The Emirates British Film Festival is migrating to Perth for the first time in its two-year history, bringing with it one of the most impressive programs on the year’s festival calendar. Along with a slew of acclaimed new films straight from Cannes, London, Toronto, Sundance and Berlin, the festival is also elegantly staging a series of retrospective screenings, collectively titled ‘Six from the Sixties’, which showcases the emergence of bombastic, promiscuous, experimental and vivid cinema that came out of Britain in the era now known as the swinging sixties.
Opening night film Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s pacifist memoir of the same name, features Alicia Vikander as Brittan and Kit Harrington as her fiancé Roland Leighton. Closing night gala features universally adored Oscar frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch as British analyst and spy Alan Turing, who cracked German Enigma code and helped the Allies win the Second World War, in The Imitation Game. The film premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival where it won the Audience Award, joining the ranks of eventual Best Picture Oscar winners 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, and made its European premiere at the recent London Film Festival.
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, a biopic of British Romantic landscape artist J.M.W. Turner, premiered to rapturous acclaim in Cannes for its sweeping portrait of the artist, and catapulted Timothy Spall, who won the Best Actor award at the festival, to the top of the Oscar hopeful list. It goes without saying that any new film from Mike Leigh is of some significance, even if only to see what his idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking—devised from the ground up with actors through a series of character-building exercises and improvisations—culminates to. It’ll be interesting to see how his procedure conflates with factual biography.
Stuart Murdoch’s Sundance sensation God Help the Girl, a dramatisation of the formation of band Belle and Sebastian starring Australian Emily Browning, Ben Whishaw starrer Lilting, which won a cinematography prize at Sundance, and Bergman muse Liv Ullman’s Strindberg adaptation Miss Julie, starring Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton, round out the premiere highlights.
With their welcome revival series ‘Six from the Sixties’, the British Film Festival bring a comprehensive retrospective of rare gems from the British cultural revolution, spurred on by sexual liberation, anti-war protest and political dissidence and culminating in the ditching of 1950s ‘kitchen-sink realism’ for more mischievous fare. Amongst the six classics are two films by John Schlesinger, who went on to win Oscars for his American debut Midnight Cowboy. Billy Liar (1963) and Darling (1965) both feature the incredible Julie Christie, alongside Tom Courtenay and Dirk Bogarde respectively. For the latter Christie won an Academy Award for Best Actress, as a salacious model who sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion industry.
Cy Enfield’s Zulu (1964) is a more curious choice, but valuable for a debut performance from the inimitable (and concurrently very imitable) Michael Caine, whilst heist classic The Italian Job (1969), recently remade into a flimsy Mark Wahlberg vehicle, showcases one of his more iconic performances. Lindsay Anderson’s if…. (1968), starring Malcolm McDowell as a dissident schoolboy who leads a revolution against the establishment, might have been the highlight of the festival were it not for the restoration of A Hard Day’s Night. Anderson’s anarchic and experimental countercultural masterpiece is a must-see for cineastes.
The the cherry on top of the icing on this already-substantial cake is of course the fiftieth anniversary restoration and screening of Beatles classic musical film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), directed by Richard Lester and starring the Fab Four, as they were known before their psychedelic studio phase, running around London trying to escape rabid fans and the overbearing press. Both influential for its aesthetic originality (it shaped the modern music video) and culturally significant for its embalmment of phenomenon and a world in change, the film is finally getting its long-awaited revival, scoring a Criterion release earlier this year and a full cinema revival in Britain and the US. Now, Australian audiences have the chance to join in the reverie of a timeless masterpiece.
The festival hits Northbridge’s Cinema Paradiso between 5-16 November. Session times and tickets are available here, with five film passes a cheap option for the ardent cinephiles and festival obsessives amongst us.
Note: Historians might be interested in Australian produced doc When the Queen Came to Town, about Her Majesty’s* maiden visit to Australia in 1954. It’s narrated by Bert Newton and looks set to feature substantial lengths of sun-drenched home video and news footage of Liz and
conservative tyrant post-war saviour Robert Menzies shaking hands.
British Film Festival Top Five Picks:
1. A Hard Day’s Night (1964) (50th Anniversary Screening)
2. if…. (1968)
3. Mr. Turner (2014)
4. The Imitation Game (2014)
5. Darling (1965)
Honourable mentions: Lilting (2014), God Help the Girl (2013), everything else.