Preaching To The Perverted was a highly-controversial British film that made headlines for its extreme sexual content and bold storyline. Banned in Ireland and taken away from several British TV slots, the film is now regarded as one of cult status for its unconventional elements and usage of sexuality as an artistic medium rather than just a cheap gimmick.
Several other films have graced British cinema with seemingly ‘outrageous’ and ‘devious’ content. But, as it turned out, many such cinematic offerings are complicated character studies with stark commentary on socio-political elements.
10 Preaching To The Perverted (1997)
An IT whiz works for a Conservative MP, with one of his tasks being the infiltration of a BDSM club. Over the course of his journey, the protagonist ends up falling for the club’s head dominatrix.
Guinevere Turner steals the show by playing the dominatrix Tanya Cheex, while critics mostly praised the balance of tones in the film. Preaching To The Perverted boasts of observational humor and satire along with an empathetic portrayal of sex clubs. Consensual fetish culture is normalized as her lover understands more and more about the so-called ‘taboos’ that he encounters. The dazzling visuals and costumes are another reason to watch this modern classic.
9 Shame (2011)
Before 12 Years A Slave, writer-director Steve McQueen crafted this intimate portrayal of human addiction with frequent collaborator Michael Fassbender. The British actor stars as Brandon, a highly successful businessman who suffers from an addiction to sex and pornography.
What starts off as an apparently normal addiction turns into a toxic trait that governs all aspects of his life. When his sister, played by Carey Mulligan in top form, stays at his apartment for a few days, he is forced to confront his addiction to extreme levels. Amidst films that tackle the topic of sexual gratification, Shame touches upon some disturbing realities in the most authentic way possible.
8 Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick’s last film was an erotic thriller that was released as a British-American production. It stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, who were then real-life romantic partners, as a troubled couple. When the wife reveals her thoughts of having an affair with the husband, the husband’s fragile ego is shattered, and he embarks on a sexual escapade only to find himself in the midst of a secret society’s masked orgy.
Eyes White Shut is a surreal erotic psychological thriller that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of Kubrick can still give it a watch to understand the visionary director’s ambition to challenge his own versatility.
7 Performance (1970)
Just like the film mentioned above, Performance is another surreal slow-burn of a film that demands the viewer’s patience. It is an exercise in experimental filmmaking and attempts to weave out a philosophical tale out of a simple premise. A hoodlum escapes the police and his boss and stays incognito at a former rock star’s house. Their bizarre interactions, and the Bohemian musician’s music and sex rituals make for strangely entertaining fun.
While the film is another feather in director Nicholas Roeg’s cap, the most popular aspect of the film has to be singer Mick Jagger’s supporting act as the drugged rock star, a role that he slips in effortlessly.
6 The Hunger (1983)
If Mick Jagger as an eccentric rock star wasn’t enough, one should check out The Hunger. This stylish horror stars David Bowie as an aging vampire, a role that perfectly suits Bowie’s larger-than-life persona. The acting chops are also delivered by his romantic partner Catherine Deneuve. The two are featured as a vampire couple who develop a friendship and a symbiotic relationship with a doctor who specializes in sleep and aging research (Susan Sarandon).
Matters get complicated when a love triangle develops between the two. Sex, blood, and stunning makeup and visual effects, the film delivers, particularly in these aspects. Initially, the film received mixed reviews, but, almost forty years on, it has acquired cult fame as one of the most sensual horror thrillers.
5 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
This musical comedy horror is easily one of those British productions that have impacted modern-day pop culture in various ways. Serving as both a parody and tribute to low-budget B-movies and sci-fi films, the plot is centered around a couple who visit a castle owned by Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry in one of his career-best roles). The mad scientist is an eccentric professor behind several strange experiments.
Even though Curry’s casting as the transvestite professor isn’t the best representation in modern-day standards, The Rocky Picture Horror Show did bring a liberal and cultural revolution of its own. The film drew great popularity among several members of LGBTQ communities, citing it as a symbol of sexual liberation and androgyny.
4 Women In Love (1969)
Based on DH Lawrence’s novel of the same name, Women of Love benefits strongly from the performance of its leads and its unflinchingly natural and raw portrayal of the trials and tribulations of human sexuality. As two male friends get ready to marry two women, they undergo a journey of sexual exploration of their own, questioning their sexual orientation. Battling their feelings and toxic masculinity, an iconic ‘naked wrestling’ scene from the film embodies the boldness of Ken Russell’s direction.
As the couples traverse the English landscape, their troubles increase leading to some heavily-charged melodrama.
3 9 Songs (2003)
9 Songs is named so for nine rock songs split the film into thematic chapters. There’s not much of a narrative, as the film follows two lovers as they travel to concerts and natural settings, while occasionally making love. 9 Songs is arguably one of the most graphic films ever made, featuring scenes of prolonged sexual intercourse.
On the surface, it might look like a pornographic film, but there’s a poetic romance in the intimate scenes that feel more natural than choreographed. The lively soundtrack functions as the cherry on the top.
2 Black Narcissus (1947)
Black Narcissus revolves around a group of nuns who set up a mission in a Himalayan settlement. Their neighbors include a charming Indian general and a British government worker. These two men make some of the Sisters question their own faith and desires as the seeds of lust and ecstasy get planted in their heads.
Internal dilemmas and the conflict between divinity and sexual awakenings make this somewhat dated film an amusing watch. It’s also interesting to note that the film was released right around India’s independence, with some critics drawing parallels between the loss of spiritual values and Britain’s exit from India.
1 The Duke Of Burgundy (2014)
The sensual games of dominance between two women who study moths are explored in The Duke Of Burgundy, another great British erotic drama that proves the genre can boast of genuine high-art rather than cheap thrills. Other than the sexually-charged themes, the film also delves into how turbulent a relationship can get if one’s desires go unfulfilled.
Like many other films on this list, the musical score of The Duke Of Burgundy also succeeds at capturing the varying themes of the blooming romance between its two leads. The album was composed entirely by the alternative pop duo Cat’s Eyes.
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