Some Highlights of The London Film Festival 2016

The London Film Festival 2016 has just finished but the new films that have been shown will be on general – or limited – release over the coming year. Three which will be worth catching are LION and QUEEN OF KATWE and A UNITED KINGDOM

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LION (2 hrs.08 mins.) will be out towards the end of November. Based on a true story it tells the tale of five-year-old Saroo who accompanying his older brother to work, falls asleep on a bench and in trying to find his way to his brother accidentally boards a train which carries him to Calcutta, hundreds of miles distant. Attempting to get back to his rural village, he finds that nobody knows the village he names or his family as all he knows is his mother is called ‘mummy.’ Saroo is eventually taken to an orphanage then adopted by Australians: wife Sue (Nicole Kidman) and husband John (David Wenham). He fits in well, enjoys his splendid new life and we move on 20 years to find the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) now 25 and studying in Melbourne. Saroo becomes obsessed with finding his birth family. Encouraged by his girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara) he pursues this so intently that he virtually cuts himself off from his girlfriend and adoptive parents.

Director Garth Davis has got a terrific performance from young Sunny Pawar as the child Saroo. Dev Patel manages the adult Saroo with an appropriate mixture of anxiety and overwhelming love for both his mothers. Highly recommended.

Rating ****

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Another hit from the LFF is QUEEN OF KATWE (cert.PG 2 hrs.05 mins.). This is also based on a true story. Director Mira Nair has taken the tale of the young Ugandan chess champion, Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and turned it into an exciting journey undertaken by a young girl from a very poor township in Kampala to the pinnacle of chess fame in her country. Beginning in 2011 with the Ugandan chess competition the film flashes back to 2007, when Phiona is living with her mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) who just about manages to keep her children fed by selling maize and vegetables in the street. Ten-year-old Phiona comes across the chess club run by a missionary called Robert (David Oyelowo). She can’t read or write but Phiona can play the game. Winning match after match Phiona progresses, getting an education on the way. Mira Nair manages to capture the colours and vivacity of the local people. She portrays one particular Ugandan family and, working with a mainly young cast, shows a life of extreme poverty lived mainly outside on the streets combined with the courage and determination of one young girl and her dedicated teacher. There’s a truthful performance from young Madina as Phiona.

Rating ****

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A UNITED KINGDOM (cert.12 1hr. 45 mins.) is a delightful film, again based on a true story but this one is part of the history of our Britain and of Bechuanaland (now called Botswana).

It’s a love story but one with strong political ingredients. The King of Bechuanaland, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) meets London office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a dance. They fall in love and against fierce opposition not only from the ruling class in Bechuanaland but also from Ruth’s family, they marry in 1948. More importantly the British Government officials are against the marriage as they fear it will affect their relationship with South Africa which at the time has an apartheid regime. There is increased difficulty for Seretse from his own family and rulers when he returns to his own country with his white English wife.

It’s good to see Rosamund Pike finally achieving a starring role and she absolutely inhabits the character of Ruth. It is obviously the year of David Oyelowo as he stars in the second of the LFF films (the other being Lion). Sincere and committed, the two actors work well together here.

There is also great cinematography by Sam McCurdy who captures the vibrant colours of Botswana contrasted with the dark, grey streets of rain-soaked London.

Rating: ****

This is the first of the highlights of the LFF; more to come!

By Carlie Newman

Carlie Newman

Author: Carlie Newman

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