"Oh God," says Ben Wheatley, "I've left out John Boorman. That's not good." The director of Kill List, High-Rise and the forthcoming Free Fire has, to his consternation, neglected to discuss the director of Zardoz, Excalibur and Point Blank during a long, wide-ranging conversation about the British films he values the most.
If you watch as many films as Wheatley does, and are as busy making them (six features, with Free Fire, and an anthology segment, since 2009's Down Terrace), then you may forgive the oversight. He's tougher on himself. "I've been working this through in my head in the last couple of years, but it is definitely Boorman, Ken Russell and Nic Roeg who seem to be the pillars of my favourite types of British cinema. They don't get talked about as much as the world of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and the kind of socio-realist, sensible film-making which gets pushed, mainly by the French. That's what our national cinema seems to be defined as, and it's not true. There's a massively wild British cinema, as wild or wilder than any other national cinema, and it's not all tales of council estates and tower blocks reflected in puddles."
Wheatley shines new light on cast-iron British classics — Get Carter, The Third Man — as well as choosing lesser-known wilder movies for his list. Born in 1972, he grew up in a time that was, he says, "the tail end of the period that if you missed something at the cinema or you were too young, it felt like you weren't ever going to see it. I didn't see The Empire Strikes Back because my parents wouldn't take me to see it, so I had to read the fucking novelisation and I didn't see it until the Christmas of '90, when it came out TV. Outrageous!"
When Wheatley talks about his own movies, or making them, he always says "we" not "I", referring to the core cinematic collaborators with whom he's made all his features: the producer Andy Starke, director of photography Laurie Rose and writer and editor Amy Jump, aka Mrs Wheatley. This list of films, however, is a moveable feast. "My favourite films change all the time," Wheatley says. " I thought everyone's do."