Kicking off this week in Canberra before moving around Australia, the inaugural British Film Festival is the latest mini-fest from Palace Cinemas. But don’t get cosy with a cup of tea just yet, this festival has as much raw, gritty and emotionally uplifting films as any other foreign fair. Palace already corner the market when it comes to foreign cinema, with the French, Italian, Spanish, German and Israeli Film Festivals already under their belt, but Kim Petalas, program director of the inaugural British Film Festival, insists there’s room for one more. “We felt it was important to complement our foreign language film festivals with an English language one,” he says. “We’re able to present a contemporary snapshot of British cinema.” The opening night movie, Once Chance, stars The History Boys’ James Corden as Paul Potts, winner of the first season of Britain’s Got Talent. Directed by The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel, it also stars the legendary Julie Walters as Potts’ mum and Mackenzie Crook as his best mate. “It’s an incredibly uplifting true story that reminds me, in nature, of Billy Elliot,” Petalas says. “It’s a real crowd pleaser, and Potts is terrific.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a celebration of British cinema without an appearance by Dame Judy Dench, who stars in another true-story, closing night’s Philomena. Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) it debuted at the Venice Film Festival to great acclaim. Dench plays the Irish Philomena Lee, who was forced to give up her son when she fell pregnant as a teenager during the 1950s. Forming an unlikely alliance with cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan, they set out for the US to track down the missing fragment of her life. “It’s one of the most magnificent films I’ve seen in a long while,” Petalas says. “The central relationship between Judy Dench and Steve Coogan is terrific. It’s a real celebration of life, in a beautiful way.” Philomena Trailor Other festival highlights include Still Life, with an incredible central performance from Eddie Marsan as a council worker who finds the next of kin for those who die alone, and London-set thriller Closed Circuit, starring Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall and Jim Broadbent. Broadbent also crops up in Le Week-end alongside Lindsay Duncan. Written by novelist Hanif Kureishi, it’s a bittersweet tale of a couple trying to reignite their marriage on a 30th anniversary tour to Paris.
Classic lovers can catch the top five British films of all time, as identified by the British Film Institute in 1999, with no fewer than three from director David Lean – Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia and Great Expectations. Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps complete the showcase.
HOW I LIVE NOW Directed by Kevin Macdonald
PHILOMENA Directed by Stephen Frears
ONE CHANCE Directed by David Frankel
DOM HEMINGWAY Directed by Richard Shepard
GOOD VIBRATIONS Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
AUSTENLAND Directed by Jerusha Hess
STILL LIFE Directed by Uberto Pasolini
PRIVATE PEACEFUL Directed by Pat O’Connor
MISSION TO LARS Directed by James Moore, William Spicer
CLOSED CIRCUIT Directed by John Crowley
JUMP Directed by Kieron J Walsh
ROMEO AND JULIET Directed by Carlo Carlei
LE WEEK-END Directed by Roger Michell
BLOOD Directed by Nick Murphy
Canberra: 19 November – 1 December
Melbourne: 20 November – 1 December
Sydney: 21 November – 1 December
Byron Bay: 21 November – 27 November
Adelaide: 22 November – 1 December
Brisbane: 27 November – 8 December
Purchase your festival tickets from Palace Cinemas.
Stephen A Russell is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.