Top 10 British Prison & Borstal Films
The British film industry has produced some of the most compelling and intense prison and borstal films in cinema history. In this list, we have compiled the top 10 British prison and borstal movies that have captivated audiences with their powerful storytelling, unforgettable performances, and raw, gritty realism. From the brutal violence of "Scum" to the psychological drama of "The Escapist," these films offer a harrowing and often disturbing glimpse into the world of incarceration, highlighting themes of survival, escape, and redemption. So, whether you're a fan of prison dramas, crime thrillers, or true stories of struggle and triumph, our selection of the best British prison and borstal films has something for everyone.
Top 10 British Prison & Borstal Movies
Here's our Top 10 British prison and borstal movies, and we've ranked them according to their IMDB Rating. So take a look at let us know what you think, or what prison movies we've missed that you think should rank in the Top 10?
10) MEAN MACHINE (2001)
Directed by Barry Skolnick
IMDB Rating 6.5
"Mean Machine" is a high-octane sports drama that pits a group of prison inmates against their prison guards in a fierce game of football. The film stars the charismatic Vinnie Jones as Danny Meehan, a former football star who finds himself in jail after a drunken brawl. With the help of a fellow inmate, played by Jason Statham, Meehan agrees to coach the prison team to take on the guards in a match that has the potential to change their lives forever.
The film is a remake of the classic 1974 movie "The Longest Yard," but with a British twist. Director Barry Skolnick expertly balances the action on and off the field, building up tension and drama through the characters' personal struggles and rivalries. The football scenes are expertly choreographed and filmed, making them exciting and believable.
The cast of "Mean Machine" is top-notch, with Vinnie Jones delivering a standout performance as the gruff but likable Meehan. Statham brings his usual cool charisma to the role of the loyal and dependable inmate who helps Meehan coach the team. The supporting cast, including David Hemmings as the sadistic warden and Danny Dyer as the hotheaded inmate, all deliver strong performances.
Overall, "Mean Machine" is an entertaining and exhilarating sports movie that combines the thrill of football with the excitement of a prison drama. With its well-paced story, compelling characters, and high-stakes game, it's a movie that is sure to score with audiences.
9) THE ESCAPIST (2008)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
"The Escapist" is a gripping prison escape thriller directed by Rupert Wyatt that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. The film features a strong ensemble cast, including Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Damian Lewis, and Dominic Cooper, who all deliver standout performances.
The story revolves around Frank Perry (Brian Cox), an aging convict who is desperate to see his terminally ill daughter one last time before she passes away. To achieve this, he hatches a daring plan to escape from his maximum-security prison, enlisting the help of a group of fellow inmates who have their own reasons for wanting to break free.
What follows is a tense and harrowing journey through the maze-like corridors of the prison as the escapees try to stay one step ahead of the guards and make their way to freedom. The film keeps the audience guessing as to whether the plan will succeed or fail, and the tension is heightened by the fact that we never quite know which characters to trust.
The film is visually striking, with the dimly lit prison creating a moody and oppressive atmosphere. The use of flashbacks and dream sequences adds to the sense of disorientation and claustrophobia, while the soundtrack, featuring songs by Radiohead and other artists, provides an eerie and haunting backdrop to the action.
Overall, "The Escapist" is a highly effective thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The strong performances, tense atmosphere, and unpredictable plot twists make it a must-see for fans of the genre.
8) THE CRIMINAL (1960)
Directed by Joseph Losey
"The Criminal" is a gritty and intense crime drama directed by Joseph Losey, starring Stanley Baker in the lead role. The film is set in a bleak and oppressive London prison, and follows the story of Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker), a hardened criminal who is serving a long sentence for robbery.
The film begins with Bannion being released from solitary confinement, and we quickly learn that he has a plan to break out of the prison with the help of his fellow inmates. As the plan unfolds, we are drawn into a tense and violent world of gangsters, corrupt officials, and desperate men trying to survive in a brutal and unforgiving environment.
The performances in the film are excellent, with Stanley Baker delivering a powerful and nuanced portrayal of a man on the edge. The supporting cast, which includes Sam Wanamaker and Patrick Magee, also shine, bringing depth and complexity to their respective roles.
The film is notable for its unflinching depiction of violence and its exploration of the harsh realities of prison life. The cinematography, by Robert Krasker, is also impressive, with stark black and white images that capture the bleakness and despair of the prison environment.
Overall, "The Criminal" is a powerful and thought-provoking film that delves deep into the psychology of its characters and the societal forces that shape their lives. Its unrelenting realism and uncompromising vision make it a classic of British cinema, and a must-see for fans of crime dramas.
7) MCVICAR (1980)
Directed by Tom Clegg
"McVicar" is a biographical crime drama directed by Tom Clegg, based on the true story of British criminal John McVicar, played by Roger Daltrey. The film follows McVicar's life from his early days as a petty thief to his eventual incarceration in some of Britain's most notorious prisons.
The film is a compelling portrayal of the criminal underworld of 1960s and 70s Britain, with a strong focus on the political and social issues that were shaping the country at the time. The performances in the film are excellent, with Roger Daltrey giving a standout performance as the charismatic and rebellious McVicar.
The film is notable for its gritty and realistic depiction of life in prison, with a particular focus on the brutality and corruption that was endemic within the system at the time. The scenes of violence and abuse are hard-hitting and difficult to watch, but they serve to underline the harsh reality of life for those who found themselves caught up in the criminal justice system.
One of the standout features of the film is its excellent soundtrack, which features songs by The Who, as well as other iconic artists of the era. The music serves to evoke the spirit of the time and adds an extra layer of depth and meaning to the film.
Overall, "McVicar" is a powerful and compelling film that offers a unique and insightful glimpse into the criminal underworld of 1960s and 70s Britain. With its strong performances, excellent soundtrack, and unflinching portrayal of prison life, it is a must-see for fans of crime dramas and British cinema.
6) BRONSON (2008)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
"Bronson" is a biographical drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Tom Hardy in the lead role as the notorious British prisoner, Charles Bronson. The film chronicles the life of Bronson, from his early days as a bare-knuckle fighter to his eventual incarceration in some of Britain's most secure prisons.
Tom Hardy delivers a powerhouse performance as Bronson, capturing the character's larger-than-life personality and unpredictable nature. The film is notable for its striking visual style, with vibrant colors and stylized cinematography that heightens the sense of chaos and violence that surrounds Bronson.
The film is unflinching in its portrayal of violence and the brutal realities of prison life, with scenes of extreme violence and aggression that are difficult to watch. However, the film also delves into the psychology of its central character, exploring the inner demons that drive Bronson to commit increasingly violent and self-destructive acts.
The film is also notable for its use of humor, with a dark and irreverent tone that undercuts the seriousness of the subject matter. This approach gives the film a unique edge, and helps to make it a truly memorable and impactful experience.
Overall, "Bronson" is a powerful and visceral film that offers a unique and unflinching glimpse into the world of one of Britain's most notorious criminals. With its stunning visual style, powerful performances, and uncompromising approach to its subject matter, it is a must-see for fans of gritty and provocative cinema. However, due to its graphic content, it is not recommended for the faint of heart.
5) A SENSE OF FREEDOM (1979)
Directed by John Mackenzie
"A Sense of Freedom" is a powerful and harrowing film directed by John Mackenzie, based on the autobiography of Scottish criminal Jimmy Boyle, played by David Hayman. The film chronicles Boyle's life from his early days as a violent gang member in Glasgow to his eventual incarceration in some of Scotland's most notorious prisons.
David Hayman delivers a stunning performance as Boyle, capturing the character's charisma, intelligence, and fierce determination to survive. The film is notable for its unflinching depiction of violence and the brutal realities of prison life, with scenes of extreme brutality that are difficult to watch.
At its core, "A Sense of Freedom" is a film about the dehumanizing effects of the prison system, and the toll that it takes on those who are forced to endure it. The film also explores broader themes of social inequality, poverty, and the pervasive culture of violence that was endemic in Glasgow at the time.
The film's visual style is stark and minimalist, with muted colors and an emphasis on close-ups that heighten the sense of intimacy and claustrophobia that permeates the prison scenes. The soundtrack, which features music by Scottish folk musician Bert Jansch, adds an extra layer of depth and meaning to the film.
Overall, "A Sense of Freedom" is a powerful and thought-provoking film that offers a unique and insightful glimpse into the world of one of Scotland's most notorious criminals.
4) STARRED UP (2013)
Directed by David MacKenzie
"Starred Up" is a gritty and intense drama directed by David Mackenzie, starring Jack O'Connell as Eric Love, a violent and troubled young man who is transferred to an adult prison where his father, Neville Love, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is also incarcerated.
The film is a brutal and unflinching look at life behind bars, with an emphasis on the violence and chaos that permeates the prison environment. The performances in the film are exceptional, with Jack O'Connell delivering a standout performance as the volatile and unpredictable Eric Love.
The film is notable for its nuanced and complex exploration of the relationship between Eric and Neville, which is fraught with tension and conflict, but also contains moments of genuine tenderness and empathy. The film also explores broader themes of institutionalization, the failings of the prison system, and the potential for redemption and transformation.
The film's visual style is raw and unpolished, with a gritty realism that lends the film a sense of authenticity and immediacy. The soundtrack, which features music by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, adds an extra layer of depth and emotional resonance to the film.
Overall, "Starred Up" is a powerful and uncompromising film that offers a unique and insightful glimpse into the harsh realities of life behind bars. With its outstanding performances, nuanced approach to its subject matter, and raw visual style, it is a must-see for fans of gritty and thought-provoking cinema.
3) HUNGER (2008)
Directed by Steve McQueen
"Hunger" is a powerful and intense film directed by Steve McQueen, starring Michael Fassbender in a stunning performance as Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army member who led a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison in 1981.
The film is an uncompromising and unflinching look at the brutality and violence of the Troubles, with a particular focus on the experience of the prisoners who were held in the infamous Maze prison. The film's visual style is stark and minimalist, with long takes and slow camera movements that lend the film a sense of stillness and contemplation.
The film's centerpiece is a harrowing and unbroken 17-minute long take in which Sands and a priest played by Liam Cunningham engage in a heated and emotional debate about the morality of the hunger strike. The scene is a masterclass in acting and direction, with both Fassbender and Cunningham delivering powerful and emotionally charged performances.
Overall, "Hunger" is a deeply affecting and thought-provoking film that offers a powerful and nuanced exploration of one of the most fraught and complex periods in Northern Irish history. With its stunning performances, uncompromising approach to its subject matter, and minimalist visual style, it is a must-see for fans of challenging and thought-provoking cinema.
2) SCUM (1979)
Directed by Alan Clarke
"Scum," directed by Alan Clarke, is a gritty and powerful film that explores the brutality and dehumanization of the British borstal system in the 1970s. The film follows the experiences of three new inmates, including Carlin, played by Ray Winstone, as they navigate the violent and oppressive world of the borstal.
The film is an unflinching look at the institutionalized violence and abuse that permeates the borstal system, where the guards are portrayed as sadistic and corrupt, and the inmates are subjected to beatings, rape, and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. The film exposes the racism, violence, and corruption that are inherent in the borstal system, highlighting the devastating effects that they have on the inmates.
The performances in the film are outstanding, with Ray Winstone delivering a standout performance as the charismatic and defiant Carlin, who refuses to be broken by the system. The film's visual style is stark and raw, with a documentary-like approach that adds to the sense of immediacy and authenticity.
The film's soundtrack, which features music by Sham 69, adds an extra layer of intensity and urgency to the film. The use of music, along with the film's visuals, creates a powerful and immersive experience that draws the viewer in and doesn't let go.
1) MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978)
Directed by Alan Parker
"Midnight Express," directed by Alan Parker, is a harrowing and intense film based on the true story of American student Billy Hayes (played by Brad Davis) who is arrested and imprisoned for drug smuggling in Turkey.
The film portrays the brutal and inhumane treatment that Hayes receives at the hands of the Turkish authorities, as he is thrown into a violent and overcrowded prison, where he is subjected to physical and emotional abuse by both the guards and his fellow inmates.
The film's strength lies in its ability to capture the intense and claustrophobic atmosphere of the prison, and to convey the sense of despair and hopelessness that Hayes feels as he struggles to survive in a brutal and unforgiving environment.
Brad Davis delivers a powerful performance as Hayes, conveying the character's fear, anger, and desperation with remarkable skill. The supporting cast is also strong, with standout performances by John Hurt as Hayes' fellow inmate Max, and Paul L. Smith as the sadistic and brutal prison guard Hamidou.
The film's visual style is raw and gritty, with a documentary-like approach that adds to the sense of realism and authenticity. The use of music, including the iconic theme by Giorgio Moroder, adds an extra layer of intensity and emotion to the film.