A United Kingdom (dir. Amma Asante, scr. Gus Hibbert)
The 60th BFI London Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday evening with a gala performance of A United Kingdom, the story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), king-in-waiting of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), an underwriter’s clerk. They marry, and incur the wrath of her family, his uncle, and the British and South African governments, who all conspire to separate them.
The cinematography is beautiful, especially in Botswana, but the political intrigue and the love story never really come together, despite one being driven by the other. The British establishment characters are largely caricatures, which is in stark contrast to the two strong central performances by Oyelowo and Pike. This could be Oyelowo’s Oscar nomination, and it would be well deserved. Susan Patterson
A Monster Calls (dir. JA Bayona, scr. Patrick Ness)
This is an extraordinary creative and artistic film; from the watercolour opening credits, to the special effects, to the animations which move against a background of more exquisite watercolours. Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a 12-year-old, is struggling with nightmares, being bullied and his mother’s illness. One night an ancient yew tree, voiced by Liam Neeson, comes to him in the middle of the night and tells him fables, but insists that Conor has to complete this telling him his story about what is causing his nightmares. Conor struggles against this, but the moment that he tells the tree his truth is deeply moving and profound. Susan Patterson
The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook, scr. Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook)
This is a brilliantly composed story of intrigue and revenge, based on Sarah Walter’s novel, Fingersmith, with beautiful production and costume design, but it relies very heavily on eroticism which borders on the voyeuristic.
Sook-hee (Kim Tae-Ri) is a pickpocket recruited by Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to be the maid to heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) who has been raised and trained by her perverted uncle to read porn to his acquaintances. Sook-hee’s role is to convince Lady Hideko to marry Fujiwara so that he can inherit her fortune. Lady Hideko’s only demand of Sook-hee is that she never lie to her. From there the women’s relationship twists and turns as the story is turned on its head, and each of its three parts replays and reveals a bit more of what might be going on. Susan Patterson
Indivisible (dir. Edoardo de Angelis scr. Nicola Guaglianone, Barbara Petronio, Edoardo de Angelis)
Conjoined at the hip sisters Dasy and Viola (Angela and Marianna Fontana) are Neapolitan singers who appear at religious ceremonies, raking in money for their ne’er-do-well father, and pothead mother. When an unlikely doctor questions why they have never been separated, one sister, spurred on by her feelings for an older, dodgy music agent, starts to push for separation, which spins the sisters’ relationship with each other and their family into freefall.
Angela and Marianna Fontana give excellent performances, both acting and singing, but Indivisible never really convinces. Susan Patterson
The 13th (dir. Ava duVernay, scr. Ava duVernay, Spencer Averick)
The 13th, referring to the thirteenth amendment of the United States constitution, argues convincingly that the amendment which abolished slavery except for criminals replaced the lost labour of slaves with the mass criminalisation of black men.
It’s a tough watch, but the argument that the fight on crime was coded by both the Republicans and the Democrats as demonisation of mainly black men. The stats and unpicking of why and how the prison population has risen so high that 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners are in the United States. The story segues into the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the Black Lives Matter movement. The history of the law that allowed Zimmerman to walk free, and its links to large corporations, is frightening. DuVernay lays out the economics of mass incarceration further, and it’s all deeply depressing. Produced by Netflix, The 13th is available worldwide today. Watch it. Susan Patterson