As the BFI London Film Festival attracts the focus of the capital’s critics and movie buffs, and superstar actors crowd the red carpets, we spare a thought for the source novels, biographies and fables that inspired some of this year’s most anticipated main features – including a handful of remastered classics.
Adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín’s bestselling novel, Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who emigrates from rural Ireland in the 1950s to start a new life in the burgeoning expat community of Brooklyn. Once there she builds a promising career and falls in love with Emory Cohen’s confident Italian-American dreamer Tony – only to be pulled back to Ireland by a family tragedy. Should she stay on in her safe homeland – where a new suitor emerges on the scene – or head back to the excitement and promise of America? Directed by John Crowley, the cast also includes Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Emily Bett Rickards and Domhnall Gleeson.
UK release 6 November
Read our interview with Colm Tóibín
The Lady in the Van
Director Nicholas Hytner and writer Alan Bennett’s award-winning collaborations have included the theatrical staging and screen adaptations of The Madness of King George and The History Boys. They team up again for this witty and affecting adaptation of Bennett’s play starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. Smith reprises her stage and radio role as Miss Shepherd, who moves her caravan onto Bennett’s (Jennings’) driveway in the late 1960s and becomes a permanent fixture in his life. A thoughtful and deeply funny appraisal of community spirit, loneliness, steely resolve and dependency.
UK release 13 November
A savagely dark satire based on J.G. Ballard’s devastating assault on 1960s idealism and the Thatcherite values that caused its unravelling. Opening with the provocative image of a dishevelled Dr Robert Liang (Tom Hiddleston) sitting down to eat barbecued dog on the balcony of his trashed 25th-floor apartment, we flash back to just months before to see where everything went wrong for him – and for a building that was meant to be a beacon of state-of-the-art modernism. Director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump dive in to the source novel with relish to create an unforgettable survey of broken society, nihilism and greed. Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans also star.
UK release 18 March
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Cate Blanchett shines as a 1950s socialite who finds herself attracted to Rooney Mara’s aspiring photographer Therese. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy fleshes out the main character, who is a somewhat ghostly apparition of yearning in the novel, and Todd Haynes directs with sensitivity and care, examining ideas of femininity and attraction and the fearlessness of love in an age of optimism and paranoia. Haynes’ frequent collaborator Ed Lachman’s cinematography, combined with Judy Becker’s production design and Sandy Powell’s costumes, is sublime, capturing the era with depth and precision.
UK release 27 November
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Argo) is compelling as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter who initially went uncredited for his Oscar-winning Roman Holiday and The Brave One after he refused to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Bruce Cook’s 1977 biography is mined with comedic licence by director Jay Loach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) and screenwriter John McNamara (Aquarius). Other fine performances include Helen Mirren as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, John Goodman as unscrupulous B-movie producer Frank King and Louis C.K. as a friend and fellow writer who refuses to compromise his principles.
UK release 5 February
A gritty and absorbing adaptation of Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s acclaimed biography about the rise of one of America’s most notorious mobsters, Black Mass explores the underbelly of vice and corruption in 1970s Boston. Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) directs as FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) recruits Irish gangster ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) as an informant for the FBI against the Mafia. Whitey’s brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is on the political fast-track to become State Senator, which opens another layer of conflicted loyalties and ambitions.
UK release 27 November
This gripping docudrama about journalistic ethics stars Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford as the team behind the 60 Minutes investigation into whether George W. Bush avoided the Vietnam draft. Redford is uncanny as veteran broadcaster Dan Rather, and Blachett dazzles as producer Mary Mapes, upon whose memoir writer-director James Vanderbilt’s script is based. As their irrepressible research team (Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid) expose inconsistencies in Bush’s military records in an election year, powerful Republican interest groups inevitably cry foul.
UK release 4 March
With Danny Boyle directing, Aaron Sorkin as screenwriter, Michael Fassbender as the main man and Kate Winslet in support, viewers can be forgiven for not instantly spotting that Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography laid the foundation for this exuberant biopic of the man at the centre of the digital revolution. Fassbender’s energetic performance magnifies the brilliance and insecurities of the Apple head honcho, and Winslet is irresistible as marketing chief Joanna Hoffman, the woman who marches in step with Jobs and sets him challenge after challenge. (Anyone remember the role the NeXT Cube played in Apple’s strategy for world domination?)
UK release 13 November
Australian theatre director Simon Stone adapted Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck as a “searing modern-day tragedy” at the Barbican last year, at the same time as working on adapting it for the screen. The story is transposed into a rural Australian setting in which Henry (Geoffrey Rush) shuts down a generations-old logging mill and plans a lavish wedding with his much younger fiancé. His estranged son Christian (Paul Schneider) returns home after many years to uncover a painful family secret that soon reverberates throughout a community in foreboding isolation.
UK release TBC
Peter Mullan, Agyness Deyn and Jack Greenlees star in Terence Davies’ spirited take on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel, a classic of Scottish literature, which provides broad themes of (mostly rain-soaked) rural self-determination. In the early years of the twentieth century, Chris Guthrie (Deyn) is an independent and ambitious young woman seemingly destined to teach, who at the onset of war loses a husband and commits to a life working the land.
UK release 4 December
The End of the Tour
Fans of David Foster Wallace will be transfixed by this bittersweet dramatisation of life on the road with the reluctant superstar novelist. Based on the recordings of Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, who accompanied Wallace for five days on his 1996 national book tour for the seminal Infinite Jest, director James Ponsoldt and screenwriter Donald Margulies concoct a vivid portrait of the gifted but haunted satirist with a dark gift and a keen eye for modern life’s absurdities.
UK release TBC
Arabian Nights (As Mil e Uma Noites)
Volume 1: The Restless One, Volume 2: The Desolate One, Volume 3: The Enchanted One
Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu) revisits the ancient tales of Scheherezade in the face of real-life tales from his country’s continuing economic crisis. From housing projects to palaces, punk rockers to princesses, bailiffs to caliphs, this shape-shifting medley combines fantasy, documentary and pantomime. Non-professional actors mingle with genies, wizards, animals and IMF economists, all set to an eclectic soundtrack. A radical, artistic and hugely entertaining response to political realities and a celebration of the power of storytelling.
UK release 22 April to 6 May
A gruesome quartet of traditional folk fables from Assam follows women characters to the edge of sanity in Bhaskar Hazarika’s surreal debut feature. Senehi is a village wife who plots her stepdaughter’s murder when her husband leaves for work. Her husband Devinath meets a woman who has given birth to a strange vegetable and resolves to help her unearth the mystery. In another village, a well-to-do woman prepares her daughter for marriage to a python, hoping that untold riches will spring from the union. And a mother resolves to save her newborn child from the husband who buried her previous three babies alive in the jungle.
UK release TBC
Bed, rug, skylight, lamp, Ma… five-year-old Jack’s physical world comprises a handful of objects within easy view or grasp. Trapped in an 11-square-foot room since birth, life has always been defined by these parameters. Ma employs all the care and imagination she can muster to keep Jack alert, healthy and happy. But when a window of escape emerges, Jack confronts a wholly new understanding of the world. Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own bestseller, Room is an engaging examination of captivity, resilience and parenthood. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and starring Brie Larson (Short Term 12).
UK release 15 January
Zack (Dylan Minnette) is a new kid in town with a crush on girl-next-door Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose enigmatic dad keeps her locked up in her house and home-schools her. After trying to orchestrate her escape, Zack inadvertently unleashes an army of ghosts and monsters, forcing Hannah’s father to reveal his true identity as R.L. Stine (Jack Black), author of 59 Goosebumps novels, and the only man who can save the world from the newly liberated demons. Director Rob Letterman and screenwriter Darren Lemke mix up characters from dozens of Stine’s novels to create a ghoulishly fun ride for all the family.
UK release 5 February
When Marnie Was There
Based on Joan G. Robinson’s novel of the same name, When Marnie Was There is slated to be the final film from Japanese animation giants Studio Ghibli. Anna, a sickly girl, is sent to live with relatives on the coast where, walking near a marsh one day, she befriends the mysterious Marnie who claims to live in an old mansion. Sometimes the house appears lived-in and full of guests; look again and it’s empty and in ruins, causing the lines between the real and imagined to blur. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty), this is a mesmerising drama with trademark visual and narrative complexity.
UK release TBC
The London Film Festival also presents an opportunity for the BFI to reintroduce digitally remastered classics about to resurface on general release and for home viewing. This year, look out for special screenings of Fred Zinnemann and Robert Bolt’s sumptuous, multi-Oscar-winning slice of Tudor history A Man for All Seasons; Ken Russell’s Women in Love (D.H. Lawrence) starring Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson; and Alec Guinness as a hapless vacuum cleaner salesman-turned secret agent in Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s immaculate Our Man in Havana.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from Wednesday 7 to Sunday 18 October, showcasing 240 films from 72 countries at 16 cinemas in the West End and across London. Read more.
Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer, and a founding editor of Bookanista.