British films at Venice 2013

New films from Stephen Frears, Jonathan Glazer, Terry Gilliam and Alfonso Cuarón are among the highlights of this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley
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Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin (2013)

British films and production companies have a strong presence at the Venice Film Festival this year, with new science-fiction movies from Alfonso Cuarón, Jonathan Glazer and Terry Gilliam – each with UK involvement – among the most anticipated titles of the programme.

Cuarón opens the festival with Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as an engineer and an astronaut who are left floating tethered together in space after disaster strikes their shuttle. It is co-produced by Warner Bros and producer David Heyman’s London-based production company Heyday Films – the same partnership behind the Harry Potter series.

With Sexy Beast (2000) and the creepy drama Birth (2004), Jonathan Glazer has established himself as one of the UK’s most talented contemporary filmmakers, and Under the Skin brings to an end the long wait for his third film. Adapted from Michel Faber’s cult novel, and backed by the BFI Film Fund, it features Scarlett Johansson as an alien in humanoid form stalking the Scottish Highlands.

The Zero Theorem finds Terry Gilliam returning to the dystopian future visions of Brazil (1985) and Twelve Monkeys (1995), with Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon starring in the story of a computer hacker’s attempts to unlock the mystery of human existence. “When I made Brazil in 1984,” Gilliam has said, “I was trying to paint a picture of the world I thought we were living in then. The Zero Theorem is a glimpse of the world I think we are living in now.” Chris Curling and Phil Robertson co-produced the film for London-based Zephyr Films.

Philomena (2013)

Philomena (2013)

Away from sci-fi, Stephen Frears’ Philomena, also backed by the BFI, is the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman searching for her long-lost son who was taken away from her while still a child. Judi Dench stars as Philomena, with Steve Coogan playing political journalist Martin Sixsmith, who unexpectedly comes to her aid. Frears describes it as “an odd couple film, an extraordinary road trip taken by a wily journalist and an elderly lady.”

Director Steven Knight made his name working with Frears, when his screenplay became the basis for Frears’ 2002 immigration drama Dirty Pretty Things. He made the leap to direction with Hummingbird (2013), starring Jason Statham, and now has his second film, Locke, playing out of competition at Venice. Featuring Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman, it tells the story of how a phone call leads to one man’s life spiralling out of his control.

Playing in the Venice Horizons strand, Still Life is the second film by Uberto Pasolini, best known as the producer of The Full Monty (1997). Eddie Marsan plays a city hall worker dedicated to tracking down the next of kin of the deceased. Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt co-stars in a Red Wave/Embargo Films production.

Festival director Alberto Barbera has commented on the vitality of British cinema this year, telling Screen Daily: “I was surprised and very impressed by the quality of the films I saw in London when I came in early July. It really is an impressive and unusually strong year for UK films.”

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