14 September, 2010
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
It has been a difficult few months for the British film industry. Not only has the economic recession made the film business even more challenging, but the controversy surrounding the shuttering of the UK Film Council has been acriminious, amidst charges of economic abuse and political favoritism. Even the venerable London Film Festival, which unspools next month, losts its main corporate sponsors and had to scramble to find replacements.
However, based on the bounty of British films here at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Brits seem to be back in top form. The Festival is literally bursting with solid UK titles, some of which will probably figure in end-of-the-year awards and Oscar/Golden Globe nominations.
Leading the pack is THE KING'S SPEECH by director Tom Hooper. The film received a rare standing ovation following its press and industry screening here (something that never happens) and has officially created royal buzz. The film features a stellar cast including Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in the true story of King George VI, the monarch who assumed the throne on the eve of World War II when his brother Edward abdicated to be with Mrs. Simpson (one of the juiciest scandals of the 1930s). George suffered from a life long problem with stuttering, which he turns to the Henry Higgins-like Geoffrey Rush character to correct. Tongues are already wagging that this film will put actor Colin Firth over the top and win him the Oscar denied him for last year's A SINGLE MAN. The Weinstein Company, which has picked up North American rights, will be mounting a major awards campaign for the actors, the director and the film itself.
BRIGHTON ROCK, based on a celebrated Graham Greene novel, brings together Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, Sam Riley and rising actress Andrea Risebough in a film directed by Rowan Joffe. The film marks the first project to be greenlit from the development slate of UK distributor Optimum Releasing, which is the UK arm of the French mega-company Studio-Canal.
Director Nigel Cole had a considerable hit a few years ago with CALENDAR GIRLS. He returns to Toronto with the world premiere of MADE IN DAGENHAM, a lets-get-unionized film based on the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car factory where female workers walked out to protest against sexual discrimination and unfair pay scales. The film produced by Stephen Wooley and Elizabeth Karlsen's Number 9 Films, features a stellar cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike and Bob Hoskins.
NEVER LET ME GO, which opens the London Film Festival next month, is an adaptation of the celebrated sci-fi novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY) as adapted by innovative novelist/screenwriter Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER). The film features three of the UK's hottest young acting talents: Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION), Keira Knightley and the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield. The films tells the harrowing tale of a group of friends who are part of a sequestered community that has been raised specifically to offer their body parts as donations in a futuristic "what if" society that has abolished illness (but at a great personal cost). Although some reviews were a bit chilly, the film is a moody and meditative art piece.
Other highly buzzed UK titles here include WEST IS WEST, the sequel to the celebrated Indian all-star cast EAST IS EAST, both penned by Ayub Khan-Din; the human trafficking drama I AM SLAVE by director Gabriel Range; and THE DEBT, a thriller directed by vet John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), again starring Helen Mirren and featuring AVATAR's Sam Worthington, Jespeer Christensen and Jessica Chastain.