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18 September 2015

5 Up and Coming British Directors

By Tom Sainsbury | Categorised in Film News

There exists a wonderful culture of filmmaking in this country of ours. A rich history, varied in its storytelling capabilities. We’re certainly not short of iconic directors when we look back at British cinema. But how about the future?

It’s a competitive world and a good director needs to be consistent. It can take two or three extremely well-crafted features before people really sit up and take notice, though the stunning debut efforts by the directors listed below certainly sets them on the right path.

British directors learn their craft with, usually, short form films followed by a breakout feature. And it’s a tradition that is seeing some extremely talented filmmakers beginning to make waves.

Here are a few to keep your eye on over the coming years.

Jesse Quinones* (Writer/Director)

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Jesse’s first feature film, Calloused Hands, gives hope to many aspiring directors. Firstly, it shows you what can be achieved with determination, even if you may not have a Hollywood budget. The actors that feature in Calloused Hands, are a testament to the pull of such a wonderful script and such a compelling story. Secondly, it confirms the old adage: write about what you know.

Jesse’s story, loosely based on his own and his brother’s upbringing, focuses on Josh, a young man growing up with his single mother. When she brings an abusive, dogmatic man into their home, Josh has to grow up far more quickly than any young boy should. The film’s score is poignant and emotional and there are incredible performances from Andre Royo (The Wire) and England’s own Daisy Haggard.

*Jesse although born in Miami has been residing in Britain since 2000 – so technically we’re stealing him.

Andrew Haigh (Writer/Director)

At the time of writing, Haigh’s second feature 45 Years is receiving glowing reviews from critics. Haigh started his career in film by working as an assistant editor before creating short films of his own. His first feature, Weekend, was extremely well-received and centered around two strangers who begin a sexual relationship a week before one of them is leaving the country. His second feature is about a married couple, due to celebrate their wedding anniversary, when the husband receives news that the perfectly-preserved body of his ex girlfriend has been found 50 years after she was presumed missing. For his first two feature films to have been received so well is promising and it’s consistent work like this that sees up-and-coming directors becoming more acclaimed. Definitely one to watch.

Richard Ayoade (Writer/Director)


An interesting addition to the list but, given his first two features, we had to include him. Ayoade is a household name as an actor but as a director he’s relatively unknown. We’ve had conversations with fellow filmmakers who had heard of Ayoade’s debut feature, Submarine, but had no idea he’d already directed his second, The Double.

What’s interesting about Ayoade is that he rarely gives interviews and, when he does, he is consistently in character… the character of Richard Ayoade. But watching his first two films, and especially the first, gives us an insight into the mind of an accomplished and ambitious director, one who is looking to push the boundaries of storytelling and stamp his unique style onto his work. The most interesting thing will be to see how far he can take this style. Wes Anderson has created his own universe by being consistently unique and it’d be interesting to see whether Ayoade will follow suit. Established as an actor? Absolutely. Up-and-coming as a director? Without doubt. He’s demonstrated a great deal of skill with his first two features but still has some way to go to be considered proven.

Sally El Hosaini (Writer/Director)

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If you haven’t heard of Sally El Hosaini, it won’t necessarily mean you haven’t seen her first feature film. My Brother The Devil is a film about two brothers in London having to negotiate their upbringing around gang mentality. They’re Arab boys too and this throws up a wonderful cultural and moral quandary. Coming of age is easy enough to portray when it’s easy enough to live but these young men are the sons of Egyptian immigrants, lending their plight a fascinating extra layer of conflict.

El Hosaini’s debut catapulted her into the public sphere though, just like the other directors listed above, she’s been working in and around film for many years prior. It’s her cultural upbringing which is interesting here. Her take on growing up in London, seeing young Arab boys facing identity crises, was the inspiration for this deeply emotional and powerful debut.

With such a winning first feature the sky’s the limit and it will be extremely interesting to see what El Hosaini has planned for her next venture.

Morgan Matthews (Director)

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We saw a trailer for the film, long before we knew anything about the director. Then we saw the poster, which reminded us that we had wanted to see the film. That film was X+Y.

It’s only once we’d seen it, and loved it, that we began our usual routine; IMDB trivia, followed by finding more work from the director. What we found was that Matthews had mainly worked in documentary, which makes sense when you learn that this film is based on an earlier documentary he had directed.

X+Y is about a teen maths genius Nathan, played by Asa Butterfield, whose social awkwardness is exacerbated by the death of his father. The cast is as British as they come (Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan) but it’s the sensitivity of the direction that is striking, with a standout performance from the young lead.

More often than not, young writer/directors feel frustrated at not being able to make a feature right away, or become worried that they’ll never have the right amount of funding.

Whilst funding is a subject we’ll look at farther down the line, short films, documentaries and even corporate films, are a great way to get to know what you want out of a story. Nothing can substitute experience. Making a short film with friends, or a documentary about someone you know, is the kind of invaluable experience needed that leads to a better understanding of story and structure. The directors in the list above all worked their way up the industry ladder. And it’s a ladder well worth climbing.

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