Billy Elliot, Philomena, Wild Rose, Pride, Suffragette, I, Daniel Blake, The Souvenir, Gosford Park and The King’s Speech are just some of the most critically acclaimed and well-known UK films – all of which have been backed by National Lottery funding.
In fact, National Lottery players have supported the production of more than 500 UK films over the past 25 years, enjoyed by audiences at home and abroad, attracting more than 100 million cinema admissions in the UK alone.
However, some of the most watched films in the UK are not mainstream blockbusters, they don’t feature rousing music or BAFTA winning actors. They are a vast range of documentaries, home movies, news footage, forgotten TV programmes and government films from throughout the last century that feature in The National Lottery funded BFI project Britain On Film.
The most watched film is Sunshine in Soho (1956) with over 2.5 million views, followed by Christmas in Belfast (1977) with almost 2 million. The top ten also features A Day in Liverpool (1929), Portsmouth’s Charlotte St Market (1977), Milton Keynes and the Area (1970) and Aberdeen (1970).
To help celebrate the list of lesser known films and pieces of content, Paul Merton stars in a funny countdown of the top ten most watched films on Britain on Film as part of The National Lottery’s 25th birthday celebrations, to showcase the type of impact players have on UK film.
From The Shetlands to The Channel Islands, these films represent all areas of The British Isles to create a snapshot of life from the 20th century. BFI has released the national ‘Top Ten films most watched through Britain on Film’ to demonstrate the incredible impact National Lottery funding has had on its 25th birthday.
The number one most viewed title, Sunshine in Soho (1956, BFI) is a gloriously colourful, nostalgic time capsule of 50’s Soho has been watched a staggering 2,548,236 times. From a tram ride through Edwardian Nottingham to London’s post-war redevelopment by way of Aberdeen’s shimmering granite streets and Liverpool’s bustling metropolis, portraits of Belfast beyond the troubles and the birth of New Town Milton Keynes, the top 10 uncovers hidden histories and everyday lives of Britain, reflecting deeper connections with communities, people and places and ways of life on a local level.
‘The Top 10 most watched films you have never heard of’ from BFI’s Britain on Film’:
1.Sunshine in Soho, Melodie Hyams 1956/BFI, Britain on Film (2,548,336 views to date)
1950s Soho beats with far more energy than its 21st century counterpart in this vivid time capsule.
2.Christmas in Belfast, 1977 © Crown Copyright/BFI Britain on Film (1,984.223 views to date)
Christmas in Belfast at the height of ‘The Troubles’ where traditional holiday activities and images are punctuated by reminders that not all is as it should be.
3.Tram Rides through Nottingham, 1902 / BFI, Britain on Film (505,430 views to date)
Pioneering filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon conduct an evocative ride through Edwardian Nottingham, following the same route as today’s Nottingham Express Transit tramway.
4.Aberdeen, 1970, National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive, Britain on Film (401,351 views to date)
Explore the growth of Scotland’s oil capital, from small ancient burgh to bustling metropolis in this lively and colourful educational documentary produced for the ‘Cities of Scotland’ series.
5.Chichester Tour, 1962, Screen Archive South East, Britain on Film (376,961 views to date)
A fascinating amateur film showing the cathedral city of Chichester before the arrival of its ring road and the pedestrianisation of its Roman streets featuring a variety of shopfronts, some of which are still trading in exactly the same location.
6.Changing Face of Camberwell, 1963, London Borough of Southwark / BFI, Britain on Film (347,375 views to date)
Looking back at Camberwell’s Victorian history, and forward to the future, this film captures the impact of changing architecture on local residents and what was lost.
7.Day in Liverpool, 1929, BFI, Britain on Film (225,649 views to date)
Metropolis meets Merseyside, as this city-symphony inspired early travelogue portrays a day in the life of a city thriving with modernity.
8.Portsmouth’s Charlotte Street Market, 1977, Wessex Film & Sound Archive, Britain on Film (179,718 views to date)
An affectionate snapshot showcasing the colourful bustle of Portsmouth’s oldest street market– where independent traders and shoppers mix under the brooding presence of the infamous Tricorn Centre, demolished in March 2004 after being voted ‘Britain’s Most Hated Building’.
9.Belfast – No Way Out, 1970, Fremantlemedia Ltd/BFI, Britain on Film (171,436 views to date)
What was life really like in 1970s Belfast? Beyond the Troubles the current affairs magazine show ‘This Week’ addresses social problems, talking to people in poverty struggling to cope.
10.Milton Keynes and the area, 1968/ UEA’s East Anglian Film Archive, Britain on Film (156,350 views to date)
Anglia TV footage of the pre-existing towns and pretty North Bucks hamlets newly incorporated into the New Town Development of Milton Keynes.
Comedian and amateur film historian, Paul Merton said: “Britain on Film is an ambitious project that has made the rich unseen film history of the UK accessible to the whole nation, with thousands of titles from 120 years’ worth of films drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK and Northern Ireland from Victorian times to the 1990s. Whilst you or I may never have heard of them before and they will never trouble the weekly box office lists, the films have captured the imagination of the British public and amassed an incredible 75 million online views. They are incredible and are a wonderful way to get lost in our history and heritage for an hour, or even a day. I love it, and all thanks to those pink tickets at newsagents.”