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Spencer
Photograph: STX

12 unmissable movies to see at the London Film Festival

From ‘Spencer’ to ‘Titane’: a dozen killer cuts at October’s UK-wide fest

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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The BFI London Film Festival is back with a bang from October. Multiple bangs, if you take its trigger-happy opening western, ‘The Harder They Fall’, and a few other explosive programme high points (bonjour, ‘Titane’) into account.

Like last year’s lockdown-hit fest, there’s a strong virtual and online element – have BFI Player ready – but the thrilling news is that the 159-film programme will be screening in cinemas, not just in London but across the UK. 

But because 159 is a lot of movies, and no one without extra eyeballs and an oligarch’s budget has the time and disposable income to see them all, we’ve picked 12 especially hot premieres to bring your attention to. Tickets go on sale on September 20. See you there.

Find the full LFF programme and information on times and tickets here.

12 films to see at the BFI London Film Festival

The Harder They Fall
Photograph: Netflix

The Harder They Fall

The LFF opening night gala usually has a strong London flavour and this year is no exception. Multi-hyphenate local boy Jeymes Samuel, aka singer-songwriter The Bullitts, has swapped the mic for a loudhailer to direct a Black western with a cast best described as stupidly awesome. Strapping on the six-shooters are Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Regina King and ‘Da 5 Bloods’ duo Jonathan Majors and Delroy Lindo. 

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  • Thrillers

Stand clear, Julia Ducournau’s (‘Raw’) incendiary odyssey through gender fluidity, extreme violence and car-fucking is hitting the festival like the movie equivalent of one of those punchy fist emojis. The Palme d’Or winner is the Time Out gala on Saturday October 9 – which is how much we love it. If you’re in the mood for a no-holds-barred cinematic tour-de-force that will leave you pinned back in your seat, say hello to your new favourite film. 

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The Tragedy of Macbeth
Photograph: Courtesy of Apple TV+

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Royal Festival Hall is a dagger’s throw from William Shakespeare’s old theatre the Globe – okay, it’s a particularly aerodynamic dagger – so a closing night gala of a film inspired by the bard’s great tragedy feels like a homecoming of sorts. Joel Coen’s black-and-white adaptation promises much – not least Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as the ill-starred schemers at its heart.

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  • Drama

If ‘The Crown’ is a bit polite for your tastes and doesn’t feature enough cameos from Anne Boleyn or icy exchanges over Christmas turkey, Kristen Stewart and Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s (‘Ema’) racy new Princess Diana drama is where to head. A super-stylised blend of real-life recreation and flighty fantasy, it’s all set over a few less-than-festive days at Sandringham. Early word from the Venice Film Festival has K-Stew as a likely Oscar candidate. Here’s where to catch it early.

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  • Drama

You know what to expect from a Wes Anderson joint: immaculate world-building, effortless wit, fizzy storytelling and Bill Murray being great. They’re so lovely to look at, you want to take them home with you. And if Anderson’s stuff is your bag, ‘The French Dispatch’ is going to be a serious treat: a medley of interconnecting stories set in a bygone France and revolving around a New Yorker-style periodical that’s edited by the Murricane. Magnifique! 

The Power of the Dog
Photograph: Netflix

The Power of the Dog

Benedict Cumberbatch has played villains before – who can forget, ahem, John Harrison in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’? – but none quite like the heartless bastard at the centre of Jane Campion’s dusty tale of two brothers falling out over a woman. Set in early twentieth-century Montana, and based on Thomas Savage’s novel, it has Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons completing the thorny triangle. Campion, of course, made the gripping TV thriller ‘Top of the Lake’, but this is her first film since 2009’s ‘Bright Star’. The buzz is loud.

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  • Film
  • Thrillers

Possibly the London-iest film on the London Film Festival’s programme, Edgar Wright’s time-travelling psychological thriller will take audiences back to Soho in a time long before Nando’s got there. And if that isn’t horrifying enough, Thomasin McKenzie’s young fashion student Eloise is plunged into the kitten heels of an aspiring singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she navigates a Swinging ’60s world of sleazy men and broken dreams. 

Ron’s Gone Wrong
Photograph: Locksmith Animation

Ron’s Gone Wrong

One for the wee ’uns – because you can’t take them to see ‘Titane’ (seriously, do not take them to see ‘Titane’) – this family-friendly flick is the first to emerge from new London animation house Locksmith Animation. As well as a local success story for UK animation, it’s a film with a well-stocked voice cast (Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms, Rob Delaney et al) and a cute robot sidekick. What more could you ask for, especially with cheap tickets on offer for kids?

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The Lost Daughter
Photograph: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/2021

The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut film as a director has been getting raves out of the Venice Film Festival, so expect it to be a seriously hot ticket at the LFF – even before you factor in the presence of Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and be-necklaced love god from ‘Normal People’, Paul Mescal. Adapted by Gyllenhaal herself from an Elena Ferrante novel, it’s the story of motherhood and past trauma echoing through time.

  • Film
  • Romance

If taking the Eurostar to Paris is all a bit complicated at the moment, this gorgeously lit black-and-white story of modern love in the City of Light is easily the next best thing. Londoners should get a major kick out of its relatable depiction of the highs and lows of online dating, hook-ups, work, partying and flat shares in the big city. Master filmmaker Jacques Audiard (‘A Prophet’) gives it all a romantic sweep that’ll make it the perfect date movie too.

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  • Film
  • Animation

Potentially the most politically resonant film of the year so far, this deeply human, hugely impressive animation, told from an LGBTQ+ perspective, is the story of an Afghan refugee trying to make it to Denmark and freedom. Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s film is close kin with other grown-up animations like ‘The Breadwinner’ and ‘Waltz with Bashir’, and comes laden with heartrending topicality. See it to better understand events that are playing out right now. 

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Arthouse movies don’t usually get sequels – although we’d be first in line for ‘Phantom Thread 2: The Stitchquel ’ – but Joanna Hogg’s memoir was always conceived as a two-part palimpsest revisiting her younger years as a twentysomething film student in ’80s London – and the LFF seems like just the place to pick up the story. If you’ve seen ‘The Souvenir’, you’ll know that Hogg’s on-screen surrogate is Julie played by Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton’s daughter. If not, there’s still time.

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