BFI London Film Fest 2018

With the 62nd London Film Festival now well into its second half, it’s been an irresistible selection curated by the acting artistic director Tricia Tuttle. Amongst the highlights, Lizzie, the second film by Craig William Macneil, that attends to the unsolved Borden murders that have intrigued conspiracy theorists and true-crime fans for over a century. Here, Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie Borden, the woman that was acquitted in 1892 of the brutal axe murders of her father and stepmother.

The film co-stars Kristen Stewart as Bridget, the Irish maid who was called to testify, whilst Macneil shoots the film in a clinical bleached-out manner. As for Sevigny, you might say this is her chance to revisit American Psycho territory – a film she featured in some years ago – albeit from a very different and bloodier perspective. It’s almost dispassionate in its theorised approach, but Macneil clearly has a distinct voice.

Playing this last weekend at the festival, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer arrived away from an illustrious gala slot, despite arguably boasting one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Nicole Kidman. A transformative performance, Kidman plays Erin Bell, an ageing rogue Los Angeles detective to whom time has not been kind. From the opening shot, as a bleary-eyed Erin wakes up in her car, Kidman is almost unrecognisable as a cop who is on the trail of a criminal from her past. With a script that echoes Memento in its structural complexity, it’s a film to wrestle with.

The most uplifting British film here is easily Wild Rose, which stars Jessie Buckley as a Glasgow single mother-of-two who leaves prison to return to her drab life with dreams of becoming a country singer (she even has “three chords and the truth” tattooed on her arm). Co-starring Julie Walters as her mother, who is determined her daughter take respect responsibility for her young son and daughter, it’s a sensational feel-good tale driven by a heartfelt turn from Buckley, who is utterly charismatic when she takes to the stage.

Also screening this week is Barry Jenkins’s first film since his Oscar-winning Moonlight, the James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk. Like Moonlight, it’s a hugely accomplished drama of folks set on the margins. This time, the era is the 1960s, with two young African-American lovers (KiKi Layne, Stephan James) torn apart after James’ “Fonny” is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Earnest, tender and yet full of anger, it also benefits from Baldwin’s dignified prose propping up the narrative.

As for documentaries, Morgan Neville has enjoyed a busy festival with two fine films playing. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead deals with the trials of Orson Welles, making his final film The Other Side of the Wind, which has just recently been completed posthumously. Meanwhile, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes on another iconic American figure, Fred Rogers, the wholesome television presenter who shaped generations of young children in the States, even daring to address such difficult issues as divorce and death on his show. Even if you don’t know Rogers, it’ll leave you on a high.

James Mottram

The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs until 21st October. For more information, click here.

1. Still from Barry Jenkins If Beale Street Could Talk.
2. Still from Tom Harper’s Wild Rose.
3. Still from Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer.