5 essential British spy films

From Crook’s Tour to Pascali’s Island, weave your way through the world of espionage with these classic spy films – all available for US audiences on BFI Player Classics.

20 April 2021

Crook’s Tour (1940)

Crook's Tour (1940)

After scene-stealing performances in The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940), Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) take centre stage in this charming spy comedy. When the duo are mistaken for German agents, they receive a gramophone record which contains vital information for Britain’s enemies. This warm wartime comedy was adapted from a BBC radio serial of the same name.

The Goose Steps Out (1942)

The Goose Steps Out (1942)

Legendary comic Will Hay plays the inept schoolmaster who’s parachuted into Nazi Germany when British intelligence discover that he’s the spitting image of an enemy master spy. Hay’s third film for Ealing Studios is stuffed with memorable sequences, including the notoriously hilarious classroom scene (featuring a youthful Peter Ustinov) where he teaches German students to salute a portrait of Adolf Hitler with a distinctly Churchillian ‘V’ sign. 

Timeslip (1955)

Timeslip (1955)

The tension never slackens in this fast-paced tale of atomic-era espionage, starring American actors Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue as crusading reporters investigating a sinister scientific plot. Atmospherically shot on the shadowy, rain-spattered streets of 1950s London, this taut, ingenious thriller grippingly fuses elements of sci-fi and film noir-style mystery.

I Was Monty’s Double (1958)

I Was Monty's Double (1958)

When he is spotted onstage doing an all too convincing impersonation of General Bernard Montgomery, M.E. Clifton James (who plays both himself and General Montgomery) is recruited to act as a decoy for General Montgomery in order to confuse German forces, in this classic British war film.

Pascali’s Island (1988)

Pascali's Island (1988)

In 1908 on the Greek Island of Simi, Pascali, a spy for the Sultan of the Ottoman empire, watches as an Englishman (Charles Dance) arrives on the island. The newcomer claims to be an archaeologist, however, Pascali is sure there’s more to the Englishman than meets the eye. And when the settler sets his eyes on Lydia Neuman (Helen Mirren), a woman Pascali has loved for many years, the tension between the two men boils under the melting Mediterranean sun.


Discover classic British movies

Hand-picked by the BFI exclusively for audiences in the USA.

Try 7 days free