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Top 10 British Music Biopics

VO: Richard Bush WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
It’s music to our eyes. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 British Music Biopics. For this list, we’re focusing on biopics (including those which are semi-fictionalized) and documentaries which tell the story of a British musician or band. We’re excluding films that are overly fictionalised – like “A Hard Day’s Night” – and ones which capture a specific music scene without reference to the bands themselves – like “Quadrophenia.” Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 British Music Biopics


It’s music to our eyes. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 British Music Biopics.

For this list, we’re focusing on biopics (including those which are semi-fictionalized) and documentaries which tell the story of a British musician or band. We’re excluding films that are overly fictionalised – like “A Hard Day’s Night” – and ones which capture a specific music scene without reference to the bands themselves – like “Quadrophenia.”

#10: “Oasis: Supersonic” (2016)


This film tackles the world of 1990s Britpop, or, more specifically its defining group: Oasis. Charting the wild success of these working-class lads from Manchester, “Supersonic” stops before their decline in the Noughties, when the ugly rivalry between Liam and Noel ended the band for good. Instead, we’re treated to a glimpse into their early years, their notoriously bad behaviour and down-to-Earth attitudes that made them beloved, including previously unseen backstage footage. Though, many fans were indeed likely hoping for a full explanation – or at least an examination – of the infamous Gallagher feud.

#9: “Velvet Goldmine” (1998)


While not explicitly about David Bowie, this is about as close as you can reasonably get to a biography of Bowie without actually being one. It follows the career of semi-fictional glam rock idol Brian Slade, “Velvet Goldmine’s” interpretation of Ziggy Stardust himself. Unfortunately it bombed hard at the box office when it came out in 1998. But times have changed, and a reassessment of the movie – a bona fide love letter to the music scene of the 1970s – proves it to be of at least some merit, especially in the wake of Bowie’s death.

#8: “Nowhere Boy” (2009)


The temptation to glamorise the youth of John Lennon might have been too much for some filmmakers, but Sam Taylor-Wood’s biopic of this cultural icon never strays far from the truth. Lennon's teenage years in Liverpool grow more and more troubled when he learns the woman who raised him is actually his aunt, and he goes off to seek his wayward mother, Julia. It’s her who introduces him to rock and roll and teaches him to play the banjo, eventually leading to the formation of the Quarrymen, his introduction to Paul McCartney, and changing the course of pop-history.

#7: “Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten” (2007)


A provocative, street level intellectual, Joe Strummer was an engaging and gripping figure in life. Arriving just five years after his untimely death at age 50, “The Future is Unwritten” practically brings the legend back to life, however, as he talks to us via archived footage of interviews and gigs. It follows his early days as a musician, squatting in London, through the formation and eventual disintegration of “the only band that mattered” – and one of punk’s biggest-ever powerhouses – The Clash.

#6: “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” (2010)


While Joe Strummer was busy rocking the casbah, another legend was giving us reasons to be cheerful. It's Andy Serkis who helps bring Ian Dury back from the dead, and without a trace of mo-cap as well. Written by Paul Viragh and directed by Mat Whitecross, the film examines Dury’s extraordinary rise from childhood polio victim to becoming a rock star and actor, responsible for some of punk rock’s catchiest and most poignant lyrics. It was Drury who made the phrase “sex and drugs and rock and roll” itself immortal in 1977, after all.

#5: “The Filth and the Fury” (2000)


While the Sex Pistols didn't exactly have the longest of careers, at least initially, they certainly made the most of it, and packed every moment with a touch of menace and utter divisiveness. Already the focus of controversial documentary “The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle,” in which manager Malcolm McLaren told a biased story of the band’s rise and demise, and the tragic biopic “Sid & Nancy”, “Filth and the Fury” aims to rectify past wrongs. Portraying a more accurate version of events, the band’s surviving members talk about their 2 brief years at the forefront of punk counterculture, and the chaos that came with it.

#4: “Topsy-Turvy” (1999)


Despite some evidence to the contrary, music didn't begin in 1962 when the Beatles released “Love Me Do”. This biopic presents the life and times of one of music's oldest creative partnerships, Gilbert and Sullivan. It stars Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as the titular duo, who face the challenges of making a successful 19th Century opera. The composer and playwright notoriously butted heads when it came to their masterpieces, and with these frequent disagreements, it’s a wonder they got anything done at all, let alone ultimately becoming one of the most famous partnerships in music history. All’s well that ends well.

#3: “Control” (2007)


There’s little doubt that the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980, when he was just 23 years old, is one of the biggest tragedies in music. “Control” is an award-winning biopic which tackles Joy Division’s early success and Curtis’s struggles with depression and epilepsy, resulting in him ending his own life. Played by Sam Riley in his first major film role, and filmed in black and white for artistic effect, “Control” is both a beautiful and completely heartbreaking depiction of the beginning and end of Joy Division, who created an almost unmatched legacy.

#2: “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018)


Before it was released, music fans wondered how well Rami Malek would capture Freddie Mercury’s distinctive accent, mannerisms, and entire personality – but when the much-awaited biopic-of-sorts finally came out, it was clear he gave the performance of a lifetime. While critics have been perhaps unreasonably harsh, when the surviving members of Queen say the film more than lives up to Mercury’s larger-than-life stage presence, they’re the ones we should all be listening to. Not to mention it’s made history by becoming the highest-grossing music biopic ever – which is the least Freddie deserves.

#1: “Amy” (2015)


It’s a tragedy (there’s that word again) that many of music’s brightest stars were extinguished much, much too early. Consistently wronged by the cut-throat and unforgiving music industry, Amy Winehouse’s death in 2011 shook not only the nation, but the entire world. Another inductee into the macabre 27 Club, Winehouse met her end after a long struggle with addiction enabled by a toxic industry. This documentary about her life, art, public image and death won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature among dozens of other accolades, and is capable of moving even the most sceptical fan of her music to tears.
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