56th BFI London Film Festival comes to a glittering (& record-breaking) close

The BFI London Film Festival came to a glittering close last night with a star-studded line-up on the red carpet and on stage at the Odeon Leicester Square for the European premiere of Great Expectations, Mike Newell’s new film of Charles Dickens’s classic novel.

The Four Weddings and a Funeral director stepped up to introduce what appeared to be half the film’s cast, though he couldn’t entice Robbie Coltrane (who plays lawyer Jaggers) up on to the stage from his seat in the audience.

Those who did take a bow included Helena Bonham Carter (who plays rich recluse Miss Havisham), Ralph Fiennes (escaped convict Magwitch), Holliday Grainger (haughty Estella), Jason Flemyng (blacksmith Joe Gargery), David Walliams (Uncle Pumblechook), and leading man Jeremy Irvine and his younger brother Toby, who share the central role of Pip, the story’s orphan hero, as a boy and as a young man.

This year’s festival, the first under new artistic director Clare Stewart, saw a 12% rise in attendance – with 149,000 cinemagoers watching films across more venues than ever before, from the showcase cinemas of Leicester Square and BFI Southbank to The Screen on the Green in Islington, the Curzon Mayfair, the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse.

And it wasn’t only Londoners who got in on the act. Tens of thousands of people at cinemas across the UK attended the cinecast screenings of Opening Night Film Frankenweenie and the Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane, the festival’s American Express Gala Film.

The festival’s awards took greater prominence this year and I was pleased to see that three of my top six festival picks carried off the leading prizes, with French melodrama Rust and Bone claiming the Best Film award, US indie drama Beasts of the Southern Wild walking off with the gong for Best First Film, and director Sally El Hosaini nabbing the Best British Newcomer prize for her Hackney-set film My Brother the Devil – and leaving her hospital bed, where she was being treated for a stomach abcess, to pick up her award.

Great Expectations goes on general release from Friday 30th November.

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