Preview: 2021 London Film Festival

The BFI London Film Festival returns with a rich collection of films to enjoy. After 2020’s virtual festival, this year will be an in-person event, with screenings taking place across the capital. With Screen Talks also programmed, including exclusive chats with Succession creator Jesse Armstrong and directors Jane Campion and Asghar Farhadi, there’s a lot to take in. Here ASFF selects five must-see films.


This year’s closing film is a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, directed by Joel Coen (for once without his brother Ethan at his side). Shot in evocative black-and-white by Bruno Debonnel, Denzel Washington plays the title role whilst Coen’s wife Frances McDormand co-stars as the scheming Lady Macbeth. Corey Hawkins, recently seen in In the Heights, is Macduff, spearheading a tremendous supporting cast. The film will be released via Apple TV+ in January, but here is a chance to see it on the big screen.


Another monochrome movie – who said black-and-white had gone out of fashion? – Belfast is written and directed by acclaimed actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh. It’s his most personal film to date, turning the clock back to the Northern Ireland city in 1969 where he grew up. Newcomer Jude Hill plays Buddy, a working-class boy who discovers the harsh realities of life as the Troubles begin. Among the cast, Dame Judi Dench, a Branagh regular, co-stars as Buddy’s grandmother, whilst Jamie Dornan features as his father.


Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen claimed a share of the Grand Prix in Cannes earlier this year for this stirring adaptation of Rose Liksom’s novel, set in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. He updates the action by about ten years, as Finnish archaeology student Laura (Seidi Haarla) takes a lengthy train trip to the Murmansk region and must endure her uncouth Russian train companion, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov). What emerges is a surprisingly touching story, laced with a little vodka.


Actor-turned director Fran Kranz makes a stunning debut with Mass, a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Two couples meet in a room at a small Episcopal church. Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton play a pair whose son died in a school shooting. Ann Dowd and Reed Birney co-star as the parents of the perpetrator – a boy from the same school. An attempt to find closure on both sides, perhaps, it’s a wrenching and provocative watch, and a magnificent showcase for all four actors.


American filmmaker Sean Baker, who leapt to fame with his iPhone-shot movie Tangerine and followed that up with the Oscar-nominated The Florida Project, is back with the hugely enjoyable Red Rocket. It played in competition in Cannes this year but was sadly overlooked for prizes – despite being one of the most enjoyable movies there. Former adult movie star Simon Rex plays a porn star who returns to his Texas hometown, broke and relying on his fading looks. A freewheeling comic adventure, it’s not to be missed.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 6-17 October. Click here for more details.

Words: James Mottram