In just over a month’s time, it’s the turn of the film world to focus on London, with the start of the London Film Festival.
The 56th festival runs from Wednesday, 10th to Sunday, 21st October and, with new festival director Clare Stewart at the helm, there was more than a little interest to see if she had lived up to her promise of shaking things up.
The good news for LFF regulars is that the schedule contains a lot that’s familiar. The gala screenings with their red carpets and celebrities are still there, as is the Surprise Film, and the Odeon West End cinema, which hardly featured in last year’s programme, is firmly back in the fold.
The hitherto somewhat discreet competitive element has been significantly beefed up this year. As well as the overall competition, there’s one for documentaries and another for first features, all of which have an impressive line-up of contenders. Films on show are now themed in a different way to previous years, mainly according to emotions such as love, laugh and thrill.
On the downside, the Screen Talks aspect still looks thin. At the time of writing, there are only two events listed: Salman Rushdie on his first screenplay, an adaptation of his novel Midnight’s Children, and documentary maker Alex Gibney. Given the line-up of films and the names associated with them, it’s a disappointing showing and I can only hope that some more will be added as 10th October approaches.
So, what’s on my to-see list?
I’m delighted that, as I hoped back in March (All The President’s Men – And Women), Hyde Park On Hudson is putting in an appearance. With a cast that includes delightful performers such as Bill Murray, Laura Linney and Olivia Colman, this is the story of the relationship between American president Roosevelt and his distant cousin, Margaret Stuckley, set during a visit to New York by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. With its UK release now put back to February next year, this is an early opportunity to see a film that could be a big hit on both sides of The Pond.
Ben Affleck’s Argo comes to London on the back of critical acclaim. Set during the Iranian revolution, Affleck directs and stars in a thriller about a risky plot to free a small group of Americans who are trapped in the Canadian ambassador’s residence. The powerful cast includes Alan Arkin and John Goodman and I’ll definitely be booking a ticket! If you can’t get to the festival, it opens nationwide in early November.
Mike Newell’s adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations closes the festival. It will need to be something special to surpass David Lean’s classic, but it boasts a quality cast – Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Haversham and Robbie Coltrane as Jaggers. Apparently it has a new ending, somewhere between the overly-optimistic one in the Lean version and the more pessimistic tone of the original novel (which had two endings).
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, also has its first outing in this country and comes with a strong pedigree. Quite apart from its director, this story of ageing opera singers re-united in a retirement home is written by Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplays for The Pianist and The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, and has a cast that includes Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney and Pauline Collins.
By contrast, End Of Watch from director David Ayer is an adrenalin-filled thriller about two police officers patrolling the mean streets of LA and finding themselves targets for a local drug cartel. Jake Gyllenhaal plays one of the cops, with Anna Kendrick as his girlfriend, in a film that puts the officers and their relationships centre stage.
Any no-shows? I don’t think I was alone in hoping that Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated The Master would get an outing and, indeed, this seemed to be confirmed when the schedule was initially released as a still from the film appeared on a Facebook posting about the line-up. Unfortunately, it was replaced soon afterwards and the film isn’t on the list. Assuming it’s not the Surprise Film – and that’s always a possibility – it’ll make its first UK appearance in early November. Anderson attracts the best in acting talent and performances to match (think Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood). This time he’s working with the ever-excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman and a resurgent Joaquin Phoenix, so expect the scenery to be well and truly chewed!
Advance LFF booking for BFI members opens on Thursday, 13 September and Monday, 24 September for the general public. The full line-up of films, events, venues and information on booking tickets can all be found at www.bfi.org.uk.
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