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Five Must-See Films at the 2017 British Film Festival

See Elle Fanning as a young Mary Wollstonecraft, Nicole Kidman as a punk leader and Morrissey's early years in Manchester.
By Sarah Ward
October 28, 2017
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By Sarah Ward
October 28, 2017
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Put your popcorn and choc top down for a sec and switch to tea, scones and a cheeky Pimm's Cup — it's British Film Festival time. Every year, the annual cinema showcase gathers up the best new movies Old Blighty has to offer, bringing them to Palace Cinemas for our antipodean viewing pleasure. From October 24 to November 15, the fest is back for its 2017 run.

As always, BFF is a positively jam-packed affair, spanning true romances, hard-hitting dramas, music documentaries, literary origin stories and a retrospective feast of mystery flicks — and they're just some of the highlights from what promises to be a busy few weeks of British movie-watching. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed with options, stick with our five picks of the festival below.

MARY SHELLEY

On a rainy summer night just over two centuries ago, a teenager, her future husband and their friends sat around a Swiss log fire and gave themselves the challenge of writing a ghost story. The competitors included English poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley — but it was the latter's girlfriend, young Mary Wollstonecraft, who easily won their contest. Pondering the concept of a reanimated corpse, she started penning Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus — aka the greatest horror novel ever written). Starring Elle Fanning as the author, and directed by Wadjda's Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley relays her efforts, telling the intriguing tale behind her famous creature.

THE DEATH OF STALIN

He has turned British bureaucracy and US politics into a smart, hilarious farce across two stellar TV comedies, but The Thick of It and Veep's Armando Iannucci isn't done satirising the powers that be — or, that once were in The Death of Stalin's case — just yet. Given its title, there are no prizes for guessing what his second big screen directorial effort is about. With a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine and Michael Palin, Iannucci adapts the graphic novel of the same name into an amusing and irreverent look at the aftermath of the USSR dictator's passing in 1953.

HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES

Trust Neil Gaiman to write a short story about a shy '70s punk teenager crossing paths with a curious visiting alien. Trust Hedwig and the Angry Inch's John Cameron Mitchell to turn the tale into an interesting and engaging sci-fi rom-com. As offbeat as its sounds, How to Talk to Girls at Parties corrals ever-busy The Beguiled co-stars Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman into its account of love, rebellion, taking risks and fighting for what you want in life. That might sound like your average teen romance, but this zesty, imaginative and thoroughly likeable effort is anything but.

ENGLAND IS MINE

"Stop being a mardarse," Steven Patrick Morrissey is told early in England Is Mine. Of course he is. But, if he'd taken that advice, everything from The Smiths to this film wouldn't exist. Yes, this biopic of British singer and songwriter's early years in Manchester plays out just as you'd expect — the moody brooding, the lines like "life is too short for cliches", and the distinctive appeal of its central figure (played by Dunkirk's Jack Lowden) included. It won't convert anyone new to the Morrissey cause and you won't hear any of his hits, but the end result certainly is as melancholy as an unauthorised flick about 'the pope of mope' should be.

JAWBONE

A knockout boxing film that demonstrates how a familiar, frequently seen genre can still pack a considerable punch, Jawbone also marks a landmark effort for British actor Johnny Harris. Previously best known for the likes of Snow White and the Huntsman and various incarnations of the This Is England TV series, Harris stars, writes, produces and loosely bases the feature's narrative on his own teenage fighting experiences. Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley and Ian McShane also pop up on screen in this social realist boxing offering, but there's no doubting that this compelling and convincing underdog story belongs to Harris from start to finish.

The 2017 British Film Festival screens in Sydney from October 24 to November 15, Melbourne from October 26 to November 15, and Brisbane from October 25 to November 15. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the festival website.

Published on October 28, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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