Looking back on a nation’s output for any artform 20 years removed, there’s a risk of rose-tinted glasses misrepresenting the quality or wider health of the medium at the time. But while certain contemporary commercial successes should perhaps remain left in the past (Ali G Indahouse and The Guru, to name two), a not insignificant portion of the British films of 2002 have endured with audiences in the decades since.
In terms of acting talent, 2002 saw the release of breakthrough films for actors who are still major names 20 years later, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris, Sean Harris, Benedict Wong, Nicholas Hoult and Martin Compston. Regarding early career directors, Lynne Ramsay proved Ratcatcher (1999) was no fluke with her second feature, Morvern Callar. Another key Scottish filmmaker of the last few decades, David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up, Hell or High Water), also had his debut feature as director – the thriller The Last Great Wilderness – premiere this year. And actor-director Peter Mullan won the Golden Lion prize at Venice for his second feature, The Magdalene Sisters, which explores three teenage girls’ experiences of Ireland’s infamous ‘Magdalene laundries’. 2002 also saw premieres of key films in the careers of Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears and Michael Winterbottom.
While not all of the same quality as Boyle’s 28 Days Later…, 2002 was a particularly interesting year for British genre cinema. Neil Marshall’s ambitious debut feature Dog Soldiers transplanted the formula of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) to the werewolf movie; Jamie Bell followed up Billy Elliott (2000) with First World War supernatural tale Deathwatch; westerns influenced Shane Meadows’ Once upon a Time in the Midlands; and ouija board horror Long Time Dead made solid earnings worldwide. The American-set British thriller My Little Eye is very dated in some ways, yet its story of an online reality show experiment with a deadly twist makes it a crucial text for how internet-rooted horror would later develop.
With a new restoration of Dog Soldiers surfacing on physical media, here – in the order they premiered – are 10 of the best films made in Britain that fertile year…
Full feature for the BFI