British films at Toronto 2013

We round up Team GB’s offerings at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley

Actor Sophie Kennedy Clark on Philomena

Hot on the heels of British successes at Venice, the Toronto International Film Festival gets underway this week with a huge raft of British premieres, including new films by Ralph Fiennes, Richard Ayoade, Roger Michell, Kevin Macdonald and Amma Asante.

Philomena and Under the Skin both receive their North American premieres at Toronto having previously shown to wide acclaim at the Venice Film Festival this month. There’s already talk of an Oscar for Judi Dench in Philomena, Stephen Frears’ drama about an elderly Irish woman searching for her long-lost son; while Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien at large in the Scottish highlands, brings an end to eager anticipation for a third film from director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000; Birth, 2004).

Among Toronto’s world premieres is Amma Asante’s second film as director, following her BAFTA-winning A Way of Life (2004). Belle is an opulent costume drama based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a mixed-race girl raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. Tom Wilkinson co-stars.

Also returning to the director’s chair for a second film is Ralph Fiennes, who follows his modern-day Shakespeare tragedy Coriolanus (2011) with The Invisible Woman, starring Fiennes himself as Charles Dickens. It’s the story of Dickens’s fragile relationship with Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), a young theatre actor who becomes a muse and secret lover for the author in his later years.

Screenwriter Abi Morgan on The Invisible Woman

After acclaim for his debut, Submarine (2010), Richard Ayoade’s much-anticipated second film is The Double, a modern adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name starring Jesse Eisenberg as a timid young man who is driven to distraction by a new co-worker who is his exact döppelganger. Mia Wasikowska and Noah Taylor also star.

Roger Michell’s Le Week-end, based on a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, stars Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as a married couple who travel to Paris for a weekend break to relive their honeymoon and rekindle their romance, though bumping into an old friend (Jeff Goldbum) sends their trip off in an unexpected direction. Michell’s previous films include Notting Hill (1999), Venus (2006) and Hyde Park on Hudson (2012).

How I Live Now (2013)

How I Live Now (2013)

How I Live Now is adapted from a popular novel for young adults by Meg Rosoff about a Manhattanite girl, Daisy, spending her summer in the British countryside when World War III suddenly breaks out. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, 2002; The Last King of Scotland, 2006), it stars Saoirse Ronan as Daisy.

There are musical offerings in John Ridley’s All Is by My Side – the story of Jimi Hendrix’s fame-making years in 1960s London, starring Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as Hendrix – and Sunshine on Leith, directed by Dexter Fletcher from the stage musical based on the songs of The Proclaimers.

Jude Law plays the title role in Dom Hemingway. Directed by Richard Shepherd, it’s the story of a safecracker out of prison after 12 years who travels to the south of France with his best friend (Richard E. Grant) to collect his reward for keeping his mouth shut. Meanwhile, David Mackenzie’s Starred Up takes place on the other side of the bars, featuring Jack O’Connell as a young convict who must struggle to assert himself in the violent world of a high-security prison. Sean Durkin’s four-part TV drama Southcliffe, about a spate of killings in rural Kent, will also screen in full during the festival.

Le Week-end (2013)

Le Week-end (2013)

Rounding off the British films receiving special presentations at Toronto are One Chance, David Frankel’s biopic starring James Corden as Britain’s Got Talent-winning tenor Paul Potts; Only Lovers Left Alive, the latest film from Jim Jarmusch, co-produced by Jeremy Thomas’s London-based Recorded Picture Company; and Half of a Yellow Sun, a Nigerian-British co-production starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton.

One of the toasts of the Cannes Film Festival this year, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant screens in Toronto’s contemporary world cinema section. Another Cannes favourite, Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children of Film will air as part of the festival’s official documentary selection, alongside the North American premiere of The Dark Matter of Love, Sarah McCarthy’s film about a Wisconsin family’s struggles to bond with their adopted Russian children.

In the Mavericks programme, Beeban Kidron’s InRealLife is a documentary look at the generation who’ve grown up with the internet, and For No Good Reason is a portrait of illustrator Ralph Steadman, best known for his illustrations for the gonzo writings of Hunter S. Thompson.

The Wavelengths section, dedicated to “films that expand our notions of cinema”, gives North American audiences their first chance to see Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic English civil war drama A Field in England.

The Selfish Giant (2013)

The Selfish Giant (2013)

The British invasion of Toronto this year also includes representation among the festival’s gala screenings, with British talent and production companies involved in Alfonso Cuarón’s highly regarded Gravity, Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, co-starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, Justin Chadman’s biopic Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, and Ron Howard’s Formula One drama Rush, co-produced by the UK’s Revolution Films and Working Title Films.

12 Years a Slave, the new film by British director Steve McQueen (Hunger, 2006; Shame, 2010), is also unveiled at Toronto, alongside To the Wolf, the feature debut of London-born Aran Hughes (co-directed by Christina Koutsospyrou); John Curran’s Tracks, produced by Iain Canning and Emile Sherman (The King’s Speech, 2010; Shame, 2010); and The Sea, directed by Stephen Brown and starring Ciarán Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.

Philomena, Under the Skin, Belle, The Double, The Invisible Woman, Le Week-end, Sunshine on Leith, How I Live Now, InRealLife, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Selfish Giant and A Story of Children and Film are all backed by the BFI Film Fund.

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