Stream Holidays

Stream Holidays: Eight Great Films About Trips to Greece

From the infectious hedonism of Zorba the Greek to the liberating frolics of Shirley Valentine, here's our guide for the armchair traveller

In Stream Holidays, we recommend the best films to watch as alternatives to going abroad at this time of global quarantine – all available to stream or rent from the comfort of your own home.

Do you remember the smell of the sea? The sound of a creaky pair of shutters, only found on the chalky crumbling white villas of the Greek islands? There is something you can almost taste about Greece, as a utopia – the vision we see on holiday and in dreams, the vision we are graced with in movies; romantic dramas and spy thrillers alike.

From a nascent teenage crush to a testing getaway giving a marriage an ultimatum, the idyllic landscapes, flavours and moods of Greece give film stories a certain vivid sheen – something we so desperately yearn for while homebound. Here are eight of the finest films which relish Greece for all its visual and sonic beauty…

 

Zorba the Greek (1964)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

With something of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot transported a little further East, Michael Cacoyannis’ eccentric eponymous hero offers gleeful entertainment but also a rich education on Greek culture in his comedic wit. Here, the British tourist is very much a supporting character during his trip to Greece – Basil meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn) on the ferry and soon is transported into his way of living. What starts as a buddy comedy transforms into something more complex and political, as vignettes involving an entire village gain weight, and a whole rostra of Greeks communicate their various emotional anxieties and societal upsets. But still, in the final moments, seeing Zorba and Basil share a leg of roast lamb on the beach, dancing the sirtaki as the translucent waves crash behind them – simple, glorious wanderlust is inevitable.

 

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

It wouldn’t be a Bond film without some sort of Mediterranean escape. For Your Eyes Only might not be the most striking 007 film for its emotional depth, but the zigzagging action from Greece to Italy to Spain to London and back offers plenty of rich material – for everyone’s eyes. We begin on a boat in the middle of the sea, and the country earns significance as the first place one of Bond’s key contacts is killed. From there, things move from Cortina back to Corfu, the Greek cliffs offering dramatic danger as much as poetic beauty. While this vision of Greece is less concerned with specific cultural behaviour, there is a familiar golden hue, over its land, over the sea, that somehow makes the country into its own new beast now – a product belonging to Bond himself.

 

Shirley Valentine (1989)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Much of Shirley Valentine is about making the decision to go to Greece, as much as the final result. Released in 1989, the film caused some kind of buzz at the time for showing a woman speaking so openly about her frustrations, hoping for emancipation. Mancunian Shirley goes from talking to the walls (literally, breaking the fourth one by talking to us) and cooking egg and chips for her husband, to embarking on a trip to Greece to find what life is all about. This depiction of Greece will amuse British viewers, as Shirley meets a whole host of other tourists, as well as locals. She finds a lover, goes to a wedding, discovers countless traditions, but is still offering new tourists egg and chips by the end.

 

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (2005)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A pair of jeans wouldn’t usually be at the top of the pile when packing for a holiday to a Greek island, but when four best friends are off to four different corner of the world, with just that one item of clothing which magically fits them all, acting as a lifeline alongside handwritten letters – it proves essential. Only a quarter of the film, based on the bestselling novel, takes place in Greece, as Lena (Alexis Bledel) visits her relatives. It’s a landscape of sweet romance and family feuds, of salty waters and big fish. The item of clothing places a girl, shy and reserved, in an uncomfortable setting that prides itself on sunbaked freedom. By the end of the film, the release is glorious.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

One wedding, three potential dads – what could go wrong? Greece encapsulates every stage of love and consumption in Mamma Mia!. Donna – Meryl Streep here – moved to Greece and opened a taverna after years of itchy feet at home, which is now where her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is getting married. The film basks in the exotic possibilities of a holiday romance, as much as the fish-out-of-water discomfort of Donna’s three former lovers. From the Broadway-scale choreography on beaches with clear waters to the aching ballads sung against the sunset, the place lets these passionate people bloom to their full potential.

 

Before Midnight (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The idyll of a Greek getaway here is swapped for something more sober, something more claustrophobic. That feeling on a holiday when it gets a little too hot, when it’s a little too quiet so you get a little too bothered by the people you’re there with. Richard Linklater’s final film in the Before trilogy sees Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) once more using their runtime to talk, argue, wrestle through their relationship with words alone. It’s slower and more meditative, undoubtedly swimming in its surroundings to emphasise how the heavy stone ruins of ancient Greece might be the only things that carry a weight comparable to a tired heart.

 

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A language barrier acts as an essential character in the Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Two Faces of January. An American couple, wealthy and unsuspecting, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, meet a tour guide (Oscar Isaac) – and as a crime unfolds, and all three become dangerously entangled, the fact that the world around them uses a foreign language they can hide behind is essential. Sunglasses, too, are paramount: mystery is key, hiding in plain sight across key tourist spots in Crete adds another layer of intrigue. The two cultures keep everyone in the dark, and turn one couple’s vacation, another man’s temporary job, into something much darker.

 

Suntan (2017)

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

In Suntan, the pasty white man with a bucket hat and too much body hair is not the tourist. Traditional roles are somewhat reversed, as we focus on 40-year-old Kostis, a doctor placed on a tiny Greek island mostly swarmed by holidaymakers. Tourism once more shines a light on all of Greece’s picturesque appeal, by chronicling Kostis’ growing relationship with one young visitor in particular, a sun-kissed woman half his age. The dynamic that develops is, of course, dangerous – but it’s also particularly excruciating and involving to watch as the discomfort in Kostis’ way of being is entirely at odds with the way Anna and her friends enjoy their hedonistic holiday.

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