In an age of austerity, the London Film Festival is hoping that uncertainty will be good for creativity, and that Hollywood glamour and plucky British filmmaking can be a balm for economic woes.
The lineup for the 54th annual festival, announced Wednesday, features fewer world premieres, and perhaps fewer A-list stars, than last year, but has a slate of British and international movies that organizers say is one of the strongest in years.
The lineup of more than 300 features and shorts includes films starring George Clooney, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth and Natalie Portman, while Naomie Harris, Helena Bonham Carter and Julianne Moore are also expected to grace the red carpet.
“It’s hard to recollect a year when the program has been so varied,” artistic director Sandra Hebron said. “And there’s the strongest British selection we’ve had for a long time.”
The Oct. 13 opener is Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go,” an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s haunting novel starring Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield as friends at an unusual boarding school negotiating a rocky path to adulthood.
Clooney plays a world-weary assassin in “The American,” from Dutch director Anton Corbijn (“Control”), while Portman is a dancer in Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller “Black Swan,” which generated a buzz at this month’s Venice Film Festival.
Other galas include “Conviction,” starring Hilary Swank as a woman on a quest to clear her brother of murder; Julian Schnabel’s Palestinian drama “Miral”; and inspiring African tales “The First Grader” — about an 84-year-old Kenyan starting primary school — and “Africa United,” the story of a group of youngsters determined to reach the World Cup in South Africa.
British films carrying big expectations include “The King’s Speech,” starring Firth as King George VI, the British monarch during World War II who struggled to overcome a severe stutter.
There are films from British veterans Mike Leigh (“Another Year”) and Peter Mullan (“Neds”), and newcomers including artist Gillian Wearing (“Self Made) and actor Richard Ayoade (“Submarine”).
The slate of films from 67 countries should include something for everyone, from fans of French New Wave iconoclast Jean-Luc Godard (“Film Socialisme”) to lovers of Motorhead singer Lemmy, star of an eponymous documentary.
Several films look at the difficult legacies of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ken Loach’s “Route Irish” follows a pair of military contractors, while Brian Welsh’s “In Our Name” depicts an Iraq veteran struggling to come to terms with her experiences. Documentary “The Tillman Story” looks at the controversial death of Pat Tillman, the NFL player turned U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan.
The festival closes Oct. 28 with Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” based on the true story of climber Aron Ralston, who amputated his own arm after it was trapped by a boulder in a Utah canyon.
London is one of the world’s oldest film festivals. This year’s austerity-tinged edition features 11 world premieres, down from 15 in 2009, alongside the pick of British and world cinema from the past year.
Amanda Nevill, director of festival organizer the British Film Institute, acknowledged that “the entire film firmament is being changed as we speak” amid British government spending cuts and the abolition of a major funding body, the U.K. Film Council.
“There isn’t time to mourn the old order,” she said. “We have to get on and shape our destiny and look to the future.”
Hebron said the turbulence could have a positive side.
“It does seem that times of change produce interesting culture,” she said.