London Film Festival 2020 kicks off on October 7, but things are a little different this year. As well as taking over the screens at London’s BFI Southbank, the majority of movies being shown at the 64th iteration of the illustrious event are also available to view virtually on BFI Player, so you can watch all the hottest upcoming releases from the comfort of your sofa. BFI has also partnered with a number of cinemas to showcase the festival’s output, with cities around the UK – including Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, and Cardiff – putting on special LFF screenings. The capital’s film festival has, in other words, gone national.
Opening with Mangrove, Steve McQueen’s take on a key event in Black British history, and closing with queer period drama Ammonite, there’s a whole host of cinematic treats lined up. As well as highly anticipated feature films, there’s also a programme of exciting short films and a great line-up of free-to-access virtual events including talks with celebrity names like George Clooney, Riz Ahmed, Letitia Wright, and David Byrne.
Below, we pick out the must-see movies of the London Film Festival 2020, which takes place between October 7 and October 18.
London Film Festival 2020 opens with Steve McQueen’s Mangrove. Based on the true story of the Mangrove 9, it tells the story of a group of Black activists who were wrongly arrested during protests in London’s Notting Hill in 1970. The activists (and the film) got their name from the Mangrove restaurant, which doubled as a community centre for Black Londoners. The group’s infamous 55-day trial shone a light on police brutality and racism in London’s Metropolitan Police Service and is a key chapter in Black British history. As well as an Oscar-winning director, the film’s cast features some big names, including Black Panther’s Letitia Wright.
One Night in Miami
Oscar-winning and Emmy-winning actor Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk, Watchmen) makes her directorial debut with One Night in Miami. It stars Eli Goree as boxer Cassius Clay and Kingsley Ben-Adir as activist Malcolm X, while Leslie Odom Jr plays musician Sam Cooke and Aldis Hodge is football player Jim Brown. Based on an award-winning play of the same name, the movie is a fictional account of a night in 1964 which these four historical giants spent together following Clay’s defeat of the heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. One Night in Miami was the first film by a black female director to screen at Venice Film Festival.
Frances McDormand takes the lead in Chloé Zhao’s highly anticipated new feature, Nomadland. Set in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, it centres on McDormand as Fern, a woman who’s still reeling after losing both her husband and her home. Widowed and homeless, she now lives in a van, travelling from town to town looking for whatever work she can get.
The movie is based on the real-life experiences of modern-day American nomads, whose stories were documented by Jessica Bruder in her book of the same name. McDormand is renowned for her subtle and heartfelt performances, so this promises to be an emotional one, while Zhao impressed with the superb The Rider in 2017. The director will next helm Marvel’s Eternals – which feels like a huge but interesting swing for the already-acclaimed filmmaker.
Riz Ahmed stars in Mogul Mowgli, the story of Zed (real name Zaheer), a British rapper who returns to his family home in London after being away on tour for two years. While he’s there, Zed is forced to grapple with some life-changing chronic health problems that leave him dependent on his parents’ support. Haunted by personal and generational ghosts, the film is an exploration of Zed’s psyche and identity, as he struggles to balance his career, his health and the expectations of his Pakistani family. As well as playing the lead role, Ahmed also co-wrote the screenplay with director Bassam Tariq.
Elisabeth Moss plays the eponymous American horror writer Shirley Jackson (author of spooky classics like The Haunting of Hill House, recently adapted into a TV series by Netflix). Director Josephine Decker puts her signature unique spin on events, blurring the lines between biopic and fiction. However, the film begins before Shirley’s career takes off, when things aren’t looking so good for her – she’s sad, drunk, suffering from writer’s block and her professor husband, played by Logan Lerman, is cheating on her. The arrival of a young newly-married couple brings her the inspiration she needs for her new mystery novel – but at what cost?
The festival’s closing film is director Francis Lee’s follow-up to his 2015 debut, poignant romance God’s Own Country. Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, a self-taught paleontologist who works on the English coast in 1840s Lyme Regis. Charlotte, played by Saoirse Ronan, is brought to stay with Mary by her husband after suffering a personal tragedy – he hopes the sea air will be good for her. Mary reluctantly agrees to take her in, and the film charts their relationship as they learn to overcome their conflicting personalities and social backgrounds. While the movie is fiction, Mary Anning was a real person and an influential part of British scientific history – a fitting end to this year’s LFF.