British Film Recommendations For 2009
Film Network singles out some of the British films worth looking out for in the coming year.
All things considered, 2008 ended up being a fairly good year for British filmmaking. The Brits continued to do well in the things we usually excel at – namely period-set 'heritage' dramas such as The Duchess, Brideshead Revisited, Easy Virtue and The Edge Of Love, all of which performed reasonably well at the box office.
Then there are the officially-British-but-they're-not-really co-productions such as Quantum of Solace and Mamma Mia!, which weaved their box office magic dutifully (and in Mamma's case with record-breaking results).
At the other end of the scale was an impressive selection of bold first or second features from emerging directors, including Better Things, Sleep Furiously, Donkey Punch, Summer, The Cottage and Hunger. These may not have done so well commercially, but they earned kudos along the way. Indeed British cinema had one of its best years in a long while on the international festival circuit, with the above films and works by older hands such as Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky) and Terence Davies (Of Time And The City) earning serious prizes and plaudits.
Aside from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which can be put into the same category as Mamma Mia!, below is a preview selection of British films to look out for this year. Let's hope one beneficial aspect of the expected financial turmoil in 2009 is that it sends audiences back into the arms of British feature films...
Danny Boyle's best film since Trainspotting looks set to explode when it's finally released over here, after what seems a protracted period of momentum gathering ever since its glorious early reception at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals last year. Boyle manages to mix an unflinching portrayal of a country in transition with an unashamedly audience-pleasing approach, mounted in such a confident manner that a Best Picture Oscar nomination wouldn't be a big surprise. Released in the UK on 9th January.
Dev Patel in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.
The Boat That Rocked
If any film seems destined to press the buttons of ageing middle England this year, it will be this one. A thinly disguised portrayal of the era of Radio Caroline, the offshore pirate station that introduced rock 'n' roll to the UK and launched the careers of Tony Blackburn and Kenny Everett et al, this one looks set to spin the decks of the nation's once rebellious baby boomers. The fact that it's written and directed by the rom-com master himself - Richard Curtis - shouldn't do its chances any harm either. Also along for the voyage are cast members Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.Released in the UK on 3rd April.
Emma Thompson also appears in this version of Lynn Barber's memoir, adapted for the film by best-selling author Nick Hornby. Peter Sarsgard and Sally Hawkins (who won many admirers for her work in Happy-Go-Lucky) round off the cast of this coming-of-age tale set in early 1960s London. Director Lone Scherfig, with her first English-language film, has been nominated for a Grand Jury prize at this year's Sundance festival.No release date confirmed yet.
Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan in An Education.
From the sounds of it, Good, like The Reader, offers a plot with complex moral ambiguities that is likely to be well received. Viggo Mortensen plays a German doctor whose benign ideas on compassionate euthanasia are seized upon and corrupted by the ascendant Nazi hierarchy in pre-war Germany. Mortensen will probably give it his all, after landing - at age 50 - a leading role in this worthy, serious drama.Released in the UK on 17th April.
Another pre-war tale, this time set in Britain, 1939 is a rare cinematic foray from Stephen Poliakoff, the writer-director whose work usually debuts on TV. Poliakoff's singular style, often focusing on rich eccentrics, may divide audiences, so it will be interesting to see how well he translates to cinema after mixed results during an earlier attempt in the nineties (Close My Eyes, Food Of Love).Poliakoff certainly has secured some top drawer talent, including Bill Nighy, Christopher Lee, David Tenant and Julie Christie.No release date confirmed yet.
Released to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, this biopic focuses on the period when the naturalist was writing his earth-shatteringly controversial evolution study, The Origin Of Species. Paul Bettany stars as the bearded scientist, along with his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly, who plays Darwin's wife, Emma. Released in the UK on 25th September..
Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly in Creation.
The Damned United
Michael Sheen is currently Britain's hottest actor, so all eyes will be watching to see if his chameleonic properties can extend to Brian Clough, the autocratic, eccentric football manager who bestrode the British game during the 1970s. The film charts Clough's disastrous 44-day spell as manager of Leeds United in 1974, a club which he previously professed nothing but contempt for. Disappointingly, the film won't mark the third collaboration between Sheen, screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears(following The Deal and The Queen), since Frears pulled out of the production. Hopefully Tom Hooper can fill his shoes admirably.Released in the UK on 27th March.
Yes, it's probably a perilous activity to recommend a Guy Ritchie film as one to look out for in 2009, but whatever the outcome of his re-imagining of the classic detective character, it should clearly signpost the future for Guy Ritchie – either it will be his magnificent comeback or it will be the very final nail in his filmmaking coffin. Arguably, either outcome would be good news for the British filmmaking industry. The film is being kept tightly under wraps at the moment, but Robert Downey Jr, who rarely strikes a duff note, has confirmed that he's taken up the deerstalker for the title role. Jude Law also appears as Doctor Watson, so whatever might be said about Ritchie, his powers of persuasion must be second-to-none.Released in the UK on 20th November.
The Best Of The Rest
Here we will highlight some of the less prestigious films coming our way which may also be of interest. In the Brit-gangster stakes, we've got something called 44 Inch Chest, starring Ian McShane and Ray Winstone, plus Nicolas Winding Refn's account of the life of Britain's most dangerous prisoner, Bronson.
We can also look forward to several horror films after the notable successes of recent years. James Cordon and Matthew Horne are already trying to deflect comparisons to Shaun Of The Dead when discussing their forthcoming Lesbian Vampire Killers, while Jake West directs Danny Dyer in Doghouse, which is apparently about a plague of man-hating female cannibals.
An enraged Peter Capaldi in Armando Iannucci's In The Loop.
Finally, a couple of comedies to look out for, Debbie Isitt follows up Confetti with another improvised comedy – Nativity, and this time they've roped in improv expert John Sessions to help out with proceedings. Also Armando Ianucci, the genius behind I'm Alan Partridge and The Day Today, finally gets the chance to direct a feature-length political satire. It's called In The Loop and it stands an excellent chance of being that rarest of beasts – a quality British comedy.
Please note that all release dates are provisional at the time of writing.
James Rocarols | Published 09 January 2009