“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go… downtown.”
By happy accident or spooky design, director Edgar Wright has hit upon the perfect theme song for the return of movies and movie-going – and, with it, today’s programme launch for the 65th BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express.
The trailer for Wright’s time-travelling thriller Last Night in Soho, appearing as one of the festival’s Headline Galas, opens with Anya Taylor-Joy’s haunted and haunting rendition of Petula Clark’s 1964 hit Downtown. It segues into dizzying imagery of central London in all its neon-lit glory, including a cinema proudly showing the big film of the moment: 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball.
The premieres at the LFF, which runs from 6th to 17th October, are no less exciting. And, equally, viewers don’t necessarily have to make it to downtown London to see them – 14 of the featured films are also being shown in cinemas across the UK, and various other titles are available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
To mark today’s announcement of the full festival programme, which runs to 159 features, here are our picks of the big screen excitements to watch out for. Tickets go on general sale on 20th September.
The Harder They Fall
Already announced as the opening night gala, this fresh, fast and furious western is directed by first-time director Jeymes Samuel, a Londoner previously best known as musician/producer The Bullitts.
The iconoclastic tone is set with the use of Fela Kuti’s 1971 banger Let’s Start in the trailer, and previous Samuel collaborator Jay‑Z steps up as a producer on this “righteously new school” cowboy-and-cowgirl film which boasts a killer cast: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz (who we loved in Joker), Delroy Lindo, FACE cover star LaKeith Stanfield, Damon Wayans Jr. Regina King and Idris Elba.
“Jeymes Samuel has come out with both guns blazing with his lightning-paced, witty and phenomenally entertaining new western,” says Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director. “This is is brutal and funny genre filmmaking, sometimes making you chuckle and gasp in the same breath, while each of its mega stars absolutely burns up the screen, working to a cleverly written script from Samuel and Boaz Yakin that reveals the tenderness even in the darkest villainous heart.”
Last Night in Soho
In modern-day London, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is a country-mouse newly enrolled at London College of Fashion. In 1965 London, Sadie (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a kohl-eyed, back-combed club singer. But after Eloise takes a room in a house run by landlady Ms Collins (British acting legend Diana Rigg, in her final role), the intervening decades dissolve in the flare of the neon outside her window.
Soon she’s tripping the light fantastic in Swinging Sixties London, inhabiting – or being haunted by – Sadie. Soon, giddy escapism morphs into out-and-out horror in a script co-written by young Scottish screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917).
“Wickedly entertaining” said The Hollywood Reporter in their early review of Wright’s second film this year, after his labour-of-love music doc The Sparks Brothers.
The Hand of God
Modern Italian maestro Paolo Sorrentino – whose glorious 2013 film The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language movie, and who turned Jude Law into a rock star pontiff in TV series The Young Pope and The New Pope – returns with an autobiographical coming-of-age tale.
The Hand of God is set in the director’s hometown of Naples in the mid-’80s. Teenager Fabietto is obsessed with the possibility that the world’s greatest footballer, Diego Maradona, will sign for Napoli (the title is in part a reference to the Argentine’s controversial goal against England in the 1986 World Cup). But he’s also obsessed with his tragic aunt Patrizia, and increasingly convinced that his future lies in filmmaking – even though he’s only seen “three or four films”.
Newcomer Filippo Scotti, a youngster with a whiff of eau de Chalamet, is a revelation in the lead. But, really, the whole thing is a wonder, as visually stunning as all Sorrentino’s work but anchored by a beautifully told ode to family and to Naples.
We’ve already hymned the praises of this latest biopic of Princess Diana (née Spencer), as best we can, in our Trailer of the Week slot. All we can add at this point is that, with some American and European critics having now seen the film, the talk is that Kristen Stewart is Oscar nomination-bound for her portrayal of the doomed royal. Bella who?
Dopesick and Succession
This year’s LFF also presents small-screen treats, with exclusive premieres of the opening episodes of two huge TV dramas.
Dopesick chronicles the beginnings of the opioid epidemic in the United States that, to date, has killed 600,000 Americans. Adapted from Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy, the miniseries follows a pair of dogged local lawyers as they go after Big Pharma in the shape of the now-notorious Sackler family. It stars Michael Keaton as a doctor in Appalachian “coal country” who is persuaded to prescribe OxyContin by pushy drug rep Billy (Will Poulter, fantastic) to injured miners in his community like Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever, ditto). Jaw-dropping, anger-making stuff.
There’s more corporate brutality afoot in Succession series three. The feuding Roys are back, with all-out war breaking out between tyrannical patriarch Logan (the legendary Brian Cox) and his (finally) rebellious son Kendall (the getting-on-for legendary Jeremy Strong). Now the rest of the family, and their lieutenants, need to take their positions.
“Logan is going to fire a million poisonous spiders down your dicky,” hisses clown-with-a-whiff-of-sulphur Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen, iconic) to Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun, sublime). “That… that sounds, like, kinda dramatic Tom,” replies Cousin Greg. Let battle royale commence.