Everything you need to know about the 61st London Film Festival
Film Festival Feature by Owen Herman
On 4th October 2017 the 61st BFI London Film Festival will begin. Over twelve days, fifteen cinemas will show two-hundred and forty-three features from sixty-one countries. Four competitions will be judged and the “Strands” of Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Family, Experimental, and Treasures will all be explored. There is much to get one’s head around but this preview article features the biggest films and events, starting with the headline galas:
The festival opens with Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, Breathe. Written by William Nicholson, the film chronicles the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), diagnosed with polio and given three months to live, but who instead became one of the longest living polio survivors and a pioneer of life-improving technology for those with the disease. Cavendish’s son Jonathon (played in the film by Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) produces the film as part of Imaginarium Studios which he founded with Serkis. The film also stars Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, and Tom Hollander (who plays two twins). It’s safe to say it’s going to be a tear-jerker.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy will premiere at the London Film Festival 2017 Closing Gala, and will no doubt bring the festival to a satisfying and crowd-pleasing end. The black comedy made an appearance at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals, garnering great praise, especially for Frances McDormand’s lead performance as a foul-mouthed mother who confronts police after no arrests have been made for her daughter’s murder. With many comparisons to Fargo, TBOEM (as no-one is calling it) is likely to continue receiving positive reviews from its audiences.
Battle of the Sexes
A big screen account of the 1973 tennis match between Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) has been widely anticipated and has so far received warm reviews after showing at the Telluride Film Festival. Directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to have gone for a movie that has mixes comedy with some important social commentary, resulting in something that could be both feel-good and thought provoking.
Call Me by Your Name
Based on the novel of the same name, this romantic coming-o- age drama focuses on the blossoming relationship between Armie Hammer’s Oliver and Timothée Chalamet’s Elio. Luca Guadagino’s film premiered at Sundance, receiving fantastic reviews. Those who have experienced it describe a love story that conveys romance in its simplest and most powerful terms. One that’s sure to make a huge impact.
Downsizing stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to be shrunk and live in a tiny community. One of the more bizarre sounding films at the festival, it has so far received mixed reviews after its appearance at Venice. Some critics love its comedy and social undertones but others have found it annoying and even boring. Director Alexander Payne has certainly come up with an original idea and at least the film’s premise is memorable, even if it has failed to hit its mark with some audiences.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Based on Peter Turner’s memoirs of the same name, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool looks at the real romance between young, struggling actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and legendary film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). The two leads have already received praise for their convincing performances and on-screen chemistry. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is directed by Paul McGuigan and co-stars Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave.
World War One drama Journey’s End is the fifth film adaption of R. C. Sherriff’s play, a production of which once starred Laurence Olivier. This film version has a less legendary, but still very strong, cast including Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany and Toby Jones. It is bound to explore similar themes to 2017’s other major war picture, Dunkirk. The critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan’s tense thriller sets a standard that Journey’s End director Saul Dibb will do well to match.
Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has rightly earned a reputation for the weird and surreal, with films including Dogtooth and The Lobster, and his latest offering looks to deliver on both. Winner of the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes, Killing of a Sacred Deer is a psychological horror film said to be both intriguing and chilling. The film reunites Lanthimos with Colin Farrell and also stars Nicole Kidman and Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan. Expect the unexpected from a film whose trailer managed to make Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” sound delightfully creepy.
Last Flag Flying
A sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail, Richard Linklater’s new film features Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne as three Vietnam veterans reunited after one of their sons is killed in Iraq. As they bond over shared memories, expect plenty of warm comedy about growing old and male relationships. It was co-written by Darryl Ponicsan, author of the novels on which this film, and its predecessor, are based.
An epic which tackles many dark themes, from racism to PTSD, Mudbound looks at post-war America in all its grim detail. Mudbound also happens to be distributed by Netflix, so it will be interesting to see how it is received, after the controversy surrounding the streaming service’s films at Cannes. Director Dee Rees had a huge breakthrough with Pariah in 2011, a film which seems small in comparison to the sweeping period drama coming to LFF, but Mudbound will nonetheless share the intricate look at life for those who feel persecuted by society.
The Shape of Water
The festival film I am personally the most excited about is Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasy offering. The winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water tells the touching tale of a mute woman who befriends an amphibious creature being scrutinised by the American government in the early 60s. Sally Hawkins leads a cast including Octavia Spencer and the ever-sinister Michael Shannon. Doug Jones stars as the creature, reuniting with del Toro for the sixth time. Early reviews from Venice suggest that the The Shape of Water is both delightful and beautiful, as well as being del Toro's’ best film since his 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth.
You Were Never Really Here
With comparisons already drawn with Taxi Driver and Drive, Lynne Ramsey’s violent hitman thriller looks to find art in brutality. The film won Best Screenplay (alongside Killing of a Scared Deer) and Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix) at Cannes as well as earning a seven-minute standing ovation. At a slim eighty-five minutes Ramsey has stripped the film down to the essentials, crafting a taut, intense thriller that will stick with you for better or worse.
And the rest …
These are far from all the films being shown at the London Film Festival 2017. Other notable screenings include On Chesil Beach, which has been adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel by the author himself, ultra-violent and ultra-stylish samurai epic Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike’s 100th film), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which features a rare but unsurprisingly excellent Adam Sandler performance, Israeli drama Foxtrot which won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, 1928’s Shiraz: A Romance of India (featuring a new score performed live), and French animation The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales. In addition to these are Amant Double, Redoutable, Wonderstruck, and Thelma.
The BFI will also run several special presentations, including Dark River, A Fantastic Woman, The Final Year, Happy End, Looking for Oum Kulthum, The Party, Zama, and even David Fincher’s new Netflix crime drama series Mindhunter. Fincher will appear at an LFF Connects event. Other events feature Cate Blanchett, Nitin Sawhney, Ian McEwan, Johan Knattrup Jensen, Julian Rosefeldt, Demis Hassibis, and Takashi Miike.
The BFI London Film Festival 2017 certainly has a lot going on, and plenty of news and reviews will come out of it. The above provides information on all the main features, but there are plenty of unknowns that will make an appearance, from shorts to directors’ debut features. This British celebration of film will have everything, and it’ll be well worth paying a visit.