10 Greatest British Film Duos

Anyone working in the industry will tell you that film is a major collaborative effort, from the key grips to lighting to the directors chair and everything else in between. It takes a village to raise a child, and to put a film on the silver screen apparently. Since Britain has what may be the greatest single collaboration in film history (you’ll se it on this list, no one spoil it) let’s discuss some other great pairings in the craft. So, in that vain this list is comprised of the greatest collaborations in British film history, whether it be director and actor or cinematographer etc. It couldn’t be one single team-up either, several (more than twice) must have occurred. From past to present these pairings proved that no single filmmaker is an island.

Although the term ‘Art through adversity’ is often applied to film more times than not, these ten dynamic duos prove that even in a field as harsh and overwhelming as filmmaking kindred spirits can find each other  to create world renowned works. Alright, no more stalling the 10 Greatest Film team-ups in Britain’s history.

10. Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas (Director/Producer, 9 Collaborations)

The neo-noir power couple met while Christopher studied English Literature at University College London. He starting to make 16mm films at the college film society. Emma came on the produce his first efforts including ‘Following’ in 1998. Its acclaim aided in getting the funding for ‘Memento’ in 2000, with Emma also producing, helping to cement Nolan’s penchant for neo-noir story-telling. five years later he was awarded the chance to restart the defunct Batman franchise with his own vision of the Dark Knight and the rest is history. In that time Emma has produced or co-produced all of her husband’s work, from his 16mm shorts in college to the big-budgeted Batman trilogy films. After the success of the finale to the Batman trilogy ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ the two will produce the Superman reboot ‘Man of Steel’ in hopes that again the Nolan’s can reignite a dead franchise.

The two married back in 1997 and have had four children, not including the big screen children they have made also in that time.

9. David Lean and Freddie Young (Director/Cinematographer, 3 collaborations)

Much like a marriage, the bond between Director and cinematographer can be tumultuous, but also an extremely rewarding and fruitful partnership. Lean makes his first appearance (that’s called foreshadowing folks) on this list with his ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) cinematographer, Freddie Young. Having developed the techniques to shoot one of the most epic, beautiful and influential films of all-time helps your case. David Lean is well… David Lean, but Young was no one hit wonder. One of most influential cinematographers in history he was the first English director of photography to shoot a movie in the wide-screen CinemaScope a process. He mastered the technique, evident with his three oscars, all coming with Lean as director. Though Young had a lengthy and prodigious career, over 130 titles shot, in the span of over 50 years, he received the most acclaim for his work for Lean in the aforementioned ‘Lawrence of Arabia’,’Doctor Zhivago'(1965) and ‘Ryan’s daughter'(1970).

8. Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant (Director/Actor, 4 Collaborations)

The glamour couple of the list; however, all of that going to Mr. Grant. Hitchcock’s lighter faires in his filmography (‘Notorious’ not withstanding) needed a textbook leading man to carry them. Charming, articulate and refined Cary Grant personified exactly what he needed with . ‘Suspicion’ was their first project together in 1941, but because of  Grant’s popularity the sordid ending was changed to more in line with Hollywood sensibilities. It would reflect the lighter tones Hitch would use with Grant in the lead including ‘North by Northwest’ (1959) and ‘To Catch A thief’ (1955). However, their best arguably was ‘Notorious'(1946). Perhaps, not coincidently, it was also their darkest film together. Grant was the only actor the master os suspense was said to “love.” Continuing that James Stewart was the “everyman”, but Hitch never would cast Stewart after Vertigo (1958) flopped. The director blamed it on Stewart now looking too old to draw in the crowds and turned to Grant for ‘North by Northwest’. Ironically, Grant was actually four years older than Stewart.

7. James Bond and Q (MI6 Secret Agent/MI6 Gadget Man, 20 collaborations)

Alright, the other glamor couple. James Bond: MI6’s go to spy. Q: MI6’s go to gadget guy. Since Q’s appearance proper in ‘From Russia With Love’ (a very underrated Bond flick), giving Bond his very own tricked out suitcase, his devices have single-handily saved everyone’s favorite secret agent man time after time. Their exchanges are timeless, playing like the concerned father giving his son his first car, a car with bullet proof glass, machine guns and ejector seats. Most memorable played by the late Desmond Llewelyn, Q would tirelessly think of any and all instances that Bond would need something extra to resolve the situation. For everyone that describes James Bond as a loner, think of all the instances where Q’s devices have worked, perfectly I might add, to turn a certain defeat to victory.

In the most recent James Bond movie, “Skyfall”, trailer, the codename Q is finally revealed to mean ‘Quartermaster’ so that’s what it means… I always thought it was a play on the phrase “He right on que”, in that he’s dependable, I guess quartermaster works too.

6. Kenneth Branagh and William Shakespeare (Director-Actor/Writer, 4 collaborations)

Yes, partnerships can be formed centuries apart. Shakespeare probably could never envision the depths and lengths his work would be interpreted for generations after his death. Branagh bringing his understanding and genuine love  for the bard’s work in both directing and acting, much like the Elizabethan playwright, in three of his most prominent works: ‘Henry V'(1989), ‘Much Ado About Nothing'(1993), and ‘Hamlet'(1996). He also lent a performance in another 90’s adaptation of Shakespeare  ‘Othello’ (1995) as the villainous Iago. For better (‘Hamlet’) and for worse (‘Romeo + Juliet’), his productions sparked a renewed interest in the timeless tales throughout the 90’s. Branagh helped prove that the themes of power, love, guilt, and death will echo well into the future.

5. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, (Master Detective/Medical Doctor,  Around 50 Collaborations)

Now the game is afoot… We continue with the Master of Deductive reasoning and his partner in crime, so to speak, who have been solving the most baffling mysteries on film since there has been film. Always ready for the next murderer to be caught, priceless jewel recovered or kidnapped returned, they were always a step ahead of even the best of Scotland Yard. Whenever Holmes’ tendency to over-think or let his imagination run wild made him cloud his judgement was when Watson’s keen grasp on reality truly aided the super sleuth, it is elementary after all.Thus, the pairing has survived through countless adaptions by filmmakers of all sorts. One of the most prolific fictional characters of all time the first known Holmes film was with ‘Sherlock Holmes Baffled’ in 1900. The two were most memorably played by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the series of movies that began in 1939 with ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. While, his incarnations vary from quietly controlled to constantly on the edge of sanity, what has remained the same is the rapport between these characters. It is the very reason why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries continue to engage filmmakers to this day.

4. Terry Jones and John Cleese (Director-Writer-actor/Writer-actor, 3 collaborations)

And now for something completely different… this entry more of a stand-in for the entire Monty-Python team. Nonetheless, the most recognizable Writer-actor in the troop and the most prominent director-actor-writer each deserve to be singled out for their contributions to Britain’s irreverent, strange and influential comedy bunch. Through three feature movies and the long-running T.V series, the gang delved into their own unique takes on comedy, religion and even the meaning of life itself. Creating some of the greatest laughs on film and T.V. As it was the movies ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1974) ‘Life of Brian’ (1982) and ‘Meaning of Life’ (1983), all directed by Jones and acting in by Cleese, that most international audiences took notice acting as their introduction to the comedy group. That in and of itself is worthy of a place on this list.

3. Laurence Olivier and William Shakespeare (Director-Actor/Writer, 4 collaborations)

Now we’re talking. Branagh owes quite a bit to the Master thespian for being the first to attempt the epic and poetic Shakespeare on film. He took to both directing and performing in ‘Henry V'(1944) ‘Hamlet'(1948) and ‘Richard III'(1955), while only taking the title role in ‘Othello'(1965).  Winning his only Academy Award for his turn as Hamlet, he also received an honorary statue for bringing ‘Henry V’ to the silver screen. With the voice, the looks and the presence, he was the first to elevate the material from the stage to a wider audience in cineplexes. Although, some would  argue that his stage-work greatly over-shadowed his films of the same subject, his contributions in treating the bard’s work faithfully shouldn’t be belittled or looked over. It would be out of the question…

2. David Lean and Alec Guinness (Director/Actor, 6 collaborations)

David Lean and Alec Guinness, the meeting of two giants of British, and any, cinema. What really needs to be said? Great on their own, never better working together. From ‘Great Expectations’ (1946) to ‘Passage to India’ (1984), Guinness appeared six times in a Lean Film, in both leading and supporting roles. Portraying everything from Englishman, to Arab, to Russian and Indian (Impressive, no?). Of course, his most prominent role coming as P.O.W Colonel Nicholson in ‘the Bridge on the River Kwai'(1957). Which won the duo near universal acclaim, leading to Oscars for both it’s star and director. Would have been great on their own right, but succeeded better as a team more than deserves a spot here. However, they are bested by perhaps the greatest duo in filmmaking history…

1. Alright say it with me: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Director-Writer-Producer/Director-Writer-Producer, 24 collaborations)

Yeah, I’ll let that shocking, shocking reveal here at number one die down a second. Powell and Pressburger rolls off the tongue smoothly, as it should for the two were inseparable.  Now, even though Emeric Pressburger was a Jewish immigrant from Hungary  he grew to understand English better than most native-born to the island (Some are born, he chose to be english). Michael Powell was already an established filmmaker having worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his silent movies and directing a prolific number of films in a short span, some 20 films between 1932-39. However, it wasn’t until working together on ‘The Spy in Black’ (1939) they discovered that they had a common attitude to film-making and that they could work very well together. After making a couple of more films together the pair decided to form a partnership and to sign their films jointly as “Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.” Officially forming The Archers production team, and the rest, as they say, is history. Beginning in 1942 with ‘One of Our Aircraft is Missing’ the two would produce some of the finest films from that era, including ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ (1943) ‘A Canturbury Tale’ (1944) ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946) ‘Black Narcissus’ (1947) ‘The Red Shoes’ (1948) and ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ (1951).

Through their direction was nearly all done by Powell, all The Archers production worked as a complete unit, with the cast and crew often making suggestions. Pressburger would always be on hand to make sure that these late changes fitted seamlessly into the story. In the early 1950s Powell and Pressburger began to produce fewer films, with notably less success. The Archers’ productions officially came to an end in 1957, and the pair separated to pursue their individual careers. They would work together a couple of more times without  The Archers moniker, never reaching the critical and commercial successes of their previous efforts. There was only three years difference in age between the two,Powell was born three years later, and died only two years apart. Perhaps it is poetic that way, in any case, their legacy will go down as the greatest filmmaking team in history.

About Jeff Stewart

Film fanatic, movie buff, film enthusiast whatever you want to call it I have it and have dedicated my writing to showing my appreciation of all things movies here on Just My Take...

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