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The British are Coming! Why British Cinema is at the top of its game.

The British are Coming! Why British Cinema is at the top of its game.

11 November 2017 Nicola Freedman

While Hollywood may be the widely considered the epicentre of cinema, the British film industry is booming. In addition to Wonder Woman, Justice League and the blockbuster Star Wars series being filmed across the country, Britain’s own filmmakers are out in force. With a slate of terrific films released this year, and with many more to come, British filmmaking has never been so compelling. From debut directors to seasoned veterans, this years ‘BFI London Film Festival’ was just one event that highlighted and celebrated the best of British talent.

Indeed, opening the 61st BFI London Film Festival was Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe. Best known for his motion-capture performances, particularly as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Breathe stands in stark contrast to his previous work. Describing it as “the most exciting and emotional script” he’d ever read, the film tells the inspirational true story of Robin Cavendish who lived for nearly 40 years as a responaut after contracting Polio, and his wife Diana, who ensured that her husband lived his life to the fullest. While Serkis himself remains firmly behind the camera, the film features a who’s who of British talent, from Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy as Robin and Diana Cavendish respectively, to Hugh Bonneville and Tom Hollander in supporting roles. A quintessentially British love story, the film’s whimsical opening is complete with sweeping shots of the picturesque English countryside and, naturally, a game of cricket. Nevertheless, despite these sometimes overly sentimental tendencies, Breathe effectively highlights the questionable treatment of the disabled, and more broadly raises important questions about life and the will to live – questions that are as relevant today as they were decades ago.
 

Image credit:

While Serkis made his directorial debut, veteran British writer-director Sally Potter returned after a five year break to deliver a tour-de-force with her biting black-and-white comedy The Party. Starring Kristen Scott Thomas as the newly promoted British cabinet politician and stressed-out hostess, The Party sees the political and intellectual elite gather for what quickly becomes the dinner party from hell. Peppered with razor sharp one-liners, and a scene-stealing performance from Patricia Clarkson as the acid-tongued April, The Party is perhaps one of the years sharpest and most entertaining films. While the film can also be read as a commentary on 21st century Britain - the dialogue touches on issues such as disillusionment with mainstream democratic politics and the ongoing crisis in the U.K.’s National Health Service – it thankfully never becomes heavy handed, instead maintaining a fast paced, almost frenetic energy.


Image credit: Oxwich Media Limited/ Adventure Pictures Limited

Another satire which made a strong impression was Rungano Nyoni’s I am Not a Witch. Born in Zambia before moving to Wales, the self-taught writer/director’s dazzling debut feature tells the story of a nine year old girl exiled to a so-called ‘witch camp’. Mixing elements of magical realism with deadpan satire and feminist allegory, the visually stunning film is one of the most original and fascinating pieces of cinema in recent years. Unsurprisingly, since premiering at Cannes Festival in May, I am Not a Witch has been met with critical acclaim, and heralds Nyoni as one of the country’s most interesting filmmakers. 


Image credit: Cannes Film Festival

While the future of film is met with fraught uncertainty, it is vital that we continue to see a multitude of stories reflected on screen – from men and women, of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities. Of course while nothing can be taken for granted, it is greatly encouraging to see that in the UK filmmakers are producing work that is contributing to the continued development and growth of the British film industry and, in effect, the industry at large.
 
Breathe, The Party and I am Not a Witch are in cinemas across the UK.
 

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