Friday night was the members’ programme launch of this year’s BFI London Film Festival (running from 10th October – 21st October). As I have found in previous years, the night proved to be incredibly insightful, not only reiterating my desire to see certain headline films, but also bringing lesser known ones to my attention, which I might otherwise have missed.
For those new to the festival, it offers a selection of films from across the world (this year 77 countries are represented), across different strands (which include themes of Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Family, Treasures and Experimenta, as well as the gala screenings, special presentations and competition entries).
As well as a glimpse at the programme of films this year, it was also fantastic to hear that 38% of the directors (or co-directors) whose work will be shown across the two weeks of the festival, are women. In a time when the world is looking more than ever at the representation of women in the film industry, it is wonderful to hear that London’s festival is playing its part. It’s also wonderful to see that, for the first time, there will be a screening held outside of London as part of the festival, which is the latest film from director Mike Leigh, to be held in Manchester and simulcast across the UK. In another first, the winners of Best Film, Best First Feature and Best Documentary will be announced in front of a public audience.
As I have done in previous years, having attended the launch and read through the complete programme, below are the 25 films that have more caught my interest and that I’m looking forward to seeing, whether at the festival, or at a later date. Hopefully there’ll be something in the list for all tastes!
A Private War
One of the first films in the line-up that caught my eye was this one, which tells the story of The Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in 2012. A Private War marks the dramatic debut of director Matthew Heineman (previously known for documentary films such as City of Ghosts) and stars Rosamund Pike as Colvin, together with Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander. I’m very much looking forward to seeing a film about such a courageous woman who put herself at risk in order to shine a light on the Syrian conflict for the world to see. You can see the first trailer here: https://youtu.be/TTf0Lc5YAcc
The Breaker Upperers
On seeing the brief snippet of this New Zealand comedy at the programme launch, it had me wondering how on earth there hasn’t been a film of this before. It centres on two women who run a relationship break-up service. If you want out of a relationship, these two can help, whether faking a pregnancy, staging apparent cheating or crashing a wedding, if their clients are paying, they’ll get the job done! From what I saw on Friday, this looks to be a lot of fun! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/qKVhDbe9VOo
Another film I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while opens this year’s festival and that’s Steve McQueen’s contemporary adaptation of Widows, Lynda La Plante’s 1980s television series. Why am I so excited about this? First, it’s directed and co-written by McQueen, the man behind the incredible 12 Years A Slave. It’s also co-written by Gillian Flynn, author of some of my favourite books, including Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. Then there’s the cast, which is led by the superb Viola Davis, who commands the screen in every role that she has and who is supported by talent such as Britain’s own Cynthia Erivo, in a film which sees four widows, whose husbands were involved in criminal activity, pick up where their husbands left off in order to pay off their debt. My hopes are horribly high, so fingers crossed! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nN2yBBSRC78
Anyone who is a fan of the wonderful This Is Us (currently airing the second series here in the UK, with the third starting soon in the US), should add this film to their list. Written and directed by that show’s creator Dan Fogelman, it promises to be a multi-layered story of love, which I’m expecting will make me as emotional as his series does. It also has a very strong cast which includes Oscar Isaac, Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/b5kwtJkUdpA
The reason why going to the programme launch is so useful was highlighted this year by the recommendation that came from one of the festival programmers to see Etangs Noirs, which I might not have paid much attention to otherwise. Yet, on reading more about it, this Belgium film sounds fascinating, in which a young man in Brussels becomes obsessed with delivering a parcel to his neighbour, which has been mistakenly delivered to his address. I’m not too sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to finding out. You can see a brief trailer here: https://youtu.be/-1kxDIc5KLg
After reducing me to tears by the end of Call Me By Your Name, it seems Timothy Chalamet is set to do so again, in this story of a family dealing with addiction. Adapted by Felix Van Groeningen and Luke Davies (who worked on the beautiful film, Lion), it’s based on two memoirs, one by Chalamet’s character Nic, a young man who becomes caught up in the spiral of drug addiction and the other by his father, played by Steve Carell. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/tXulJuKJTgA
I’ve started hearing very good things about this film from those who’ve seen it at the Venice Film Festival, but I can’t say I’m surprised when it has Nicole Kidman in the lead. Her character, Erin Bell, is an LAPD detective who, together with her partner, spent time undercover in a criminal gang, the memories of which still haunt her. On discovering the ring-leader may have resurfaced, she is determined to find him and put the past to rest.
Stan & Ollie
Closing the London Film Festival this year is the world premiere of Stan & Ollie, which looks at the story of one of Britain’s funniest double acts, Laurel & Hardy. I spent many a happy day with my grandparents watching their films and can’t wait to learn more about their lives in this poignant story, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly and is set in 1953, when their popularity was on the wane. I’m sure it’ll make me smile.
Carey Mulligan is one of my favourite actresses, both on screen and stage and on seeing her in this film during the festival, it went straight on my list. Marking actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut, this 1950s-set film, based on Richard Ford’s book, centres on a young couple and their son, who move to suburban Montana for a new start, only for cracks to start to appear, in what I expect to be a powerful drama if Mulligan’s involved. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/GevYxH6rcvU
The Kindergarten Teacher
This adaptation of an Israeli film caught my attention as I read through this year’s festival brochure. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a kindergarten teacher, whose life is unremarkable and unsatisfying. She joins an evening poetry class, but her work receives little reaction from the group, but then one of the boys in her class reveals a talent for poetry and she decides his work should find a wider audience. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Iaa1c4Tp-f0
Freedom Fields is the debut from British Libyan Naziha Arebi and charts six years with Libya’s women’s football team, including the opposition they faced and their determination and spirit in the face of such obstacles. I love stories that can inspire their audience and this uplifting film sounds as though it’ll do just that.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I admit, I hadn’t heard of Lee Israel before reading about this biopic, but this fascinating story of a literary forger who, in the 1990s, having fallen on hard times, began to sell “newly discovered” correspondence from various literary giants, sounds very good indeed. This adaptation of Israel’s own memoir stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant and I hope it’s as darkly comic as it sounds! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UvJIaNsf_bY
They Shall Not Grow Old
This year’s festival also sees the World Premiere of Peter Jackson’s exploration of the First World War, told through the men who lived through it. Jackson has spent months using the latest technology to bring old archive footage truly back to life, giving these men’s stories a new platform on which to be heard and experienced. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the result of all of his effort on this project ever since it was first announced and it’s wonderful that the LFF is the first to showcase it, both in 2D and 3D, with Jackson himself introducing the film.
I tend to enjoy political stories and The Front Runner sees Hugh Jackman as Democratic candidate Gary Hart, who was tipped to win the 1988 Presidential campaign, until his extramarital affairs were exposed by the Miami Herald, changing the landscape of the campaign in the space of one week. Jackman is always a strong lead and this film also sees him supported by Vera Farmiga (as Hart’s wife) and J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/BAOYDcnVx6E
As part of the Journey strand of the festival, Arctic sees Mads Mikkelsen as the survivor of a plane crash, fighting to stay alive, who stumbles across the sole survivor of a helicopter crash. It’s then up to him, to save her as well as himself by trekking across the icy wilderness. With apparently little dialogue, the film rests on the lead and with someone as strong as Mikkelsen in that role, I’m expecting good things. You can see a clip here: https://youtu.be/Tk3rf8M6uP0
The Hate U Give
I recently saw the trailer for this film at the cinema and immediately knew it was a story that deserved to be told and it is receiving a special presentation at this year’s festival, which also offers those aged 25 and under the opportunity to book tickets for only £5. It’s an adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the life of Starr Carter (played by Amanda Stenberg, best known as Rue in The Hunger Games film) is changed forever, after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her black friend by a white police officer. Such a subject is always going to be powerful and with a supporting cast including Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, I’m expecting this film to stay with me long after I’ve seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/3MM8OkVT0hw
Michael Moore is known for his outspoken, political films and he’s back this year with Fahrenheit 11/9 which, unsurprisingly, focuses on Donald Trump (who was elected on 9th November). If you’re familiar with his style of wit, you’ll know what to expect, as he looks at what led to the ultimate result of the 2016 Presidential election. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/SZeLvaflLLc
The Old Man and the Gun
Robert Redford has recently announced his retirement and as I’ve always enjoyed his films, I’ll make sure to watch what looks to be his final acting role. He plays Forrest Tucker, the bank robber, whose last heist was committed when he was 79 and apparently the film focusses on his crime-spree in later life with his partners in crime (known as the Over-the-Hill-Gang), as they evade both police and the FBI, while along the way he tries to woo Jewel (Sissy Spacek). You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/d7rlUe-Thvk
The Love strand of this year’s festival also includes this story of an LA weatherman, who breaks down on air following the break-up of his relationship with an older Latino man. After being placed on compassionate leave, he soon strikes up a friendship with a straight and married migrant worker, which develops in to a platonic partner substitute. Matt Bomer (best known for White Collar and who has recently been on stage in The Boys in the Band on Broadway) stars in what I expect to be a touching film.
This historical drama focuses on Robert The Bruce and the battle for Scotland that took place between England and Scotland in the early 14th century, something I admit I know very little about, which is one reason I am looking forward to watching this film. With a strong cast that includes Chris Pine and Florence Pugh, this looks set to be one of the festival’s vast epics. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Q-G1BME8FKw
This film won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and from the synopsis and trailer looks to be a tension-filled thriller, in which a demoted police officer answers a call while on duty at emergency despatch to a frightened woman. The call ends abruptly and he becomes determined to find out what happened to her and save her, despite remaining office-bound. I’m expecting to have much shorter fingernails after watching this one! You can watch the international trailer here: https://vimeo.com/275237401
Simon Amstell in going meta for his feature, which sees a rising young filmmaker in turmoil as the premiere of his film at the London Film Festival approaches! I admit, the main reason this film is on my list is because it stars Colin Morgan, who always seems to impress me (especially his recent stage work) and I enjoy seeing bittersweet comedies, every once in a while!
Sometimes Always Never
Originally entitled Three Word Score, this film stars Bill Nighy as Alan, a Merseyside tailor, who is obsessed with Scrabble. His eldest son stormed out of a game years ago and has not been seen since (and I thought Monopoly was the game to cause fights) and the film sees Alan and his other son continuing to look for him, despite their own strained relationship. Within the Laugh strand of the festival, the summary refers to a family who “know plenty of words but struggle to communicate.” It’s a quirky plot and I’m rather fond of dysfunctional screen families, so this will be on my list in October.
Utoya – July 22
I admit, I’ve been unsure about whether to include this film in my list, as I’m still undecided about whether it’s something I’ll actually be able to watch. The reason for my hesitancy? It’s a real-time drama which reconstructs the appalling mass murder that took place at the youth camp on Utoya island in Norway in 2011. However, after hearing the strong words of recommendation about it from the festival programmers, that it acts as a powerful memorial to the bravery of those who survived, I perhaps may try. I’m also astonished to hear that of the 92 minute running time, 72 of those minutes are shot as a single take. I’m certain this won’t be easy to watch, but we perhaps owe it to those involved to ensure such acts are never forgotten. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/6YP_pEVcPUk
As you can see, there’s a wide variety of films on offer this year and this is only a fraction of them, with plenty more film shorts, documentaries and feature films across the festival. For details of the full programme, schedule and how to become a BFI member (for priority booking), visit the BFI London Film Festival’s website here: BFI LFF Website Public booking opens on 13th September at 10:00 a.m.