Shaun of the dead is often at the top of everyone’s favorites list.
After the early days of a zombie apocalypse, it combines gags and fantasy wit with some of the most gruesome zombies in film. It is therefore not surprising that it is one of the Edgar Wrightbest feature films. Besides the zombies, the film depicts the difficulties of growing up and maintaining friendships. Generation Y could identify with it more than ever.
‘Human Trafficking’ (1999)
British cinema has many films about music and nightlife. One such famous film includes 24 hour party people. But some people might not know about a feature that preceded this legend – human trafficking. For anyone who’s heard and seen it (maybe even more than once), all that’s left to say is, “Is there any jungle, man?”
human trafficking came out at the dawn of the 21st century when raves and music started to change. It’s one of the films about how people partied in the 90s, but also a dark depiction of the other side – drugs. That may seem to glorify them to some, but that was the reality of British club culture (some would argue it still is.) The film is filled with iconic dialogue (like the phone call between Danny Dyer and John Simm) and has an epic soundtrack.
“Sexy Beast” (2000)
Ray Winston plays a retired mobster lounging in his Speedos in Spain and Mr Ben Kingsley plays a violent and unhinged sociopath. Yes, it’s dark, gritty and comical sexy beast. While there isn’t much to laugh about, the film paved the way for others to make the detective genre more entertaining.
sexy beast does not content itself with displaying strong violence; it’s also riddled with ridiculous behind-the-scenes facts. Apparently, Kingsley modeled his psychopath persona on his grandmother. His acting was so immersive that the other cast members would forget their lines. Meanwhile, Winstone prepared for the role by sunbathing in Spain and eating delicious food. Make no mistake about it – this film is always about how gangsters rarely have a way out of a life of crime. But it very often gets ridiculous, which was probably intended that way.
“Death at a Funeral” (2007)
Before Stalin’s deaththere was Death at funeral. It revolves around the eldest son (played by the phenomenal Matthew Macfadyen) trying to keep his father’s funeral together by the sons. Everything begins to fall apart before it even begins, and there is little he can do to save the day.
Death at funeral is one of those goofy but hilarious dark comedies about death. In many cultures death is considered serious and not a laughing matter in any way, but dark British humor tends to dismantle this seriousness effortlessly. There’s slapstick, toilet humor, macabre humor and a bunch of metaphors, including a fantastical appearance by Pierre Dinklage.
“In Bruges” (2008)
In Brugge is, incredibly, Martin McDonagh’s feature debut. This film was so dark and ridiculous that it seemed like only a seasoned professional could pull it off. Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson also turned out to be a fantastic duo, as McDonagh also directed them in The Banshees of Inisherin This year.
The film revolves around two hitmen who must hide out in Bruges, Belgium, and await instructions from their boss. Anticipation and guilt fill Colin Farrell’s Ray, who he portrays faithfully. Brendan Gleeson as the anchor and almost zoned Ken is a fantastic counterpart to Ray. This combination leads to hilarious dialogue and a surprisingly gripping story of sightseeing in a Belgian city.
It’s hard to choose between To tear out and Lock, reserve and two smoking barrelsbut To tear out has an unexpected benefit – brad pitt. What could be the role of his life, Pitt plays a boxer from a caravanning community just outside London. His fate is intertwined with two Turkish boxing managers (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephane Graham).
To tear out contains some of cinema’s most memorable quotes – from Brad Pitt’s honest question, “Do you like dags?” to Rade Sherbedzia’s description of a heavy weapon: “If it doesn’t work, you can always hit them with it.” It’s clear that Guy Ritchie has a comedic (and overall) sense of timing, as the jokes sometimes go unnoticed. It has a reviewable quality and is one of the best cop comedies of all time.
‘dr. Strangelove’ (1964)
While it’s obvious the Brits have always had a funny bone, Dr Strangelove is one of the first satirical black comedies still reigning over the genre. Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and featuring Stone Sellers in three roles (Doctor Strangelove, Captain Mandrake, and the President), this film depicts a war room meeting filled with misunderstandings and close-quarters nuclear bombings.
Although the director is American, as are most of the remaining actors, the film was shot 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 Welsh author Peter George, who wrote the book that inspired the film.
“In the Loop” (2009)
Another Armando Iannucci signature piece, In the loop, directly ridicules the modern British government. Pierre Capaldi, Tom Hollander and Jacques Gandolfini took the wheel in this satire about American and British politicians trying to stop an invasion of Iraq and a war between them.
In the loop is a spin-off of Iannucci’s satirical sitcom The thickness of it on the inner workings of the British government. It’s safe to say that Iannucci delivered some of the best modern comedy; although they are heavily political, they draw on many real events – showing viewers just how ridiculous some politicians are.
NEXT: 7 quintessentially quaint British films to watch after ‘Phantom of the Open’