Great British Films featured on new stamps by Royal Mail

May 15th, 2014

Royal Mail today launched its Great British Film Special Stamp issue to celebrate six key British movies produced since the Second World War. Accompanying the set is a four-stamp Miniature Sheet focusing on the work of the GPO Film Unit, which produced ground-breaking documentaries, animations and information films for the General Post Office in the 1930s and 1940s.

Royal Mail consulted film experts, public polls and the British Film Institute to arrive at key films from the 1940s to the 2000s.

Andrew Hammond, Royal Mail spokesperson, said; "This stamp issue takes in landmark films, epics and influential movies that evoke the distinctiveness and quality of British film and story-telling across key genres. We hope they are enjoyed by anyone who has a love of Great British filmmaking at its very best."

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) - part fantasy and part romance, A Matter of life and Death stars David Niven in one of his greatest roles. The film tells the story of an RAF pilot who should have died but is caught between two worlds – the real and the afterlife.

Created by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it was technologically very innovative, filmed in both black and white and colour, and was selected as the first Royal Command Film in 1946, attended by the King and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. It regularly appears in the top 20 lists of greatest British films of all time. The stamp shows Niven and Kim Hunter.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - starring the late Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia won seven Academy Awards (Oscars), four BAFTAs and five Golden Globes.

The film is regarded as director David Lean's masterpiece and features an impressively powerful performance by O'Toole, which made him an international star. The film has a global following and was selected as the best epic movie ever by the American Film Institute. Peter O'Toole agreed to appear on the stamp shortly before his death last year.

O'Toole's daughter, Kate, said: "Lawrence of Arabia has stood the test of time and still remains a firm favourite in the hearts of film lovers everywhere. The stamp is a wonderful tribute to my father – and, of course, the film."

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - categorised as science fiction, 2001: A Space Odyssey has multiple interpretations and has won generations of fans. It is frequently listed in polls of the top ten greatest movies of all time. American director Stanley Kubrick was a committed anglophile. He moved to the UK in the early 1960s and went on to make all of his films in the UK using British studios. The screenplay co-writer was British author Sir Arthur C Clarke.

Chariots of Fire (1981) – directed by Hugh Hudson, this is the multiple Oscar and BAFTA winning story of two athletes who competed in the 1924 Olympics. It is regarded as one of the greatest sports films of all time, and highly rated by critics and in the top 20 greatest British Films, as polled by film experts at the British Film Institute.

Nigel Havers, who played Lord Andrew Lindsay in the film said: "Making Chariots of Fire was fantastic fun. The training was quite tough but it was definitely worth it in the end. It was great to be part of such an iconic film and the essence of the film has been captured with the image used. I will make sure I use the stamp on every letter I send in future!"

Secrets & Lies (1996) – directed by Mike Leigh, Secrets & Lies won two BAFTAs and the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, where Brenda Blethyn also won the Best Actor award for her brilliant performance. The critically acclaimed drama is Leigh's most commercially successful film and its performances are regarded as among the best in any film in recent years. The stamp shows Blethyn and co-star Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) – directed by Gurinder Chadha, the film topped the UK box office on release. It made stars out of its lead actors Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra, and was an international smash hit, winning a host of awards including best film at the British Comedy Awards. The movie was the first western made film to be shown on North Korean TV, and a stage version is in production.

The contribution of Royal Mail/The Post Office to the development of British film is also marked by a Miniature Sheet of four additional stamps.

In the 1930s the GPO Film Unit produced what are internationally regarded as key works in the documentary and animation genres, and nurtured the talents of brilliant young film-makers.

The unit was established initially to explain postal and telephone services, and heighten the reputation of the Post Office, in an era when it was leading the world in technological innovation.

Its remit grew as it experimented with new ways of communicating with the public, and it created ground-breaking films by experimenting with sound, animation and images, as well as landmark documentaries using an impressive array of film makers. The films were screened throughout the country and had huge popular appeal.

The immortal Night Mail (1936) film is marked with a stamp for the first time, WH Auden's verse and Benjamin Britten's music immortalised the story of the nightly journey of the "postal special" from Euston to Glasgow. Directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright, Night Mail helped lay the tracks for innumerable day-in-the-life "story documentaries".

A Colour Box (1935), New Zealander Len Lye's delirious animated short was created by painting bright, abstract shapes directly onto celluloid. The paint was then combed and textured so that it appeared to "dance" along with the musical soundtrack. It is regarded as one of the most significant films in the history of animation.

Love on the Wing (1938) was the breakthrough film of the Scottish animator Norman McLaren. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, McLaren had begun by scratching images onto celluloid; by the time of Love on the Wing, his hand-drawn animation overlaid complex coloured backgrounds. The film's images, which include a man who sprouts wings, a giant floating eye, two pairs of lips, a flying bone, a skull, a horse and an axe, suggest the influence of the London International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936. McLaren spent the majority of his post-war career working at the National Film Board of Canada. 2014 marks the centenary of McLaren's birth.

Spare Time (1939) made for the New York World Fair of 1939, Spare Time directed by Humphrey Jennings offers up a picture of after-work Britain. It shows how people in Sheffield, Manchester and Pontypridd fit an incredible panoply of musical, sporting and leisure enthusiasms around the rhythms of the steel, cotton and coal industries. British director Lindsay Anderson described Jennings as "the only true poet of the English cinema".