The Top 100 British Films of the 20th Century was produced by the British Film Institute in 1999. Over 27,000 votes were cast from people throughout the film industry - among them; actors, directors, producers, distributors and critics. The list was eventually published on the BFI website. Below are the films of the 1940s in the order of the year of release with their original position in the Top 100. (All descriptions are excerpted from the BFI website).


In Which We Serve

A masterful story of men at war. Noel Coward, who also wrote and scored the film, stars as Captain Kinross, leading his men on board a World War II battleship. The under-stated patriotism is what is most moving as the story unfolds via flashbacks. The film offered debuts to Celia Johnson, Richard Attenborough (as an inexperienced stoker), young Daniel Massey and even an infant Juliet Mills. 92nd Top 100.


Colonel Blimp

Sentimental, though exceptionally shrewd, tale of a staunch and often misguided British soldier, tracing his life from the Boer War through to World War II. The character is supposedly based on David Low's caricature buffoon, though Roger Livesey's doddery yet patriotic soldier shows only a loose connection. Best of all is Deborah Kerr's terrific performance as the three different women in Blimp's long and varied life. 45th in Top 100.


Fires Were Started

Documentary: An astonishing portrait of the work of firemen during the London Blitz. Directed and scripted by Humphrey Jennings, it was originally intended as a training film, but had a general release to help boost morale. It is an elegant, almost poetic, documentary which proves to be an intimate portrait of a country besieged. The firemen were all real firemen, but the scenes were re-enacted. 89th in Top 100.

HENRY V 1944

Henry V

Filmed during World War II and clearly aimed at boosting the confidence of the British, this is a remarkable film version of Shakespeare's play. It was Olivier's debut as a director and he brought passion, spectacle, humour and real poetry to the film, but is also outstanding as the passionate Plantagenet Henry who, at 27, defeated the armies of France at Agincourt. Olivier received a Special Academy Award in 1946 for bringing this film to the screen. 18th in Top 100


Great Expectations

A masterly adaptation of Dickens' much-loved story, which fluently blends excitement, suspense and emotion. John Mills as the older Pip and Jean Simmons as the young Estella are both excellent, as are Martita Hunt as the crumbling Miss Havisham and Francis L. Sullivan (who played the same role in the 1934 Hollywood version) as the lawyer Jaggers. 5th in Top 100


A Matter of Life or Death

gave David Niven one of the best roles of his career. He plays Peter, a World War II pilot who falls for an American radio operator as his plane is about to crash. But heaven makes a mistake and he survives, only to meet the girl in person and fall deeply in love. Now he must plead for his life at a celestial court. 20th in Top 100


Brighton Rock

Fresh-faced young Richard Attenborough took a stark acting change of pace, here playing with chilling presence Pinkie Brown, the vicious teenage leader of a gang of slashers. Based on Graham Greene's 1938 novel (adapted by Greene and Terence Rattigan), this is an impressively made thriller from the Boulting brothers (Roy and John also co-produced the film), with fine performances too by Hermione Baddeley as the singer and Harcourt Williams as the lawyer. 15th in Top 100


Black Narcissus

Sumptuous and powerful story about a group of nuns who struggle to establish a mission in a remote part of the Himalayas. The film is distinguished by Jack Cardiff's Oscar-winning colour cinematography. The final sequences remain stunning, with Deborah Kerr giving a fine performance as the Sister Superior. 44th in Top 100


Oliver Twist 

Wonderful version of the Dickens classic with Alec Guinness, still in the early stages of his acting career, heavily disguised as Fagin. David Lean's dramatic scenes are very powerful; especially memorable is the sequence of Sikes killing Nancy because she had helped Oliver. An outstanding cast includes Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, Diana Dors and Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger. John Howard Davies, in the title role, later became a television producer. 46th in Top 100 


The Red Shoes

An extraordinarily imaginative film which has quietly established itself as a classic and has the ability to affect some viewers deeply. At its heart is a 14-minute ballet - also called The Red Shoes - based on a Hans Christian Andersen story of a wicked shoe-maker who makes slippers for a young woman who finds they won't let her stop dancing until she dies, exhausted. 9th in Top 100



Laurence Olivier produced and directed this handsome version of Shakespeare's play. A vital, fluid and witty treatment with terrific performances; Stanley Holloway stands out as the Grave Digger. Best Picture trophies were scooped at both the Oscars and BAFTA. Olivier also won the Best Actor Oscar. 69th in Top 100


Passport to Pimlico

Enchanting, whimsical comedy set shortly after the Second World War. An old royal charter which cedes Pimlico to the Dukes of Burgundy is found in a shell hole, and the locals declare themselves an independent state in the heart of London. The film features fine performances from the likes of Margaret Rutherford, Stanley Holloway and Hermione Baddeley.  63rd in Top 100


The Third Man

After half a century, The Third Man remains a bona fide British classic: rich on atmosphere, strong on suspense and blessed with quite wonderful performances. It is the story of a simple American who arrives in post-war Vienna to meet his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to learn that Lime has been killed in an accident. But, as he unravels the truth, he is also drawn into the decadent and corrupt world in which Lime existed. 1st in Top 100


Whisky Galore

Wonderful whimsy, charmingly directed by Mackendrick. On the fictional Scottish island of Todday, the wartime whisky ration has run out and the islanders are devastated. But when an American ship carrying 50,000 cases of Scotch is wrecked off-shore, they take it upon themselves to salvage and hide the booze. Compton Mackenzie, author of the novel on which the film is based, also has a small role as Captain Buncher. 24th in Top 100


Kind Hearts and Coronets

A deliciously dark Ealing comedy that elegantly allows the audience to side with the killer as he sets about his task. Dennis Price plays the penniless young hero, ninth in line to inherit the D'Ascoyne dukedom, who systematically sets about murdering the eight in the way to his title all brilliantly played by Alec Guinness. 6th in Top 100