Having started with the Oscar-glory of The King’s Speech, and set to end with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, 2011 is turning out to be an immensely successful year for British cinema. The biggest commercial hits over the summer were the Harry Potter finale and The Inbetweeners Movie, whilst Johnny English Reborn and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are both riding high in the current box office. Critics too have been delighted by the talented local directors behind Senna, Kill List, Archipelago, and many, many others.
This could only mean good news for the ever-expanding London Film Festival, which ended last week as the Best Film award to We Need to Talk about Kevin (here reviewed by Christopher Fraser). It’s an intense, provocative movie by Scots director Lynne Ramsay, who has now announced that her next picture will be an adaptation of Moby Dick set in outer space.
Appropriately, the other Brit sensations of the fortnight were similarly non-traditional versions of classic novels: Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, featuring a black actor in the role of Heathcliff, and Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, substituting Hardy’s Wessex of Tess of the d’Urbervilles for present day India.
Other British offerings at the LFF received less praise. Closing film The Deep Blue Sea failed to live up to the hype behind Rachel Weisz, rising star Tom Hiddleston and legendary auteur Terence Davies, with plenty of voices saying that its Terence Rattigan source play was too old-fashioned. The festival opener, continent-crossing ensemble drama 360, was also disparaged, despite a stellar cast that includes Weisz, Anthony Hopkins and Jude Law
No movie has been attacked as much as though as W.E. Directed by Madonna, it tells the story of Wallis Simpson (the woman for whom Edward VIII abdicated the throne) seen through the eyes of a modern-day, romantic New Yorker. Disregarding the film’s faults, you can’t help but detect a misogynist tint in some of the language that has been aimed towards a film made by and about women.
Despite such starry duds, the LFF hosted over 200 films from all over the world. Foreign-language highlights included Miss Bala, a brutal drama about the Mexico drug wars seen through the eyes of a smart, aspiring beauty queen, and Las Acacias, a love story whose Argentine director won the Sutherland Award for best debut feature. Hit documentaries included The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, Dreams of a Life and Werner Herzog’s Best Doc-winner Into the Abyss, at screenings of which industry and press delegates were turned away due to unexpectedly high demand for tickets.
At the awards ceremony, BFI Fellowships were awarded to Ralph Fiennes, whose modern-dress film of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus was given a last-minute extra screening due to its popularity, and David Cronenberg, who came to the festival with A Dangerous Method, the story of Carl Jung’s relationship with fellow psychoanalysts Sabina Spielrein and Sigmund Freud, played respectively by Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen. Fassbender also made a spectacular appearance in Shame alongside Carey Mulligan.
The festival’s highest-profile attendee, however, was George Clooney, supporting Alexander Payne’s Sideways follow-up The Descendants and The Ides of March, a political thriller which he starred in, directed and produced, shrugging off all suggestions in interviews that his was a vanity project. The festival has been criticised though for including Clooney’s film, since it already premiered at Venice and Toronto earlier this autumn, and has now been released in regular cinemas just as the festival has come to an end;
The selection arguably amounts to little more than extra publicity for the filmmakers and a sneak preview for a limited audience, as do the appearances of Anonymous and 50/50. It’s telling though that this view is rarely directed towards the more arthouse/independent selections about to appear in UK cinemas, like The Artist, a stylised tale of/homage to 1920s Hollywood, and Miranda July’s The Future, which turns the story of a couple adopting a cat into a surprisingly brave and inventive drama. Their nationwide releases might be imminent, but it doesn’t make their inclusion at the LFF any less essential.