Some of Britain’s great exports are universally acknowledged: the Beatles, Bass ale, John Cleese. Others reflect more personal tastes: You say Marmite, I say the Jam. Among the least recognized of the nation’s cultural wares, though, are the Little Movies That Could. I’m not talking about Merchant Ivory-style coffee-table flicks but films like The Full Monty: scruffy heart-warmers that seemingly come out of East Bumbleshire and end up vying for Best Picture at the Oscars.
These movies are often too sentimental to win over the American critics, nor do they feature any heirs to Olivier (can you imagine Monty with Kenneth Branagh and Gary Oldman up there doffing their duds to Donna Summer?). Their appeal is, simply, ordinariness: In characters, setting, and story they remind the greater non-art house U.S. audience that — despite what we see on PBS — British people are shockingly like you or me.
The Full Monty hits home video on March 17, six days before the Oscars. Although nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Cattaneo), Best Original Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy), and Best Musical or Comedy Score, it’s likely that this sweetly engaging, if predictable, charmer will get swamped in Titanic’s backwash. No matter: As with other British sleepers, the honor is in being included in the first place (if Monty were artsier or more populist, it probably wouldn’t be nominated at all).
The only Little English Movie That Did, in fact, win a Best Picture Oscar (against Reds, On Golden Pond, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, no less) was Chariots of Fire (1981, Warner, PG, $19.98), and you’d better believe the Rocky-esque sports angle had something to do with it. So did Vangelis’ chiming synthesizer score, the only element that smells funky now. Set around the 1924 Olympics, the Hugh Hudson film is ostensibly a costume drama, but since its two key characters spend so much time on the track oval — the minister (Ian Charleson) running for God, the Jewish Cantabrigian (Ben Cross) outrunning prejudice — Chariots still seems earnestly timeless.