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ScreenUK 2023 in Review

A young white man in along purple coat, brown top hat holding a cane, singing and dancing surrounded by open umbrellas embellished with the word 'Wonka'

Even by the high standards of UK film and TV, 2023 has been a banner year. From the year’s biggest films at the box office to some of its most exciting debuts, UK filmmakers, casts and crews seemed to be firing on all cylinders. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and bid farewell to 2023, there’s still time to catch up on any films and TV shows you might have missed.

First up, the blockbusters and franchises. Greta Gerwig’s doll odyssey Barbie was the biggest film of the year at the worldwide box office, co-produced by UK companies Heyday Films and LuckyChap Entertainment and principally shot in UK studios. Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Peaky Blinders) and Emily Blunt (The English, The Young Victoria), also proved unstoppable around the world as audiences turned out, fascinated, to learn about the man who led the effort to create the atomic bomb. Director Ridley Scott gave us an irreverent biopic of Napoleon starring Joaquin Phoenix (Mary Magdalene, The Joker) and Vanessa Kirby (The Crown, The Son).  

There were fresh outings for familiar characters too. Kenneth Branagh returned to star as Poirot and direct A Haunting in Venice, a horror-tinged mystery for the great detective to solve, and one that also starred Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone, Calvary) and Jamie Dornan (Belfast). Paddington director Paul King warmed hearts at Christmas with Wonka, an account of the life of the young Willy Wonka, and his climb to chocolate factory-owning greatness, with Timothée Chalamet (The King, Dune) as the young chocolatier and an all-star cast around him. The great Aardman Animation also returned with Chicken Run: Dawn of The Nugget, starring Thandiwe Newton (Line of Duty) as intrepid chicken Ginger, with Bella Ramsay (Game of Thrones) as her equally courageous chick, Molly, in another great prison break adventure. 


Chicken Run: Dawn of The Nugget

On TV the big news was the return of Doctor Who, with first David Tennant (Broadchurch) and then Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education) wielding the sonic screwdriver as the time-travelling do-gooder. Several huge hit shows wrapped up their run on a high: we bid a fond farewell to Sex Education, The Crown, Happy Valley and Ghosts this year. 

Probably the most startling thing in the UK on the big screen this year has been the explosion of new directorial talent; to the extent that much of the buzz at the British Independent Film Awards centred around first-time filmmakers. Rye Lane was a delightful, crowd pleasing rom-com in the spring, with director Raine Allen-Miller establishing herself as a major talent along with stars David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah. Another comedy debut came from director Thomas Hardiman in Medusa Deluxe, about a death at a hairdressing competition that one of the carefully coiffed contestants sets out to solve. And Nida Manzoor, of hit TV show We Are Lady Parts, made her feature debut with the hilarious Polite Society, which manages to combine elaborate wedding preparation and jaw-dropping action scenes. 

Doctor Who

Polite Society

Charlotte Regan, meanwhile, made her name with Scrapper, a father-daughter story (like 2022’s brilliant Aftersun) but one with an irreverent energy and scrappy charm that is all its own. That was not only another great turn from Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man) but a breakout piece for young Lola Campbell. Scrapper’s cinematographer, Molly Manning Walker, then made her own directing debut with How to Have Sex, a deeply thought-provoking odyssey through a teenager’s holiday which won the Grand Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes 2023 Festival. Dionne Edwards, meanwhile, challenged gender norms with Pretty Red Dress, also a breakout hit. 

There were incredible documentaries like Errol Morris’ examination of the life of John Le Carre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) in The Pigeon Tunnel. Another with Oscar buzz is The Deepest Breath, Laura McGann’s account of a free-diving tragedy. Musical highs were provided by Liam Gallagher: Knebworth ’22, a documentary about the former Oasis frontman that would pair beautifully with Oasis documentary Supersonic, from 2016 - or if you prefer ‘80s music and have spent the whole of December singing Last Christmas to yourself, try Wham!, an empathetic look at the dizzying rise of the titular duo. 


Pretty Red Dress

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Elder statesmen went on improbable odysseys this year in The Great Escaper: likely the last film from the legendary Michael Caine (Zulu, The Constant Gardener) and unfortunately the last by the late great Glenda Jackson (Women in Love). There were more hijinks among retirees in Allelujah, a comic account of a choir trying to save their small geriatric hospital, directed by Richard Eyre (Iris) and starring the likes of Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) and Dame Judi Dench (Belfast, Die Another Day). There were heart-warming animated family films too, like The Canterville Ghost and The Amazing Maurice; both based on stories by classic British writers, Oscar Wilde and Terry Pratchett respectively. Or you might enjoy a quiet character drama like Ballywalter, or lose yourself in the non-stop action of Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre, with Jason Statham (The Bank Job), or the simply titled, incident packed Plane, starring Gerard Butler (Greenland) – and you’ll never guess what form of transport that centres around.  

Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin followed up the acclaimed Bait this year with Enys Men, while Emerald Fennell followed her Oscar winning debut Promising Young Woman with the hilarious, challenging Saltburn. That’s before we even mention buzzed-about festival titles like The Royal Hotel and Foe, or the madcap tech biopic Tetris, or so many more great TV hits. If you loved the film Boiling Point you will thrill to watch its equally gripping TV spin off of the same name, unless you prefer to have your mind twisted by season six of Black Mirror. Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens was back for a second season of conflict between Heaven and Hell, with David Tennant and Michael Sheen (Staged) both returning, while teens loved Lockwood & Co from Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish. 

The Canterville Ghost

Black Mirror

It would seem like an exhausting amount of film and TV, documentary and animation, but for the knowledge that the talented casts and crews of the UK will just be doing as much or more in the coming year. We know we have the likes of Paddington in Peru, Gladiator 2 and Wicked to look forward to, so there’s another fantastic line-up already in store. Let’s hope it lives up to the extraordinary heights of 2023.