Paul Elliott, Course Leader for Screenwriting talks us through seven great films and TV shows that display the incredible potential of screenwriting as a medium:

TV Show: Dekalog (Poland, 1989)     

A child is looking intently at something he has a green light shining on him.

In 1989 Polish film director Kryzstof Kieslowski completed a long-awaited project: the filming of ten short films that were loosely based around the ten commandments. Each hour-long film is a beautifully filmed philosophical meander through ethics and morality, as everyday lives are revealed to be burdened with meaning and importance.

Admired by none other than Stanley Kubrick, Dekalog is about as far as you can get from light entertainment. Dark, brooding , and saturated with the director’s own colour palate (a mixture of greens and greys) this TV series is certainly one to sit through and contemplate. Be careful though - be sure to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race in between episodes to lighten your mood.  

Things People Have Said About It: 

“The 10 films are not philosophical abstractions but personal stories that involve us immediately; I hardly stirred during some of them.” - Roger Ebert  “Kieslowski has the very rare ability to dramatize ideas rather than just talking about them.” – Stanley Kubrick 

Things to Do:  Try to work out which episode is dealing with which commandment. 

TV Show: The Kingdom (Denmark, 1994) 

A strange looking man is standing in front of a beige curtain he is staring at the camera.

Imagine Holby City being directed by David Lynch. This is very much the feeling of Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom, or Riget in its original Danish. Set in a general hospital, The Kingdom is part fantasy, part horror, part psychological thriller. Von Trier is better known for being the enfant terrible of contemporary cinema. His films, like Antichrist, The Idiots and Melancholia have shocked cinema goers and critics alike, so it was perhaps remarkable that he chose to work in TV. The Kingdom stretches the boundaries of television in its themes and its look, it also paved the way for numerous Scandinavian noirs such as The Bridge and The Killing. It is weird, it is strange but it is also brilliant. It is a ghost story but also a thriller and it crackles with Von Trier’s masterful way with tension.   

Things People Have Said About It: 

“Twin Peaks meets ER in this grotesque hospital drama” – Grady Hendrix 

Things to Do: Watch a film by Lars Von Trier – how does it compare? Why might a director and screenwriter like Von Trier turn to TV instead of the cinema?   

Film: The Breakfast Club (USA, 1985) 

five different types of people are standing together. They range from sporty to alternative.

Spawning a host of copycat films, John Hughes’ film The Breakfast Club is the archetypal youth movie. Kickstarting the careers of actors such as Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez this is study in character and emotion. This film speaks to anyone who has felt like an outsider, anyone who has been in detention and anyone who has played air guitar along to Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me. 

The three most important things in this film are character, character, and character. Based on a simple premise it is a great example of the screenwriter’s art. The 1980s will perhaps be seen as the decade of special effects; the decade of E.T., Return of the Jedi, and Tron. However, The Breakfast Club proved it was also a decade where Hollywood concerned itself with heart and with character.  Who can forget those opening lines; “Dear Mr Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong.”  

Things People Have Said About It: 

“Calling it radical would be a stretch, yet in 1985 The Breakfast Club dressed differently from all the other teen comedies flying down the chutes.” – Simon Crook 

Things to Do: The Breakfast Club personality test: Work out which of the five main characters you are.  

Film: Old Joy (USA, 2006) 

Two men are walking along the road talking. Both are holding suitcases or luggage type baggage.

Old Joy is a little like sitting in a warm bath:  relaxing, slow, and peaceful. The story of two friends on a camping trip it was the first major film by Kelly Reichardt who went on to direct the critically acclaimed Night Moves and Certain Women.  

Old Joy is a study in friendship and narrative pacing.  It is study in subtle screenwriting and was regarded as being a fine example of slow cinema. The opposite of most Hollywood films, Old Joy gives you time to think, to contemplate and to fully understand the characters. There are no pyrotechnics, no special effects, just great dialogue and emotional understanding.  

Things People Have Said About It: 

“Like a great jazz musician, Reichart understands that striking a single, well-placed note can resonate more profoundly than playing a splashy cascade of noise just because you can. "Old Joy" resounds with sustained images and sounds that are given the time and space to reverberate -- fitting for a movie that begins with the chirp of a bird perched on a gutter and the chime of a meditation gong.” - Roger Ebert  

Things to Do: Write a two page scene between two old friends where nothing happens. Just let their conversation drift. How easy is this?  

TV Show: The Prisoner (England, 1967 – 1968)

A man staring at the camera in strange castle-like surroundings

The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan was a staple of 1960s cool. The story of a man who wakes up in a strange eerie world where everyone is called by a number, it is often imitated but seldom matched. The series was first broadcast in 1967 and was instantly famed for its surreal plot lines and social critique. In the years since its production, it has grown into one of the most famous cult TV shows ever seen. 

The weirdness was increased every week by changes in the cast. The enigmatic Number 2, the chief agitator in the life of Number 6 (McGoohan), was played by a different actor in every episode, a decision that created tension for both the character and the audience.  The Prisoner spawned a series of cult images and sayings. Who has not shouted out “I am not a number, I am a free man” on occasion?  Filmed in the Welsh village of Portemeirion, the location was every bit as important as the script.

Things to do: The Prisoner sweepstake – bet on how many times someone says “Be seeing you” in an episode.    

TV Show: Attack on Titan (Japan, 2013) 

A film still from Attack on Titan of a skinless man shouting at a smaller man

The plot is simple: in order to protect themselves from a gang of humungous giants who have a taste for flesh, humans have taken to building huge walls to keep them safe. One day even bigger giants explode onto the scene, the Titans, and threaten the human race forever. In order to tackle this new threat the humans organise themselves into fighting armies made up of the best fighters among them. The job is dangerous but they are determined to make it.  

Based on the manga of the same name Attack on Titan has become one of the best-known anime TV series in the world and it is brilliant and terrifying in equal measure. The humans battle against almost unimaginable odds and suffer heartbreaking loses to keep the race alive. In parts this series is surreal and scary, but it is always surprising. Be warned though: it is addictive and you may end up spending weeks and weeks on the many series it spawned.   

Things to do:  Read the manga comic upon which the series was based. 

Film: The Conversation (USA, 1974) 

A man in glasses is talking to a younger woman

Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film stars Gene Hackman and tells the tale of a surveillance expert who accidentally overhears what he thinks is a murder plot. What follows is a film that is a study in paranoia and obsession. It is pure 1970s New Hollywood.   

This film was nominated for three Oscars and the central performance by Hackman made him an instant star. The real focus of this film however is sound: how it affects an audience, how it can shape a narrative and how it can be used to create tension.  

If ever you want to learn how to write dialogue in an interesting and innovative way watch The Conversation.  

Things People Have Said About It: 

“So what is wonderful about this film? Everything. Its sparseness as a thriller means it’s absolutely unpatronising, despite such heightened intelligence. Humane, too; a strange combination, but a neat one.“ - Catherine Shroud 

Things to Do:  Write a one page synopsis about a character who overhears a conversation. Where might it take you? 

We hope you can use some of these amazing pieces of screenwriting to inspire and revitalise your own writing skills. Dr Paul Elliot has a passion for British film, television and the avant-garde and teaches across a variety of modules at the university. If you have any questions about Screenwriting at Worcester you can contact Paul via email on

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