It’s Clare Stewart’s second year in charge of the BFI London Film Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday 9th October with the opening night gala screening of Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass’s true-story thriller based on the 2009 hijacking of a US container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks is the star, and he also takes the lead in this year’s closing night film, Saving Mr Banks, the story of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo Mary Poppins author PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson) into supporting his adaptation of her classic children’s book.
Last year’s thematic strands – Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family – are back to help guide festival goers through this year’s 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 countries.
Tickets for this year’s festival, which runs 9-20 Oct, go on sale to the public on Friday 20th September. The programme is positively bursting with gems to discover, but here are a few that have particularly caught my eye. Click on the titles for more on each film, including booking information.
12 Years A Slave
Already generating considerable buzz as the hot favourite to sweep the board at next year’s Oscars, British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen’s third feature tells the harrowing true story of 19th-century violinist Solomon Northup – played by Chiwetel Ejiofor – who is tricked, abducted and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. Michael Fassbender, McQueen’s leading man in Hunger and Shame, plays the cruel Louisiana plantation boss who becomes his owner. (Fri 18, Sat 19, Sun 20)
The Epic of Everest
Always a treat, this year’s Archive Gala showcases the official film of the 1924 Everest expedition, the one during which British climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared tantalizingly close to the summit. Shot under harsh conditions by Captain John Noel, the film doesn’t just provide a record of the expedition but gives a fascinating glimpse of Tibetan life at the time. The BFI National Archive restoration features a digital reproduction of the original coloured tints and tones and will be accompanied by a live performance of the new score by Simon Fisher Turner, who did a splendid job on The Great White Silence. (Fri 18)
Richard Ayoade follows up his appealingly quirky directing debut, 2010 coming-of-age comedy Submarine, with a surreal updating of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double from 19th-century Russia to modern-day America. The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg stars as a downtrodden office clerk in a forbidding government organisation who finds his exact double turning up in his workplace. Mia Wasikowska co-stars as the co-worker on whom the tongue-tied hero has a crush. (Sat 12, Sun 13, Mon 14)
The Selfish Giant
Clio Barnard won the Best British Newcomer award at the 2010 London Film Festival with her remarkable debut feature, drama-documentary The Arbor. Her second film, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story with which it shares a title, owes a filmic debt to the social realism of Ken Loach and tells the fable-like tale of Arbor and Swifty, two young boys growing up in an underprivileged town in Yorkshire. Refreshingly free of stage-school slickness, non-professional actors Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas play the leads. (Mon 14, Wed 16)
Kill Your Darlings
Post-Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe continues to prove his daring and ambition as an actor with his leading role as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in this startling biopic exploring a shocking but little known episode from the writer’s early life. Set in 1944 New York, when Ginsberg was a freshman student at Colombia University, the film charts his friendships with fellow writers William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, but the heart of the story is his relationship with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), the charismatic but unstable fellow student to whom Ginsberg would later dedicate his most famous poem, Howl. (Thu 17, Fri 18)
Here Be Dragons
Put Albania and Cinema together and the image that probably first comes to mind is that of a benighted Communist country that revered Norman Wisdom. Following on from his epic documentary series Story of Cinema and poetic A Story of Children and Film, Mark Cousins will expand our horizons with a new essay film that explores the country’s political and cultural landscape. (Fri 11, Mon 14)
Films about Hackney hoodies are a dime-a-dozen in British cinema these days. Filmmakers who tackle upper-middle-class life are much more rare, but Joanna Hogg continues to mine this stratum of society in her third feature, Exhibition. Unlike her previous films, Unrelated and Archipelago, which showed posh people at play in Tuscany and the Scilly Isles, Exhibition is set in London and follows artist couple D and H as they prepare to sell the modernist house that has been the focus of their personal and professional lives for almost two decades. Hogg’s talismanic actor Tom Hiddleston is here, of course, as an estate agent, but this time she’s chosen a couple of non actors to play her lead roles – Viv Albertine, former guitarist of punk group The Slits, and Turner prize nominated artist Liam Gillick. (Sat 19, Sun 20)
The Lady from Shanghai
Orson Welles cast his then-wife, Rita Hayworth, as the beautiful femme fatale in his classic 1947 film noir, and cast himself as the naive Irish sailor who becomes ensnared by her. The plot is virtually incomprehensible, but the visuals are stunning, particularly the climactic shoot-out in a hall of mirrors. Expect the film to look even more dazzling in the festival’s world premiere of the digital 4K restoration by Grover Crisp and his conservation team at Sony Columbia, following on from their work on Lawrence of Arabia. (Wed 16, Sat 19)
The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam’s first feature film since 2009’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus finds him visiting a bizarre comic dystopia that brings to mind his 1985 masterpiece Brazil. Christoph Waltz stars as a reclusive computer genius whose bosses at the futuristic Corporation ManCom give him the task of cracking the Zero Theorem, a formula that could answer everything. Expect more subversive satire and visual anarachy, plus cameos from the likes of Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton. (Sun 13, Wed 16, Fri 18)
Public booking for the festival opens on Friday 20th September. If the films you want to see are sold out, check back from 3rd October when more tickets will become available. Log in or create an online account and sign up for festival emails to receive the latest ticket release information. Alternatively, try your luck with the returns queue 30 minutes before each screening at the box office at each venue.