You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Strong Women’ at the Fore at London Film Festival

The 61st BFI London Film Festival, which takes place Oct. 4-15, is one of the few top movie events to be headed by a woman, but female-directed films only represent 25% of the features in the program.

That is far from where festival director Clare Stewart would like it to be, although it is up from 20% last year, and includes some stellar movies, such as Dee Rees’ story of two families in the Deep South, “Mudbound”; Lynne Ramsay revenge thriller “You Were Never Really Here”; and Clio Barnard’s “Dark River,” in which two siblings struggle to come to terms with their inheritance following the death of their father.

Several films reflect the theme of “strong women” behind and in front of the camera that Stewart has worked to emphasize in recent years. Examples of robust parts for women this year include Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in “Battle of the Sexes.”

“We have been quite vocal about strong roles for women and this film continues the march for us,” Stewart says. “It’s comedic in tone but with a rebellious spirit. The match is at the heart of the film but the story is very much that of Billie Jean King and her coming to terms with her sexuality, so it’s a very resonant film.”

Stewart underscores the “terrific” acting by other actresses in the festival lineup, such as Frances McDormand’s “blistering” performance in Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and Sally Hawkins’ “beautiful” execution in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”

Annette Bening also stands out in Paul McGuigan’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” about the romance between former movie queen Gloria Grahame (who won a supporting actress Oscar for 1952’s “The Bad and the Beautiful”) and her much younger lover.

“[Bening] gives a well-rounded performance as a woman who, in a very spirited way, is holding onto both her profession and her sexuality, and eschews the fading movie star role,” Stewart says.

The festival’s selection of British films suggests local filmmaking has reached a high-water mark in terms of its breadth and quality. There are some very strong debut features from local directors, including Andy Serkis with fest opener “Breathe,” about a man paralyzed by polio who fights to be allowed to live life to the fullest, and stage director Dominic Cooke with “On Chesil Beach,” an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel about a couple struggling to connect physically on their honeymoon.

Stewart notes that the lineup includes several movies by British directors that are set in the U.S., as they pursue creatively challenging story ideas in fresh areas. Examples include “You Were Never Really Here,” a portrayal of a hitman’s rage-fueled battle with abuse; “Three Billboards,” about a grieving mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter; and Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete,” about a neglected teen’s search for kindness in a bleak landscape.

Small-town America, which is depicted in the latter two movies, plays a central role in several of the festival’s films. Given the interest in the social forces that carried Donald Trump to the White House, these films are especially topical.

“In part what fuels [the mother’s rage in “Three Billboards”] is the small-mindedness and bigotry of the small town,” Stewart says. “The broader reverberations of contemporary America underpin in quite an intense way the kinetic tone of the movie.”

Another pic set in small-town America is “Mudbound,” about how the friendship of two World War II veterans ignites racial tensions. It’s one of many movies in the lineup that shine a light on social divisions in the U.S. in the past and today, including Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” about a 6-year-old girl and her young mother eking out an existence on the margins of society.

More Film

  • Janelle Monae

    Film News Roundup: Janelle Monae to Star in Film From Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

    In today’s film news roundup, Janelle Monae will star in a Lionsgate movie, Bill Nighy joins “Emma,” and documentaries on surfer Bethany Hamilton and Asbury Park are dated. CASTINGS Janelle Monae will star in an untitled Lionsgate movie directed by the duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. The film will be produced by QC Entertainment’s Ray [...]

  • Paul Feig Heads to Universal From

    Paul Feig's Feigco Entertainment Jumps From Fox to First-Look Deal at Universal

    Universal’s comedy constellation just added another star, welcoming Paul Feig from 20th Century Fox Film on Thursday. Universal has set a first-look production agreement with Feig’s Feigco Entertainment, bringing in the prolific producer, writer, and director known for hits like “Bridesmaids” and the recent “A Simple Favor.” News of Feig’s relocation shook out of a [...]

  • The Fault in Our Stars

    Disney Retiring Fox 2000 Label

    Disney will stop making films under the Fox 2000 label, a move that could mean that its head Elizabeth Gabler will not be making the move to the Magic Kingdom, Variety has learned. The decision is surprising because Disney had previously stated that Gabler would stay on board at the studio even after it was [...]

  • Macon Blair27th Annual Gotham Independent Film

    Macon Blair to Direct and Write 'Toxic Avenger' Reboot for Legendary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Macon Blair has been tapped to write and direct Legendary’s reboot of the cult classic “The Toxic Avenger,” sources tell Variety. Legendary acquired the feature film rights in December and have quickly made the project a high priority at the studio. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers with Alex [...]

  • Danny Boyle Bond 25

    Danny Boyle Calls His Exit From 'Bond 25' a 'Great Shame'

    Director Danny Boyle has finally spoken out after leaving the upcoming 25th James Bond movie over creative differences. After splitting from the new 007 flick last August, Boyle told Empire in a story published on Thursday that the script he penned with his “Trainspotting” co-writer John Hodge “wasn’t finished, but it could have been really [...]

  • Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    An elegiac documentary exploring the brief life of rapper Lil Peep, “Everybody’s Everything” certainly doesn’t lack for perspectives. Interviewing virtually everyone who knew the musician (born Gustav Ahr), directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan cover the waterfront, from Peep’s family to his girlfriends, his innumerable collaborators, his managers and his fans, trying to distill exactly [...]

  • A Brinks armored truck pulls into

    Fox Layoffs: Distribution and Marketing Leaders Out

    Layoffs have hit Fox following the entertainment company’s sale to Disney. The staff cuts are hitting employees at the SVP, EVP, and president level. Senior staff is expected to be among the first to be impacted. However, the cuts will be deep, with the ax falling hardest of Fox’s film team. There could be as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content