Big names and Big Films in a Brave New Me Too World

Both BFI Southbank and flagship Odeon Leicester Square are undergoing major renovation work as the BFI London Film Festival stature continues to grow apace. The 2018 edItion got off to a five star start – yes, the reviews were glowing – with Widows by Oscar winning British director Steve McQueen. Presenting his latest film to a home crowd was going to be a risk as the series on which the film was based was a much loved UK TV mini series. It was ahead of its time when it first aired in 2002 and here we see this groundbreaker updated.

BFI Film Festival 2018

The all star cast did much to bring sparkle to the Opening Night red carpet led by Oscar winning leading lady Viola Davis, joined by co-stars Black Panther actor Daniel Kaluuya and Fast and Furious regular Michelle Rodriguez.

One of the film’s stars was a notable absentee, Viola’s perky little Westie, who was a constant presence at her side in Widows, as she became embroiled in the dangerous and dirty business of a heist.

Closing night is also a significant coup in the shape of the premiere of Stan and Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly respectively in the titular roles. This British led biopic will close a lively 2018 edition of the festival. As Hollywood Reporter noted
“Thanks to Widows and Stan & Ollie, London looks like it is about to have its best festival in years”. Good news for headline sponsors American Express.

Talking US support for this leading UK Festival, made with the Yankee dollar by UK talent was the period piece biopic. Telling the compelling story of French literary legend, Colette. British director Wash Westmoreland enlisted one of Britain’s most luminous actresses, Keira Knightly, in the title role. Bang on trend the film portrayed a throughly modern mademoiselle who carved a name for herself in the cut throat and macho world of literary Paris in the Belle Époque.

This beautiful lush costume drama did not pull any punches. The gutsy actions of Colette in her pursuit of rightful recognition gave the film a modern flavour against the backdrop of the current struggle for woman’s rights playing out across headlines worldwide. Colette was a latter day champion of a ladies right to respect and equality and will give this exquisite period piece a fresh flavour for today’s audiences.

Among the sidebar events was a panel discussion chaired by former Times Chief Critic, Kate Muir entitled “Where are all the diverse voices in film criticism?”. Diversity was given a vocal platform at the afternoon session at Picturehouse Central. The animated discussion saw even the Guardian coming under attack for white male bias – this Q and A was not for the faint hearted. Clearly this is a red hot topic which excites passion and debate and is set to continue for some time to come.

Reflecting the drive to champion new voices and access for alternative viewpoints to the big screen was the edgy reflective and thought provoking Young and Alive.

This followed the events which have rocked Paris in the recent past which started with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices followed dramatically by the terrorist Bataclan killings. The film gave voice to young Parisians dealing with this new normal in which they enter adulthood. Much of the footage was captured in Place de la République which drew crowds for impromptu gatherings and protests which often turned violent. The footage of the street disorder was a unique insight into the troubled times of a city rocked by repeated terrorist attacks. There was a sense of 1968 but against a much gloomier and more menacing backdrop and the filmmakers acknowledged their debt to the style of the Nouvelle Vague.

Leicester Square continued its red carpet role for the big premieres to great effect – every night seemed to be witness the building of ever more lavish decor. Just round the corner the Picturehouse Central proved a lively hub for screenings and discussions notably in the busy cafe and bar areas. A special treat for festival goers was the upper level members bar with incredible dramatic view down Haymarket and across to Piccadilly Circus. So far so Iconic. The BFI London Film Festival boasts and showcases an iconic and world renowned backdrop. But even timeless scenery requires TLC from time to time.

Major building works are underway at the landmark Odeon Leicester Square. Meanwhile BFI Southbank was having a facelift which limited its use for this year’s festival. This did not prevent the venue playing host to a special afternoon gala screening of They Shall Not Grow Old. This WW1 film was in the hugely capable hands of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson using colourised archive footage to great effect. Attending the screening was Prince William greeted on his arrival by BFI Chief Executive Amanda Neville.

The arrival of His royal Highness at the renovating BFI Southbank underscored how the festival is moving forward but remains committed to exploring the past. If London was the unbeatable backdrop to this evolving and involving festival the Prince William certainly shows that centuries of history remain alive and well treading the red carpet

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