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  • Libby Briggs

Every George MacKay Film Ranked from Worst to Best

From curly-haired lost boy to singing Scotsman, George MacKay’s career has spanned almost twenty years. He first found his way onto our screens when he was only 11, in P. J. Hogan’s Peter Pan. 16 years later, he’s the leading man in the Oscar-nominated 1917.


Courteous and quintessentially English, with an old-fashioned look about him, it’s no surprise he’s been cast in war films more times than one can keep track of. However, from a young age, he’s proven himself to be one of the most talented, adaptable British actors of a generation.


So, without further ado, here’s a list of George MacKay’s films, ranked worst to best.


22. Where Hands Touch (2018)

Directed by Amma Asante


Photo: Shear Entertainment

Starring Amandla Stenberg as Lenya, a biracial girl under threat in Nazi-Germany, Where Hands Touch received a lot of controversy upon its release in 2018. The “love conquers all” storyline, in which Lenya falls for a member of the Nazi youth was also not well-received by critics, either. MacKay plays the Nazi in question, offering an emotional performance in an otherwise disputable film.



21. The Thief Lord (2006)

Directed by Richard Claus


Photo: Warner Bros.

Based on the book by Cornelia Funke, The Thief Lord follows brothers Bo and Prosper, who flee to Venice following the death of their mother. There, they meet and become friends with a gang of homeless children who get by without the help of adults. One of these kids includes the cheeky, odd-looking Ricco (MacKay), whose only goal is to get a new set of teeth. Although only 14, he takes on the comedic role with confidence.



20. Been So Long (2018)

Directed by Tinge Krishnan


Photo: Netflix

Tinge Krishnan’s musical, despite an impressive cast, also received a poor reception when it was released on Netflix in 2018. Set in Camden Town, it follows numerous storylines, the main being a single mother who falls in love on a night out. MacKay is brilliantly unhinged as the stranger’s stalker, Gil – with a few musical numbers of his own, too.



19. Hunky Dory (2012)

Directed by Marc Evans


Photo: Entertainment One

Another musical on the list Hunky Dory follows a Drama teacher who aims to put on an end of year performance at a Welsh school in 1976. A bright and colourful film, the young cast have energy that completely overshadows the adults. Though he doesn’t appear as much as the others, this includes MacKay, who battles between young love and lifetime friends.



18. Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson (2013)

Directed by Simon Sprackling


Photo: Screenbound

Rugby, business scams, and *checks notes* the supernatural? Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson is a strange, but entertaining comedy, set during the 2003 Rugby World Cup final between England and Australia. It’s full of bizarre characters, some with questionable morals, but Jake (MacKay) is no doubt the oddest. Cute, but incredibly shy, MacKay easily outshines even the loudest of people.



17. Bypass (2014)

Directed by Duane Hopkins


Photo: Third Films

The leading role in Duane Hopkins’ gritty drama, Bypass, proved to be an incredibly challenging one. When Tim loses his mother, he turns to theft to support his family, all the while suffering from epilepsy. MacKay lost a lot of weight for the role and his compelling, sensitive performance is one to remember.



16. Nuclear (2019)

Directed by Catherine Linstrum


Photo: BFI

Starring alongside the brilliant Emilia Jones, who plays Emma, MacKay stars as the nameless stranger she befriends in this mystery drama. After her brother violently attacks their mother, they flee him to find refuge near an abandoned nuclear power plant. MacKay, who’s character has a love for all things dangerous, has fun with a noticeably more exciting role.



15. Private Peaceful (2012)

Directed by Pat O’Connor


Photo: Fluidity Films

Based on the Michael Morpurgo book of the same name, MacKay plays the youngest Peaceful brother, Tommo in this family World War 1 drama. From childhood, Tommo and his older brother, Charlie (Jack O’Connell) are torn apart between their love for a mutual friend, Molly. Things only become more difficult when they’re both sent to war. It might be full of terrible Devon accents, but MacKay and O’Connell are brilliantly convincing as bickering brothers.



14. The Boys Are Back (2009)

Directed by Scott Hicks


Photo: Miramax

While he may have stuck to the side-lines with Peter Pan and The Thief Lord, The Boys Are Back was the perfect opportunity for George to establish himself as a rising star. At 16, he plays the role of Clive Owen’s onscreen son, Harry, who moves to Australia from England to be with his previously absent father. While the main story might focus on his father’s grief, after the passing of his wife, and the troubles he faces raising two boys, MacKay brings a complexity to his young character. He even earned himself a BIFA nomination for Most Promising Newcomer.



13. Defiance (2008)

Directed by Edward Zwick


Photo: Paramount Pictures

Defiance would be the first of many war films for this young actor. Part of a powerful cast, MacKay plays Aron and stars alongside Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell. The youngest of four Jewish brothers, he’s first found hiding from Nazis in Eastern Europe and joins them in building a village to protect themselves and others throughout the war. Though he has very little lines, his presence is well-known, being the glue that struggles in an attempt to hold his family together.



12. How I Live Now (2013)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald


Photo: Cowboy Films

Perhaps the film that really made people begin to look out for the name George MacKay, How I Live Now takes place during a dystopian war, when an American girl moves to stay with her family in England. It might be easy to be put off, given the two love interests are cousins, but still features a brilliant young cast (including Saoirse Ronan and Tom Holland).



11. A Guide To Second Date Sex (2019)

Directed by Rachel Hirons


Photo: Starfield Productions

We might be fortunate that MacKay doesn’t shy away from working with female directors, but a comedy is a much rarer feat. Rachel Hiron’s A Guide To Second Date Sex didn’t waste time throwing him into the deep end. He plays Ryan, a twenty-something-year-old who’s awkward and prone to embarrassment, but desperate to make a good second impression on Laura (Alexandra Roach). Although it’s not what we’re used to seeing, he proves, with ease, comedy is no challenge.



10. Ophelia (2018)

Directed by Claire McCarthy


Photo: Covert Media

The very thing that seemed to fail Ophelia was exactly what made this one of MacKay’s best performances. In the story of Hamlet, this time told through the eyes of his wife Ophelia (Daisy Ridley), he joins his old co-star, Clive Owen, as the young Prince of Norway. He completely steals the spotlight from the lead in a magnificent portrayal of a character so commonly known, which might leave the plot redundant, but still makes for a fascinating watch.



9. Peter Pan (2003)

Directed by P. J. Hogan


Photo: Universal Pictures

After being simply picked from a bunch of other boys his age, MacKay landed his very first role in Peter Pan when he was only 11 – and the rest is history. He plays the aptly named lost boy Curly in this retelling of J. M. Barrie’s classic. Though he doesn’t appear much, it’s a magical film, full of heart and wonder, that sparked a love for acting.



8. For Those in Peril (2013)

Directed by Paul Wright


Photo: Film4

Another particularly emotional, compelling performance is brought to us through the complex tale of For Those in Peril. Aaron (MacKay) is the only survivor of a fishing accident that took the loved ones of those in his small, Scottish community. He’s outcasted by the village but still convinced his friends (and brother) are alive. It’s incredibly raw, if a little bizarre at times, but MacKay, alongside Kate Dickie, tie it together beautifully.



7. Sunshine on Leith (2013)

Directed by Dexter Fletcher


Photo: British Film Institute

Another Scottish film, far different from the last, is one any fan of The Proclaimers will no doubt enjoy. MacKay plays Davy, the ex-military son of Rab and Jean (Jane Horrocks, Peter Mullan), the brother of Liz (Freya Mavor), and best friend of Ally (Kevin Guthrie); who tries to adjust to life back home after returning from Afghanistan. Sunshine on Leith is a fun and uplifting musical, sprinkled with Proclaimers songs performed by the cast themselves. Again, it’s much different from the usual dramas, but incredibly entertaining – and any excuse to see him sing and dance is a good excuse.



6. True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)

Directed by Justin Kurzel


Photo: Picturehouse

With an Australian father, the country has always been a part of MacKay’s life. However, taking on the role of the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly would prove to be a challenging task for any actor. Kurzel puts a daring, punk take on the novel of the same name by Peter Carey, and MacKay is taken far out of his comfort zone. Despite the difficulty, his captivating performance is the focus throughout the entire film. The style, no matter how bold, is overshadowed by his presence.



5. The Best of Men (2012)

Directed by Tim Whitby


Photo: BBC

The inspiring story behind the Paralympic games is wonderfully told in Tim Whitby’s The Best of Men. In 1943, Dr Guttmann (Eddie Marsan) is recruited from Nazi Germany to rehabilitate ex-military patients with spinal injuries. One such patient is Private William Heath (MacKay), who Guttmann focusses on helping not only physically, but mentally, too. There are more than a few touching moments to make you tear up, but MacKay finds the perfect balance between emotion and humour in this incredibly moving film.



4. Marrowbone (2017)

Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez


Photo: Lionsgate

Another talented bunch of young actors make up the cast of The Secret of Marrowbone, including MacKay, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, and Matthew Stagg as Jack, Billy, Jane, and Sam Marrowbone. The older brother of his siblings, it’s Jack’s responsibility to take care of them when their mother passes, which includes hiding them away. When he falls for Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), riffs appear in the family and secrets begin to spill. The cast bring a lot of vulnerability to the family, but MacKay and Taylor-Joy even more so. Their delicate scenes are intense but gently heart-breaking.



3. Pride (2014)

Directed by Matthew Warchus


Photo: BBC

Following the activists of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group in 1984, Pride is full of wonderfully loud, hilarious, and interesting characters. There are various sub-plots that tug at the heartstrings, but none quite like Joe Cooper’s story. MacKay plays Joe with an added awkward touch that makes him incredibly loveable and sensitive. Constantly torn between accepting his sexuality and hiding in fear of judgement, it’s a poignant story that so many can relate to.



2. Captain Fantastic (2016)

Directed by Matt Ross


Photo: Electric City

Like Little Miss Sunshine, there’s something so exciting about one whacky family and a road trip, and Captain Fantastic is much more than a family comedy. Free from the restraints of society, Ben (Viggo Mortensen) raises his large family in the forests of the Pacific North West. After the death of his wife, they travel across the country to put a stop to the traditional burial they know she would never have wanted, in favour of cremation. MacKay plays the eldest brother, Bodevan, who, despite being incredibly intelligent and physically skilled, is useless when it comes to fitting into society. However, he dreams of a life outside what his father has prepared him for. While it might be awkward at times, it’s wonderfully charming and profound.



1. 1917 (2019)

Directed by Sam Mendes


Photo: DreamWorks

This Best Picture nominee wowed audiences with its cinematography when it was released in 2019. Made to appear as one continuous take, it set a new bar for war films, despite the fairly simplistic plot. Privates Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay) are sent to deliver an urgent message to cease an attack. If they don’t succeed, 1,600 men will walk into a trap and, ultimately, be massacred.


1917 took home the Oscar for Best Cinematography and its score was highly praised by critics, but MacKay single-handedly adds the much-needed emotion with just so much as a silent sob. It was a perfectly suited role that he managed to make look easy, simultaneously revealing everything in just a glance.

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