London Film Festival 2019 opened auspiciously with The Personal History of David Copperfield which famously chronicles the highs and lows of a young man making his way in life. The film showed The Thick Of It satirist, Armando Iannucci, bringing his satirical skills to bear on this Dickens crown jewel. To add to the sense of occasion a cavalcade of a cast of top British talent walked the opening night red carpet to enter the newly refurbished UK cinema flagship – Odeon Leicester Square. This film and the sumptuously refurbished venue served notice that UK cinema was pumped up.
Copperfield was a period piece costume drama peopled with the best of British screen talent who brought a contemporary twist to time-honoured characters. The title role is handled with human warmth and wit by Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel. Tilda Swinton was formidable as Betsey Trotwood plus a very fine turn by Peter Capaldi as the incurable optimist, Mr Micawber. And a very special treat was the deliciously smarmy Uriah Heap in a star turn by Ben Whishaw.
When the film up sticks to the seaside we got to meet Paul Whitehouse as mutton-chopped Mr Peggotty in a most whimsical beach boathouse. This was truly a Grand Designs winner habitat and at the same time gave the tale a very modern visual twist.
This was inventive and light touch British cinema at it’s best which, with wit and skill, revitalised a story already told countless times. The opening film choice underscored the audacious agenda of incoming Festival Director, Tricia Tuttle. “Filmmakers are tackling burning issues of our time – often in surprising ways…..diverse work from a new generation of filmmakers who reside in the UK. They join a thrilling selection of work from 75 countries around the world,” said Tuttle.
After post-war years of struggle and doubt the UK film industry is basking in something of a golden age in a year when Britain’s film industry rose tall and was even credited with staving off recession as the UK wrestles with Brexit. Yes, roll up roll up, the UK Film Industry is credited as the surprise factor preventing a tip into recession “ Britain is likely to avoid recession with help from the film industry.” wrote top financial website, This Is Money “The economy grew by 0.3 per cent between June and August as weak manufacturing was offset by booming TV and film production, according to the Office for National Statistics. The UK film industry has grown by 27 per cent in the past year. The latest James Bond movie is among those currently being made.”
The Copperfield re-boot was proof that the UK industry can confidently supply top-quality cinema with local talent both in front and behind the camera.
This year the festival also attracted some of the biggest names to its side as festival partners and sponsors. From Principal Sponsor American Express to The May Fair Hotel to Facebook who all featured among an impressive array of brands nailing their colours to the London Film Festival mast.
There were plenty of other big pictures wowing audiences including the visually stunning hot air balloon adventure The Aeronauts starring Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne. A madcap comedy called Jojo Rabbit which portrays a Nazi Youth lad and an imaginary Hitler as a comic star turn and a petrolhead treat in Le Mans 66. In other sections, there was a wealth of cinema talent on display and many tackled current issues and social ills. Rocks was a low budget look at a schoolgirl who finds herself solo parenting her young brother and gritty Country Lines tells the story of a young lad ensnared by the lure of easy cash.
From outside the UK, there was plenty to enjoy and digest including South African film Moofie which tells of gay love amongst South African conscripts as apartheid breathed its last gasp. A particular treat was vibrant Naples-set Piranhas which tells the story of young challengers to established crime lords. There were plenty of other indulgent goodies for cinema goers including Greed the new Michael Winterbottom which stars Steve Coogan in a thinly veiled satirical send up of Phillip Green of Topshop fame. Hope Gap was a delightful British drama showcasing Bill Nighy and Annette Benning who play a couple who split in later life. The finely nuanced performances show the pain and heartache of binning decades of marriage for a last hurrah.
The bookends of the festival spoke to the status and aims of the London Film Festival. Kicking off with a refreshing retelling of David Copperfield it signed off with The Irishman which was heavy with Hollywood A list ballast. This vintage Scorsese marked his ninth collaboration with Robert De Niro. The film returns to the story of the fate of Teamster Union leader Jimmy Hoffa who met an untimely and mysterious end. Joining De Niro in this muscular story of unions and the mob it sees Joe Pesci come out of retirement and Al Pacino in a Martin Scorsese picture for the first time. What a red carpet line up of De Niro and Pesci and their director. This is the dream team cinema and a fitting way to end the London Film Festival. A celebration of UK cinema earning a place in an increasingly global industry. With this lineup, LFF can justify the UK’s claim to centre stage in world cinema.
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