It is just 20 years since screenwriter Colin Welland held an Oscar aloft and famously declared: "The British are coming!" Chariots of Fire was the Oscar Cinderella story that year, Gandhi was waiting in the wings and filmmakers as diverse as Bill Forsyth and Peter Greenaway were about to leave their mark on a world stage.

Sadly, the great British invasion never quite materialised in the way Welland had predicted and it was unrealistic to expect that it ever could. Britain's film industry has modest financial resources at its disposal and the nation's cinema-going audience is unhealthily addicted to mainstream Hollywood fare. The story of British filmmaking has always been one of hope eternally triumphing over bitter experience.

One glance at the unusually fine crop of British films at Toronto this year and it appears that hope is in the ascendant again. The Magdalene Sisters, Sweet Sixteen, All or Nothing and Morvern Callar are just four of the titles underlining the diversity and daring of indigenous filmmakers. The feel-good comedy Bend It Like Beckham has been one of the biggest box-office hits of the year in Britain. Shane Meadows's raucous romantic comedy Once Upon A Time In The Midlands and Marc Evans' low-budget digital chiller My Little Eye are also threatening to translate critical enthusiasm into commercial success.

If there is one thing that unites all of these films it is the passion and individual vision of the filmmakers. Nobody is trying to take a ride on the coattails of a winning formula, nobody is seeking to appeal in vain to some trans-Atlantic market that doesn't exist, and nobody is trying to set the foundations for a blockbuster franchise. They are all working on modest budgets, seeking to capture the heart and soul of the country and make it accessible to the wider world. Traditional British staples, such as costume dramas, nostalgic wartime pieces and frivolous comedies, have taken a back seat as some of the country's most admired talents focus on marginalised individuals, burning social issues and the way one defining moment can change an entire life.

In Lynne Ramsay's MorvernCallar, it is the suicide of her partner that allows Samantha Morton's title character to escape her bleak existence in the Scottish Highlands and find a new life. In Mike Leigh's All Or Nothing, it takes a crisis to remind a struggling London family of the love that binds them together. In Ken Loach's searing drama Sweet Sixteen, a teenage boy's decision to create a decent home for his loved ones becomes a fatal flaw. The story is told with thick accents and tough-hearted attitudes that are recognisably Scottish - which does nothing to detract from its ability to speak to any audience that understands the tragic waste of a society that ignores the potential of its future generations.

The best British titles at Toronto depict ordinary lives in crisis and transition as filmmakers grapple with the complexities of the way we live now. That seems a much more encouraging sign of a nation's cinematic health than securing a Hollywood prize or predicting an invasion.