Steve McQueen's heist thriller Widows to open London Film Festival

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter

image copyrightTwentieth Century Fox
image caption[L-R] Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki star in the film

Widows, Steve McQueen's adaptation of the 1980s TV series about bereaved women who turn to crime, will open this year's BFI London Film Festival.

Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play the titular widows in a film that also stars Liam Neeson and Daniel Kaluuya.

The original UK TV series, written by Lynda La Plante, aired on ITV in 1983.

McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, said he was "absolutely delighted" to be opening the festival on 10 October.

"Watching the UK TV version of Lynda La Plante's original thriller as a teenager in the 80s had a major impact on me and so it feels very special to be sharing this film with a UK audience."

image copyrightTwentieth Century Fox
image captionBritain's Cynthia Erivo (centre) plays another of the titular Widows

The 50-year-old Londoner told the BBC that watching the original TV series at the age of 13 had left "a big impression".

"I was at a tipping point in my life and it was really encouraging and inspiring to see these characters," he said of the show's working-class heroines.

"They were deemed not to be people who could achieve anything, and they did. It had a profound effect on me."

McQueen said he had come up with the idea five years ago but thought it was "a great coincidence" for it to arrive at a time when female representation and gender equality are hot topics in Hollywood.

Widows also arrives in the wake of Ocean's 8, a female-driven reboot of the Ocean's 11 franchise notable for its eye-catching array of A-list actresses.

"There's never a bad time for these kinds of stories, as long as they're interesting and hold people's attention," he told the BBC.

"At the same time, making films about strong women coming to the fore is extremely important."

The director said he enjoyed the adrenaline that came with working in the crime film genre, with all the stunts and explosions that entailed.

"You feel like a big kid, blowing things up," he admitted while stressing it was key such action elements were "intertwined with the story".

'I just wanted great actors'

McQueen also remarked it was "great to have a balance" between rising talents like Erivo - who won a Tony award in 2016 for The Color Purple - and an 87-year-old screen veteran like Robert Duvall.

"I didn't care if they were established or not - I just wanted great actors," he said.

"It's an ensemble, and they've all got to deliver."

image copyrightTwentieth Century Fox
image captionLiam Neeson is also part of the cast

Ann Mitchell, Fiona Hendley, Maureen O'Farrell and Eva Mottley played the lead roles in the TV series, which saw their characters stage a robbery planned in detail by their late husbands.

The new version, written by McQueen with Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn, relocates the action from 1980s London to modern-day Chicago.

Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall and Jacki Weaver also appear in the film, described by the festival's artistic director, Tricia Tuttle, as "a feature to savour on the biggest cinema screens".

"This is scintillatingly rich storytelling from a magnificent film-maker, probing issues around race, class and gender, while always delivering immense style and crackingly sharp thrills," she continued.

Widows is the fourth feature from McQueen, winner of the Turner art prize in 1999. He also directed Hunger, about the hunger striker Bobby Sands, and sex addiction drama Shame.

image copyrightMerrick Morton
image captionSteve McQueen (left) on set with producer Iain Canning and other crew members

He followed them with 12 Years a Slave, a hard-hitting depiction of an American slave's lot that won three Oscars, including best picture, in 2014.

His latest film will have its international premiere at the 62nd London Film Festival, which runs from 10 to 21 October.

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