British films at Cannes 2013

Exciting debut features and the new film from Clio Barnard give British cinema a healthy presence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley
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F. Scott Fitzgerald was always at home on the French Riviera, so the Cannes Film Festival is a fitting setting for the unveiling of Baz Luhrmann’s much anticipated version of his novel The Great Gatsby. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, the enigmatic Long Island millionaire, and Carey Mulligan as his beautiful paramour Daisy Buchanan, Luhrmann’s film is a glitzy, riotously extravagant hype-generator – a gift to any film festival but one tailor-made for the world’s biggest.

Amid the cream of new international film at Cannes this year, British cinema stands toe-to-toe with first-look screenings of the latest work by the Coen brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Soderbergh and François Ozon.

Competing for the Palme d’or, Jim Jarmusch’s latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, is an international co-production shot in Germany, Detroit and Tangier and featuring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampire lovers disillusioned with the progress of human society. Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt co-star, with Jeremy Thomas producing for his London-based Recorded Picture Company.

The Selfish Giant (2013)

The Selfish Giant (2013)

Following her highly acclaimed debut, The Arbor (2010), Clio Barnard will be premiering her second feature, The Selfish Giant, in the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight sidebar. Produced by Tracy O’Riordan for Moonspun Films, with funding from the BFI, it’s the story of two boyhood friends (Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas) who, excluded from school, begin collecting metal in a horse and cart for a local scrap-dealer, Kitten (Sean Gelder). Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name, Barnard calls this fable about fraying friendship “a retelling of a fairy tale based on fact”.

Last Days on Mars (2013)

Last Days on Mars (2013)

Playing alongside Barnard’s film in the Directors’ Fortnight is the sci-fi thriller The Last Days on Mars, the debut feature by Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson. Oscar-nominated for his 2001 short Fifty Percent Grey, Robinson’s film features a crew of astronauts whose discovery of bacteria living within the permafrost on Mars unleashes a deadly infection that leaves them fighting for survival. Backed by the BFI Film Fund, Irish Film Board and Prescience, The Last Days on Mars promises to continue Britain’s winning streak of intelligently crafted space-travel films (Sunshine, 2007; Moon, 2009). Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas and Tom Cullen are among the cast.

For Those in Peril (2013)

For Those in Peril (2013)

Another British debut feature, For Those in Peril, written and directed by Paul Wright, plays in the festival’s International Critics’ Week strand. After five men (including his older brother) are lost at sea, young Aaron – the lone survivor of the accident – sets out to find the missing men in order to clear the blame and superstition that have clouded his name in a remote Scottish fishing community. Wright won a BAFTA for best short for Until the River Runs Red in 2011; his feature debut is produced by Warp Films with backing from Film4, the BFI Film Fund, Creative Scotland and Screen Yorkshire.

A Story of Children and Film (2013)

A Story of Children and Film (2013)

A Story of Children and Film is the new film from Mark Cousins, a kaleidoscopic ode to childhood told through 53 films from 25 different countries. The Red Balloon (1956), Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959), E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (1982) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) feature alongside less familiar films from around the world. Cousins’s film, produced by BofA Productions with backing from Film4 and the BFI, receives its world premiere in the Cannes Classics section of the festival.

Also playing around the competition selection are Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair’s BFI-backed travelogue documentary Swandown (in ACID, the programme’s arena for experimentation and innovation); Amit Kumar’s cop thriller Monsoon Shootout (a ‘Midnight’ screening); and a Cannes Special Screening of Stephen Frears’s Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, starring Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella and Danny Glover, and produced by Rainmark Films – the only British production company represented within the festival’s official selection.

Rounding off the brace of British films airing down on the Riviera during the festival, The Magnificent Lion Boy is a 2D hand-drawn charcoal animated short from the National Film and Television School’s Ana Caro. Playing in the Cinéfondation section, it incorporates the voices of Andy Serkis and Hugh Bonneville to tell the tale of a feral child, apparently raised by lions, who’s brought back from Africa to Victorian London to be ‘civilised’.

Gatsby may lord it over festival opening night, but – lions, giants, missions to Mars and all – British filmmaking promises to make its presence felt as Cannes unfolds.

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