Top 10 British Seaside Summer Movies

As the country sweltered through its longest heatwave in decades and temperature records tumbled, Cinema Paradiso gets into the holiday mood with a selection of the best films set at the British seaside. They're not all about sea, sun and sand, however, as our coastal resorts have also provided the setting for plenty of dark deeds.

The Earliest Excursions

From the earliest days of British cinema, the coast has loomed large. One of the first films ever projected in this country, RW Paul and Birt Acres's Rough Seas at Dover (1896), presented a view of waves breaking against the pier. Originally made for a Kinetoscope viewer, this landmark film can be seen in the BFI collection, RW Paul: The Complete Surviving Films 1895-1908

Acres returned to the shore for an early slapstick comedy, Landing at Low Tide (1896), in which a boatman carrying a woman falls over in the sea, while a combination of postcard views and risqué humour informed Tom Green's Seaside Views, Alf Collins's Her Morning Dip (both 1905) and AE Goleby's A Seaside Episode (1908). Girls in swimsuits also featured prominently in the opening frames of GA Smith's A Visit to the Seaside (1908), which was made in Brighton in Kinemacolor and is the earliest commercially produced film to use a natural colour process. But the most amusing seaside specials of the period were made for Cecil Hepworth by director Lewin Fitzhamon, who had collaborated on the landmark chase film, Rescued By Rover (1905), which is available on the BFI disc, Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers. In Seaside Girl (1907), May Clark is pursued around Bognor Regis by a couple of mashers and a kilted Scotsman, while in A Seaside Introduction (1911), Hay Plumb gets into trouble when he tries to help Alma Taylor after someone steals her shoes while she's paddling in Lulworth Cove.

The Golden Age of the English Seaside

The most remade British seaside saga is Hindle Wakes, which was first adapted from Stanley Houghton's hit play by Maurice Elvey in 1918. Ironically, the part of Fanny Hawthorne, the Lancashire mill girl who defies convention by refusing to marry the boss's son after a romantic dalliance during the annual 'wakes' holiday to Blackpool, was played by Colette O'Niel, who was the RADA-trained daughter of the 5th Earl Annesley. American Estelle Brody took the role in Elvey's 1927 silent remake. But the renamed Jenny Hawthorne in Victor Saville's 1931 sound version was played by Belle Chrystall, who brought an authentic Preston accent to a part that went to Paris-educated Reading native, Lisa Daniely in Arthur Crabtree's 1952 interpretation (see below). It's often claimed that this is the fourth and final screen adaptation, but Laurence Olivier co-directed a tele-version in 1976, with Rosalind Ayres as Fanny Hawthorn.

The Fylde coast proved popular with northern holidaymakers after paid leave became a statutory right in July 1938. But Gracie Fields had already discovered its pleasures in Basil Dean's Sing As We Go! (1934), after she had cycled to Blackpool in search of work after losing her job at Greybeck Mill. Starting out skivvying in a boarding house, she sells Krunchy Wunchy Toffee, poses as a spiritualist and fills in as a 'human spider' and a 'vanishing girl' in sideshows on the Golden Mile, while trying to broker a deal that will lead to the mill being reopened. 

Seeking to enter the TT Races on the Isle of Man, George Formby also had to entertain the visitors by busking on beach to pay for his lodgings in Monty Banks's No Limit (1935), which can be found in Volume One of The George Formby Collection. Work and pleasure similarly co-mingled in Carol Reed's Bank Holiday (1939), which follows nurse Margaret Lockwood, beauty queen Rene Ray and Cockney parents Wally Patch and Kathleen Harrison from London to Bexborough for a little romance and relaxation. With its scenes of revellers scoffing fish and ships, swimming in the sea, sleeping on the beach and sneaking into hotels for a dirty weekend, this non-judgemental drama provides a more authentic snapshot of the working and middle classes taking their leisure than any other picture of the period.  

The ensemble approach was also employed in Ken Annakin's Holiday Camp (1947), which forms part of the wonderful Huggetts Collection available from Cinema Paradiso. Founded by such entrepreneurs as Billy Butlin and Fred Pontin, holiday camps proved hugely popular in the postwar period and film-makers flocked to capture their distinctive atmosphere. While the Butlin's in Skegness and Clacton respectively hosted Alfred J. Goulding's Sam Small Leaves Town (1937) and James Hill's Every Day's a Holiday (1964), scenes in Bryan Izzard's Holiday on the Buses and Claude Watham's That'll Be the Day (both 1973) featured the Pontin's in Prestatyn and on the Isle of Wight. Among the other fictional camps to hit the screen around this time were the Greenside Caravan Centre in Christopher Hodson's The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1973), Bernie's Holiday Camp in Ken Russell's Tommy (1975) and Camp Funfrall in Norman Cohen's Confessions From a Holiday Camp (1976).

One of the most poignant seaside scenes in British screen history sees Patricia Roc and Gordon Jackson return to their favourite resort in Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's Millions Like Us (1943). It's clear from the opening montage filled with charabancs, fairground rides and sunbathing bodies that Eastgate is thriving. When the newlyweds check in for their honeymoon, however, they notice the bomb damage to the buildings along the front, the barbed wire keeping people off the mined beach and the flashes of gunfire coming from across the Channel.  

But Brits were determined to have fun once peace returned and the British Transport Film Unit did its bit to promote seaside holidays in such enduringly delightful shorts as West Country Journey (1953). Lancashire Coast, Holiday (both 1957), The Coasts of Clyde (1959) and Down to Sussex (1965). However, Lindsay Anderson captured the public's changing attitude to the traditional seaside holiday in O Dreamland (1953), a docu-realist short filmed in Margate that's available from Cinema Paradiso on the three-disc BFI collection, Free Cinema (1952-63).

Brits Abroad

As the standard of living rose and prices on the continent fell, British holidaymakers began to head abroad. Consequently, the best seaside film of them all, Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953), includes a cheerily dotty Englishwoman played by Valentine Camax. France was also the destination for the tourists in Anatole de Grunwald's Innocents in Paris (1953) and Jeremy Summers's San Ferry Ann (1965), while Ingrid Bergman and George Saunders ventured to Naples in Roberto Rossellini's A Journey to Italy (1954).

Bringing the holiday movie to a younger audience, pop star Cliff Richard crossed the continent at the wheel of a red Routemaster bus in Peter Yates's Summer Holiday (1963) and set a trend that has continued in the form of Ed Bye's Kevin and Perry Go Large (2000), Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2001), Ben Palmer's The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) and Damon Beesley and Iain Morris's The Inbetweeners 2 (2014). But, from the introduction of package holidays, film-makers have tended to focus on the funny side of foreign travel in the likes of Gerald Thomas's Carry On Abroad (1972), Bob Kellett's Are You Being Served? (1976), Lewis Gilbert's Shirley Valentine (1989) and Steve Bendelack's Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007). 

Holiday cruises also got the comedy treatment in Ralph Thomas's Doctor At Sea (1955), Maclean Rogers's Not Wanted on Voyage (1957), Jack Lee's The Captain's Table (1959) and Gerald Thomas's Carry On Cruising (1962). Indeed, the merry band led by producer Peter Rogers couldn't resist a summer break, as they demonstrated in Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), Carry On Girls (1973) and Carry On Behind (1975).

Blackpool & Brighton

Resorts along the UK coastline have appeared on screen and Cinema Paradiso is currently taking reservations for trips to Torquay (Henry Cass's Last Holiday, 1950), Hastings (Jeffrey Dell's The Dark Man, 1951); Hunstanton (Charles Frend's Barnacle Bill, 1957), Brixham (Michael Winner's The System, 1964); Lulworth Cove (Mike Leigh Nuts in May, 1976), Whitley Bay (Michael Tuchner's The Likely Lads, 1976), St Agnes (Carl Prechezer's Blue Juice, 1995), Bexhill-on-Sea (Andrew Kötting's Gallivant, 1996), Whitstable (Roger Michell's Venus, 2006); Eastbourne (Gurinder Chadha's Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 2008); and Gairloch (Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin's What We Did on Our Holiday, 2014). But the most filmed seaside destinations are Blackpool and Brighton. 

Standing 518ft, Blackpool Tower has swayed in the Irish Sea breeze over films as different as Lupino Lane's spy romp, No Lady (1936); Bernard Vorhaus's mill comedy, Cotton Queen (1937); John E. Blakeley's Frank Randle farce, Holidays With Pay (1948); George King's noirish thriller, Forbidden (1949); Alfred Travers's circus saga, Double Alibi (1957); Paul Orerenland's gay boxing drama, Like It Is (1998); and Peter Chelsom's Pleasure Beach dramedy, Funny Bones (1995).

Notwithstanding the elegance of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton has often been depicted as a hotbed of crime. No place outside London has played itself more often on screen. But comedies like Henry Cornelius's Genevieve (1953), John Paddy Carstairs's One Good Turn (1955) and Silvio Narizzano's Loot (1970) have been few and far between. Instead, Brighton has been the scene of murderous crimes in Robert Hamer's Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), Val Guest's Jigsaw (1962), Michael Winner's Dirty Weekend (1993), Paul Andrew Williams's London to Brighton (2006), Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace (2009) and Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock (2010). No wonder author Keith Waterhouse once said that Brighton was like a place that was helping the police with their inquiries.

Shadows were also cast over the promenade in Walter Forde's Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939), Joseph Losey's The Damned, Sidney J. Furie's The Leather Boys (both 1963), Michael Winterbottom's I Want You (1998), Adrian Edmondson's Guest House Paradiso (1999) and Penny Woolcock's Exodus (2007). However, Woolcock also produced one of the most joyous celebrations of our seaside heritage in the compilation documentary, From the Sea to the Land Beyond (2012).

  • The Huggetts Collection (1949)

    5h 46min

    Echoing Carol Reed's Bank Holiday (1939) in its use of multiple storylines, Ken Annakin's feature debut Holiday Camp reveals his documentary background, as it explores some of the problems facing the postwar population. In many ways, this juxtaposition of individual issues and collectivist spirit could be seen as a 'woman's picture', as key characters include a spinster still mourning her lost beau from the Great War (Flora Robson), the war-widowed single mother (Hazel Court), the mithered matriarch (Kathleen Harrison), a pair of husband seekers (Yvonne Owen and Esma Cannon) and a pregnant outcast (Jeannette Tregarthen). Yet, despite the presence of card sharps and a serial killer, the guests at Farleigh camp (actually Butlin's at Filey) are encouraged to have fun, with the various sing-songs, beauty contests and parades laid on to ensure they have a 'holiday with play'.

    Director:
    Ken Annakin
    Cast:
    Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, Jane Hylton
    Genre:
    Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Brighton Rock (1947)

    1h 29min

    Inspired by the activities of the Sabini racetrack gang, Graham Greene's 1937 novel chillingly captures the seamy side of the seaside and his screenplay for this classic Boulting brothers noir retains that sense of the sinister in the everyday. Reprising the role of teenage mobster Pinkie Brown that he had played on stage to Greene's disapproval, Richard Attenborough seethes with malevolent arrogance, as he dispatches an old foe on the ghost train and cynically dates the waitress (Carol Marsh) who could blow his alibi. However, Pinkie fails to recognise the threat posed by Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), a Pierrot performer-turned-amateur sleuth, who literally pursues him to the end of the pier. The ensemble playing is as exceptional as Harry Waxman's brooding photography, while the blade-wielding violence and emotional cruelty that shocked postwar audiences remain deeply unsettling seven decades on.

    Director:
    John Boulting
    Cast:
    Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell
    Genre:
    Drama, Thrillers, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Hindle Wakes (1952) Holiday Week

    1h 25min

    There are two holiday destinations for the price of one in Arthur Crabtree's 40th anniversary adaptation of Stanley Houghton's 1912 play. Hindle mill hand Jenny Hawthorn (Lisa Daniely) might set off for Blackpool with her best friend, Mary (Sandra Dorne), but she is quickly lured to Llandudno by boss's son Alan Jeffcote (Brian Worth). However, while she's sampling the delights of the Great Orme, Mary perishes in a boating accident and Jenny's parents (Leslie Dwyer and Joan Hickson) catch her in a lie that causes a scandal in their class-conscious town. Although Lisa Daniely's cut-glass accent means this is never as authentic as Victor Saville's 1931 version, social convention remained sufficiently rigid for a story about a working girl illicitly sleeping above her station to ruffle feathers. Moreover, Geoffrey Faithfull's seaside views are still splendidly atmospheric and irresistibly nostalgic.

    Director:
    Arthur Crabtree
    Cast:
    Leslie Dwyer, Lisa Daniely, Brian Worth
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Entertainer (1960)

    1h 39min

    Having introduced John Osborne's state-of-the-nation play at the Royal Court in April 1957, director Tony Richardson decided to film it in Morecambe, the Lancashire seaside town where his parents lived. The fading grandeur of the Alhambra and Winter Gardens theatres provided the perfect setting for Laurence Olivier to embody the postwar decline that Osborne dubbed 'the ashes of old glory'. Betraying his old trouper father (Roger Livesey), his alcoholic wife (Brenda De Banzie) and his dutiful daughter (Joan Plowright), the morally and financially bankrupted star of a seedy girlie show entitled Stars and Strips is prepared to do anything to finance his next project. But, while Olivier's admirers were taken aback by the lairiness of his performance, he frankly admitted, 'I have an affinity with Archie Rice. It's what I really am. I'm not like Hamlet.'

    Director:
    Tony Richardson
    Cast:
    Laurence Olivier, Richard Baker, Brenda De Banzie
    Genre:
    Drama, Music & Musicals, Collections
    Availability:
    Blu-ray, DVD
  • The Rebel / The Punch and Judy Man (1963)

    3h 10min

    Bognor Regis stood in for the resort of Piltdown in Tony Hancock's second and last starring attempt to translate his radio and television popularity into film fame. Writing with Philip Oakes, Hancock drew on his memories of growing up in Bournemouth's Durlston Court Hotel and his unhappy marriage to model Cicely Romanis for the story of a beach entertainer whose gift shop-owning wife (Sylvia Syms) arranges for him to perform for the socialite (Barbara Murray) who has been invited by the council to switch on the illuminations at the town's 60-year gala. Preferring the company of fellow outsiders like sand sculptor John Le Mesurier and photographer Mario Fabrizi, Hancock's reluctance to grow up and face up to his responsibilities is drolly captured in his contest with a small boy (Nicholas Webb) to consume ice-cream sundaes known as Piltdown Glories.

    Director:
    Robert Day
    Cast:
    John Le Mesurier, Liz Fraser, Sylvia Syms
    Genre:
    Comedy, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Carry on Girls (1973)

    Play trailer
    1h 24min

    Intriguing comparisons can be made between the 25th entry in Pinewood's long-running comedy series and Val Guest's social drama, The Beauty Jungle (1964), especially as Sidney James appears in both. He cameos as a judge at Butlin's in Minehead in Guest's seedy saga about typist Janette Scott venturing into the beauty contest business after reporter Ian Hendry spots her competing in a cheesy pageant while holidaying in Weston-Super-Mare. But in Gerald Thomas's bawdy romp, Sid's the brains behind the jamboree intended to bring more visitors to the backwater resort of Fircombe. The spirit of saucy postcard maestro Donald McGill proves alive and well as the innuendo-strewn scenario unfolds, while the clash between the scantily-clad contestants and the women's libbers led by rival councillor June Whitfield culminates in a go-kart chase that was filmed on the West Pier in Brighton.

    Director:
    Gerald Thomas
    Cast:
    June Whitfield, Sidney James, Barbara Windsor
    Genre:
    Comedy, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Wish You Were Here (1987)

    1h 28min

    Any notions that the 1952 remake of Hindle Wakes was outdated are confounded by David Leland's snapshot of parochial postwar provincial life, which is set on the Sussex coast in the year before Arthur Crabtree's film was released. Drawing on the youth of Cynthia Payne - the madam whose infamous exploits inspired Terry Jones's Leland-scripted Personal Services (1987) - Leland exposes the hypocrisy of a society that insists that men and women should be judged by different moral standards. He also pokes fun at British attitudes to sex and deference, as 16-year-old Lynda Mansell (remarkable first-timer Emily Lloyd) sets out to sample everything life has to offer in order to escape the tedium of her conservative seaside existence. The Esplanade in Bognor looks splendid as Lynda cycles along, as does Marine Parade in Worthing, where she works as a waitress.

    Director:
    David Leland
    Cast:
    Emily Lloyd, Tom Bell, Jesse Birdsall
    Genre:
    Drama, Comedy, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Bhaji on the Beach (1993)

    1h 36min

    The multi-story format employed in Holiday Camp is condensed into a day trip scenario in the landmark treatise on culture, racism, commitment, honour, duty, chauvinism, sacrifice and acclimatisation that enabled Gurinder Chadha to become the first British Asian woman to direct a UK feature. Meera Syal's screenplay even includes a plotline about an unplanned pregnancy and replaces the bathing beauties with some male strippers, as a busload of Brummie women travel to Blackpool without the menfolk who limit their horizons. But, while the social landscape might have changed beyond all recognition over the 56 years separating the two films, human nature has remained the same. Thus, there's a universality about the topics and taboos, as the women work towards solutions to the domestic abuse, sexual curiosity, spiritual malaise and feelings of unfulfillment that have variously been blighting their lives.

    Director:
    Gurinder Chadha
    Cast:
    Kim Vithana, Jimmi Harkishin, Sarita Khajuria
    Genre:
    Comedy, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Last Resort (2000)

    Play trailer
    1h 15min

    A seaside towerblock becomes tantamount to a gulag in Pavel Pawlikowski's damning indictment of British attitudes to asylum seekers. Detained at the airport after her fiancé jilts her, Muscovite illustrator Dina Korzun and her 10-year-old son, Artiom Strelnikov, are dispatched to the rundown resort of Stonehaven and informed that it will take 12-16 months for the Home Office to process their application. Short on options and strapped for cash, Korzun is forced to rely on bingo caller Paddy Considine and wheeler-dealer Steve Perry, who runs a cybersex site. With cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski picking out the drab greys and chilly blues to deglamorise the Margate settings, this unflinching insight into life beyond the margins is not without its moments of bleak humour and audacious authenticity, as Perry is a real-life entrepreneur who operates under the name Ben Dover.

    Director:
    Pawel Pawlikowski
    Cast:
    Dina Korzun, Artyom Strelnikov, Paddy Considine
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Archipelago (2010)

    1h 49min

    Straying off the mainland, Joanna Hogg transports the audience to Tresco in the Isles of Scilly for this follow-up to Unrelated (2007), her acclaimed debut study of Brits in Tuscany. Proving once again how uncharming and indiscreet the bourgeoisie can be, this unsettlingly intimate chamber drama follows Kate Fahy and children Tom Hiddleston and Lydia Leonard to a cosy cottage to enjoy some time together before Hiddleston leaves to do voluntary service in Africa. Despite the painting lessons, picnics and bicycle rides through the glorious coastal scenery, however, tensions start to rise as Leonard allows the pent-up frustrations of what she perceives to have been a second-fiddle childhood to spill over. With Ed Rutherford's static camera kept at arm's length and plenty going on off screen and between the lines of the semi-improvised dialogue, this is not for the squeamish.

    Director:
    Joanna Hogg
    Cast:
    Christopher James Baker, Kate Fahy, Tom Hiddleston
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD

Help & support

Find answers to frequently asked questions and contact us should you need to

How It Works

See prices and levels and find out how Cinema Paradiso service works

Friends for Films

Invite your friends to join and get free subscription each month