Starring Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe, tennis titans biopic Borg/McEnroe opens the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, which presents a more streamlined programme than in recent years, with the total number of films down 20% on 2016. Even so, some 255 features and 84 shorts will be screened, including an impressive roster of new British films and co-productions, many of them receiving their first screenings anywhere.
Among the gala screenings, there are world premieres for Andy Serkis’s directorial debut Breathe, which also opens the BFI London Film Festival in October, as well as the first English-language work from director Haifaa Al-Mansour, who made a splash internationally with her Saudi debut Wadjda in 2012. Her new film, Mary Shelley, is a period drama starring Elle Fanning as the eponymous author, and Douglas Booth as Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Famous lives are also at the centre of Joe Wright’s Second World War film Darkest Hour, featuring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, and Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, featuring Annette Bening as Hollywood icon Gloria Grahame. There are stars aplenty too in UK co-productions The Wife, an adaptation of a Meg Wolitzer novel starring Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater, and Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead, starring Jessica Chastain as the portrait painter who became Sitting Bull’s confidante.
Following acclaim after its recent premiere at Venice, Lean on Pete, the new drama from Andrew Haigh (Weekend; 45 Years), gets a special presentation slot at TIFF, joining other hugely anticipated titles such as Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand, and the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth; The Lobster), The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Echoing festival opener Borg/McEnroe, tennis rivalry is served up in Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, while a unique friendship is at the heart of Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul, based on a book of the same name by Shrabani Basu. Reprising her role from Mrs. Brown (1997), Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, with Ali Fazal as her Indian servant Abdul Karim.
Literary inspiration also brings us Saul Dibb’s Journey’s End, an adaptation of R.C. Sherriff’s 1930 play set during the First World War; Disobedience, based on Naomi Alderman’s novel and starring Rachel Weisz; and not one but two Ian McEwan adaptations: Dominic Cooke’s film of On Chesil Beach, with Saoirse Ronan, and Richard Eyre’s The Children Act, with Emma Thompson.
The UK-India co-production The Hungry transposes Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus to modern-day northern India, while The Journey is an urgent contemporary thriller by Iraqi director Mohamed Al Daradji, made with UK-French backing.
Genre fans at TIFF can look forward to The Ritual, the latest from horror veteran David Bruckner (V/H/S; Southbound), and zombie drama The Cured, an Irish-British-French first feature by David Freyne and starring Ellen Page. Other first features screening include Daniel Kokotajlo’s Apostasy, a drama set in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses; festival closer (and Cannes favourite) I Am Not a Witch, from Welsh-Zambian director Rungano Nyoni; and Michael Pearce’s Beast, set in a remote island community.
Musical icons are the subjects of two new British documentaries screening at TIFF, Sophie Fiennes’ Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami and Lili Fini Zanuck’s Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, while TIFF shorts with British involvement include Dionne Edwards’ We Love Moses, which was produced via the BFI’s Network programme, Mahdi Fleifel’s A Drowning Man, Charlotte Wells’ Blue Christmas, Lucy Parker’s Fire and Daniel Cockburn’s The Argument (with Annotations).
Finally, a word for two exciting returning directors. Armando Iannucci is back with his first film as director since 2009’s In the Loop, this time taking a trip into history for the political satire The Death of Stalin. TIFF will also host the world premiere of the third feature by Clio Barnard, her first since 2013’s The Selfish Giant. Dark River centres on the dispute between two siblings on a Yorkshire farm.
Films backed with National Lottery funding via the BFI Film Fund
Lean on Pete
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
I Am Not a Witch
We Love Moses
Films also screening at the 61st BFI London Film Festival
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Battle of the Sexes
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
On Chesil Beach
Lean on Pete
I Am Not a Witch