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75 Years of the UK in Cannes

For 75 years now, the Cannes Film Festival has adorned the French Riviera and every cinema lover’s calendar. It’s an event showcasing films from every country, in every language. That makes it all the more impressive that UK talent has been a consistent presence at the Festival across eight decades, competing against the very best from around the world.

This year, for example, British actress Rebecca Hall, who became a director with the impressive Passing last year, will be part of the competition jury. She follows in the footsteps of directors like Andrea Arnold, who chaired the Un Certain Regard jury last year while her extraordinary documentary Cow premiered at the festival. Yes, it’s the life story of a cow, and far more compelling than you might imagine – though perhaps no more than we should expect from the filmmaker behind Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey, all of which won the Jury Prize at the Festival. Last year, in fact, was an impressive year for UK filmmakers: Clio Barnard’s delicate love story Ali & Ava made its Cannes debut, as did Joanna Hogg’s gorgeous The Souvenir Part II (what, you thought only superhero movies got sequels? It turns out that compelling memoirs can have them too).

They continue a storied history for UK film at Cannes. In the Festival’s very first year, Welsh-born Ray Milland won Best Actor for The Lost Weekend. Soon, the Festival developed some favourites. John Boorman won Best Director twice, for Leo The Last in 1970 and The General in 1998. Two awards almost 30 years apart; testament to a remarkable career that also saw him make hits like Point Blank, Deliverance and the moving memoir Hope And Glory. The Redgrave acting dynasty also stands out. Michael Redgrave won Best Actor for The Browning Version in 1951, and his daughter Vanessa Redgrave took Best Actress twice in the 1960s, for Morgan – A Suitable Case For Treatment and Isadora. More recently, Helen Mirren would equal her record, taking prizes for Cal and The Madness of King George.

They’re not the only multiple prize winners. Stalker thriller The Collector did the double in 1965, picking up acting awards for Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. ‘Kitchen sink’ drama A Taste Of Honey took acting prizes in 1962 for Murray Melvin and actress Rita Tushingham, recently back onscreen in Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho.

Murray Melvin and Rita Tushingham in A Taste of Honey.

Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar in The Collector.

Gritty British drama has been a consistent presence in Cannes; in more recent years, comedian Kathy Burke won Best Actress for Gary Oldman’s drama Nil By Mouth and Peter Mullan was named Best Actor for Ken Loach’s film My Name Is Joe. Director Mike Leigh has also been a regular. He personally won for another gritty drama, Naked, in 1993, alongside Best Actor David Thewlis, but he helped Brenda Blethyn to a Best Actress win for Secrets & Lies in 1996 and then Timothy Spall to Best Actor for Mr. Turner in 2014.  

Ken Loach winning the Palme d'Or in 2016 for I, Daniel Blake.

Timothy Spall winning Best Actor for his role in Mr. Turner in 2014.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, was also in contention for the prestigious Palme d'Or prize competition in 2011.

It remains to be seen how this year’s Festival acting talent – including Anthony Hopkins in James Gray’s Armageddon Time and Joe Alwyn in Claire Denis’ The Stars At Noon – will be received, and whether they’ll follow in the footsteps of the most recent acting winner, Emily Beecham for the thought-provoking sci-fi Little Joe in 2019. But one thing’s for sure: 75 years on, UK filmmakers continue to hold their own against the world’s finest on the Riviera.