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Highlights from the 2015 BBC First British Film Festival

Natalie Ng

Fri Oct 16 2015


THE BBC First British Film Festival returns for its third year in Australia with an array of new and classic films that represent the best of British cinema. Natalie Ng spoke to festival director Kim Petalas about the festival and offers her highlights. 


British cinema, at its best, has always been very distinct from its Hollywood and European counterparts. There’s just something about its rich, sprawling history, literature and culture that lends a lot to the cinema of the British isles.

“British cinema is very stark and real, something we can connect to,” festival director Kim Petalas says.

Returning for its third year in Australia, the 2015 edition of the young film festival brings to audiences an array of 31 films that represent the best of British cinema. Some even give audiences the opportunity to see the films months in advance of their anticipated release.

“We felt to complement the foreign language festivals, it was an obvious choice to showcase some of the best of contemporary British films, potentially months before a theatrical release, where audiences can see the films in a festival environment,” he said.

In addition to its expected lineup of modern feature films, this year’s festival will be offering up a unique retrospective titled Love Actually: A Century of British Romance. This selection of ten iconic films in British cinema reflects on the romanticism of each decade during the 20th century.

Furthermore, the festival this year has a particular focus on telling women’s stories: from ordinary women doing extraordinary things, to romance heroines in the retrospective and modern lineup.



Brooklyn is a wonderful film. It’s written by the very famous Nick Hornby, and it is one of the highlights of the festival,” Mr Petalas enthuses.

Hornby, who was also responsible for the screenplay of An Education, adapted Brooklyn from a novel by Colm Toibin. The story revolves around a young Irish immigrant named Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who is lured by the American Dream and must make her way through 1950s Brooklyn, but is at the same time torn between two countries and her two lives.

Equal parts coming of age story, romance and family drama, Brooklyn is a sweeping, rich story with a magnetic and compelling lead performance from Saoirse Ronan.



Suffragette is an incredible film about a very important part of history where women were eventually given the right to vote,” Mr Petalas says.

Written, directed and produced by a team of women and starring a largely female ensemble that boasts the likes of Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter, Suffragette tells the story of the fight for women’s voting rights in early twentieth century Britain.

Written by Abi Morgan who co-wrote Steve McQueen’sShame and Ralph Fiennes‘s The Invisible Woman — and directed by Sarah Gavron, Suffragette is a rare miracle of a film considering the recent coverage of how woefully underrepresented women are in the film industry.

This is an urgent, powerful story of a pivotal point in women’s history that has taken more than 100 years to be told.

45 Years

45 years

The darling of the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, 45 Years is the third feature film from director Andrew Haigh, who was responsible for the 2011 romantic drama Weekend.

The film follows an elderly married couple, Kate and Geoff, on the weekend of their 45th wedding anniversary, when they receive life changing news about an incident that occurred fifty years ago. A simple film at first glance, the film’s complexities come about from its examination of the two central characters and the dynamics of their relationship.

45 Years is an incredible drama, starring two brilliant British actors, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, and is going to be one of the standouts of the festival. These are great performances and the film boasts some unforgettable scenes,” Mr Petalas shares.

Lead actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay would go on to receive the acting prizes in Berlin.

Queen of the Desert


Legendary director Werner Herzog aspires to the epic greatness of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia with Queen of the Desert.

The film follows the exciting life of Gertrude Bell — a writer, traveler, archaeologist, political ambassador and spy for the British Secret Service in the early twentieth century. Starring Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, the film also features actors James Franco, Robert Pattinson and Damian Lewis, who all play the men entangled in Gertrude’s life and travels.

Director Herzog uses the vast and epic landscapes to tell the story of a woman and her place in an important time in British history.

Other highlights

Other highlights from the festival also include the opening night film, Paolo Sorrentini’s Youth (the follow up to his much-lauded The Great Beauty), as well as closing night film The Man Who Knew Infinity, about mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and his landmark contributions despite the ignorance and prejudice surrounding him.

The BBC First British Film Festival will take place at various Palace Cinemas. The Melbourne leg of the festival will take place from October 28 to November 18. For the full program, schedule and ticketing information, visit the festival’s official website for more details