Everyone loves a good whodunnit. We love to sit in a movie theater or our living rooms trying to play detective and figure out which suspect is really the murderer. Certainly, Britain has given us many great mysteries and detectives over the years from Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple. Many of their literary adventures have been adapted to the screen along with several original works. We’ve identified ten of what we believe are the best British mystery films around. If you think we left out any, let us know in the comments.
From the man who created Downton Abbey, Gosford Park is an earlier period piece featuring a mystery to solve the murder of Sir William McCordle during a weekend party. As with any murder mystery film with tons of suspects, it has a huge all-star cast featuring Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillipe, Clive Owen, Richard E. Grant, and Kelly Macdonald, among others. It also focuses as much on the wealthy party guests as it does the help, which would later serve as the central theme for Downton.
The Hound of the Baskerville – 1939
Plenty of adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal Sherlock Holmes novel have graced the silver screen. Some, such as Hammer’s 1959, played up the horror aspects of the story, but 1939’s film adaptation is arguably the best of them all. Featuring seminal Sherlock Holmes actor Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as John Watson, it’s thought of as one of the most faithful adaptations and is the first one to set the story in the Victorian period.
Sleuth – 1972
Featuring two of Britain’s greatest actors in Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, Sleuth is a story where art becomes life as mystery writer Andrew Wyke (Olivier) invites Milo Tindle (Caine) to a game of wits that turns deadly. Class themes are prevalent throughout the film that was based on the play by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote the screenplay. Both Olivier and Caine were nominated for Best Actor for the film at the Academy Awards that year, though they both lost out to Marlon Brand as Vito Corleone.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
While mostly an espionage and thriller movie, there is certainly a mystery element to the 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s novel. The mystery facing spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is trying to figure out which member of the MI-6 is a secret Soviet mole. As befitting a spy and mystery film, the plot takes several twists and turns, and the mole attempts to hide the evidence of his identity. Solving the question of the mole’s identity shakes Smiley to his core, and no one could have succeeded in bringing the role to life after Alec Guinness than Oldman.
Death on the Nile – 1978
The first of several Agatha Christie novels appearing on this list, Death on the Nile is another Christie story featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and an all-star cast of murder suspects. Played by Peter Ustinov, Poirot must solve the murder of a wealthy heiress involved in a love triangle with suspects that include Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, Bette Davis, and Angela Lansbury.
And Then There Were None – 1974
Also known as Ten Little Indians and based upon the book of the same name, the story is one of Christie’s most-adapted stories, and this 1974 version is the most well-regarded. Also featuring an all-star cast that included Richard Attenborough, Gert Frobe, and Orson Welles. The characters arrive at a hotel in Iran and mysteriously begin dying one-by-one. With each guest having some dark criminal secret in their past, will they discover the mysterious vigilante who stalks them all before it’s too late?
Murder on the Orient Express – 1974
Nothing against the more recent version of this classic Christie story, 1974’s adaptation of the classic whodunnit is often thought of as one of the best. This version starred Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot with a similarly star-studded cast featuring Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Becall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, and more. While Christie was never too keen about any adaptations of her novels, this one did a good enough job for her to say that she actually liked it.
Another mystery wherein Michael Caine plays a role; this features a rivalry between two magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale who are trying to outdo one another. The mystery comes from Jackman’s magician attempting to figure out how Bale’s magician performs a trick. Trying to get that answer ends up leading Jackman to a very dark place, one that produces a horrifying mystery of its own.
Murder, She Said
The last Christie adaptation on this list, Murder, She Said is notable for being the first Miss Marple story to be brought to cinemas. It starred Margaret Rutherford as Marple, who would go on to make another three films as the character. When Marple witnesses a murder on the train, she begins her own investigation after being dissatisfied with the police’s inquiry. Rutherford’s performance was quite notable in the role, as she plays Marple more eccentrically than the prim and proper woman Christie envisioned.
Featuring Ian McKellen in the title role, Mr. Holmes follows an elderly and retired Holmes in Sussex. Even though he’s no longer active as a detective, Holmes is still troubled by the last mystery of his career and attempts to write his own account even as his mind succumbs to age. The film also follows the relationship Holmes developers with his housekeeper and her son, providing one last mystery for him to solve.