BFI 53rd London Film Festival | John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy ends a vintage year

Nowhere Boy - Aaron Johnson plays the teenage John Lennon

The 53rd BFI London Film Festival came to a resounding rock ‘n’ roll close last night with the world premiere of Nowhere Boy, artist-turned-director Sam Taylor-Wood’s impressive biopic about John Lennon’s teenage years.

I thought Taylor-Wood looked every inch the star in a glittering gold dress slashed to the thigh as she introduced the film on stage at the Odeon Leicester Square. Speaking of the film’s origins, she fought back tears at the mention of her mentor, the late Anthony Minghella, the man who had encouraged her to move into directing. But if this is all beginning to make her sound like a lightweight (or an Oscar winner), then there’s clearly a core of steely determination beneath the dress and the tears, as she revealed when she described her resolve to land the gig of directing Control author Matt Greenhalgh’s script about Lennon.

Nowhere Boy - director Sam Taylor-Wood & star Aaron Johnson at the London Film Festival’s world premiere of the film about John Lennon’s teenage years

“When I read the script I became an Exocet missile,” she admitted, and you could easily imagine that the film’s producers, Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader and Douglas Rae, had no option but to surrender.

They joined Taylor-Wood on stage, as did what seemed to be the entire cast, including the actors playing the members of the strange Oedipal triangle at the film’s heart – Aaron Johnson (who plays Lennon), Anne-Marie Duff (who plays his mother, Julia) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Lennon’s Aunt Mimi).

An inspired choice for the closing night gala, Nowhere Boy topped off a great year for the festival – audience numbers hit an all-time high (over 124,00; almost 10,000 up on last year), and filmmakers and actors from all around the globe (some 553 of them) turned out in force too.

It remains to be seen what sort of impact the festival’s new Star of London awards will register in the movie world at large, but the festival’s first ever Best Film gong went to a thoroughly deserving winner – French director Jacques Audiard’s brilliant prison drama A Prophet.

A Prophet was one of my own personal highlights of the festival fortnight. Looking back over some of the other ones made me realise just what a good year this has been for European cinema, with Austrian director Michael Haneke’s chilling period drama The White Ribbon, Italian Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere (the long-suppressed story of Mussolini’s relationship with his first wife) and Basque drama Ander proving particularly strong. Roll on next year.