Now only a few days away, the sheer volume of films available at the BFI London Film Festival can seem pretty overwhelming. There are Strands which categorise movies by genre including “Thrill,” “Dare” and “Love,” there are glitzy Gala premieres of major international releases where members of the public can walk the red carpet with the stars, and there are programmes of talks, debates and Q&As with film-makers – with over 300 films and events, it’s hard to know where to begin!
With so much cross-over between the performing arts and film these days, the BFI London Film Festival is a singular opportunity to see theatre, dance and music from a different perspective, biographically examining the stories, experiences and people who write, choreograph, direct, compose and perform on stages around the world, or use film to showcase their work and engage with new audiences.
Theatre-lovers will be eager to see stage to screen translations of well-known plays, chief among them at this year’s Festival is David Michôd and Joel Edgerton’s adaption of the Prince Hal / Henry V story. Reminiscent of last year’s Outlaw King – a revival of the 1990s period-action genre championed almost solely by Netflix – The King stars Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris and Robert Pattinson. It premieres on 3 October and marks the notable power the online distributor now has at major international festivals.
Our Ladies also receives a Gala screening on 4 October, an adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos which was previously reworked by the National Theatre of Scotland as Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour which landed at the National Theatre before a West End transfer. For musical lovers, there is a “Treasures” screening of Sweet Charity, the Bob Fosse film musical (the development of which featured in the recent US mini-series Fosse/Verdon) and was recently revived as Josie Rourke’s final show at the Donmar Warehouse, while documentary Sid and Judy charts the turbulent relationship of the star and her husband, a story previously dramatized in Through the Mill at the Southwark Playhouse.
Stage-lovers will also enjoy films with theatre stylings using confined settings and few characters, including The Lighthouse, an intense piece about isolation and resentment starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson opening on 5 October, while Jonathan Pryce, recent star of The Height of the Storm and The Globe’s The Merchant of Venice, stars alongside Anthony Hopkins in Two Popes from 7 October.
Plenty of stage stars also have films this year including Laurence Fox (The Patriotic Traitor) in Us Among the Stones, Mark Rylance (Othello) in Waiting for the Barbarians and Monica Dolan (Appropriate) in Days of the Bagnold Summer and Rialto which also stars Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (The Birthday Party). Maxine Peake, about to star in the National Theatre’s The Welkin, comes to the Festival with a Gala presentation of Fanny Lye Deliver’d, while Billie Piper (Yerma) makes her directorial debut with Rare Beasts in which she also stars.
Movement and dance lovers are not forgotten and you can see And Then We Danced focusing on a young student determined to earn the lead in his touring company’s Georgian dance show, and Perfect 10 a Brighton-based story of a young gymnast led astray. Promising documentaries for music fans include Rubika Shah’s film White Riot offering a fresh perspective on the1970s ‘Rock Against Racism’ protest movement, and for Mile Davis fans a 115-minute examination of the legacy of the jazz legend in Miles Davis: Birth of Cool.
If you like to meet the stars at the stage door, there is always celebrity spotting on the red carpet but lots of screenings will also be followed by Q&A discussions with writers, directors and actors giving audiences a change to learn more about the technical aspects of filmmaking and the creative process for tiny independent movies as well as major blockbusters. It may seem overwhelming but there really is something for everyone, and with hundreds of screenings across the 12 days, the Reviews Hub film team will be here to guide you through the BFI London Film Festival’s unmissable movies.
The London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October 2019
Maryam Philpott | Image: Maxine Peake in Fanny Lye Deliver’d