Where are all the British Screenwriters, I ask ye?
You would think that compiling a list of the top 10 British Screenwriters would be an easy job when there are barely 20 to start with. However, in my research I found so many non-screenwriters who dabble in screenwriting that it was surprisingly difficult to sieve out the gold.
During my struggle, I scoured through the BFI Top 100, only to find that many of the screenplays had either been one-offs by playwrights and novelists or were written by Americans. This is especially the case for the iconic British films from 50 years ago. As a result, identifying what a “British Screenwriter” actually is proved rather difficult. If a novelist only writes one screenplay in his lifetime, should he or she then be classified as a screenwriter?
Today I have found that, depending on the genre you’re looking into, you’ll find a lot of recurring names: Richard Curtis does Rom-Coms, Danny Boyle has Simon Beaufoy, Alex Garland and John Hodge, and if it’s British social realism, you think Mike Leigh. It’s no longer just the realist and escapist films from the World War II era. There are specific genres, and with that comes specific screenwriters. It is a lot easier today for a British director to say, “I want to make a film about X, and since person Y writes screenplays in the X genre, I’ll call him.” As a result, this Top 10 British Screenwriters list is mostly comprised of contemporary writers. But, of course, by no means does that mean I’m generationally biased. (Well, maybe just a little).
I am completely aware that I have omitted some brilliant British films, written by fantastic screenwriters. Trainspotting (1996), written by Andrew Macdonald from John Hodge’s novel, in particular, was a bit torturous to leave out, and I know many of you will be poised to pounce upon this exclusion, so here is my reasoning: Trainspotting is an average adapted screenplay turned to movie magic through Boyle’s exceptional direction. Simply put, I didn’t have enough evidence to support prowess within the screenplay, and thus the screenwriter, as a thing of its own. And there it stands… So let the debate begin.