‘Suffragette’ tops bill as London film festival spotlights women’s struggles

The London Film Festival opening today with a screening of the British drama Suffragette has a special focus this year on women and their battles — from the right to vote to girls’ education.

Festival director Clare Stewart said ahead of its opening that the team who had drawn up the programme had declared “2015 the year of the strong woman”.

” ‘The Time is Now’ is the rousing campaign for this year’s opening night film Suffragette, and it seems a fitting call-to-arms” for the festival, she said.

The film tells the story of a young woman played by Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis), who is passionately committed to achieving votes for women, at the cost of losing her home or her children.

Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter play two other Suffragettes, British feminists who fought to get votes for women in the early 20th century, and will also be in London for the screening of the film.

The festival will also feature a European premiere of the documentary He Named Me Malala.

The film traces the experience of the young Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who fought for girls’ education in Pakistan’s Swat Valley before an assassination attempt by the Taliban forced her to flee to the British city of Birmingham.

The work, by US director David Guggenheim, mixes archive images of the teenager at home, in school or travelling to refugee camps, with animation representing her life before the Taliban attack.

Australia’s Cate Blanchett is to receive the highest honour of the British Film Institute, the BFI Fellowship, at the festival’s award ceremony in recognition of her acting career.

A film in which she stars, “Carol”, a tale of love between two women in the 1950s by US director Todd Haynes, is to feature at the festival.

She also stars in a historical biopic, Truth, about a report by journalists Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes in the CBS News investigative programme, 60 Minutes, that questioned the military service of then-president George W Bush.

Hollywood blacklisting
British actress Maggie Smith, 80, stars in biopic The Lady in the Van, a drama far from her work on Downton Abbey, inspired by the true story of a woman who lived on the London driveway of a writer for 15 years.

Going with the theme of the festival, US actress Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise) is to discuss her career and launch a symposium on gender and discrimination in the media.

Among the 238 feature films and documentaries shown during the 12-day festival, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston stars in Trumbo, a film about Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted for his membership of the communist party.

Stewart said she had tried to redress an imbalance by including more female directors.

“The festival always streaks ahead of the market in terms of the number of films directed by women,” she said.

“Almost 50 appear in the festival, which sounds fantastic. But that’s still only 20% of the programme.”

Jonas Cuaron, the son of Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) is to show his first feature film, Desierto, in its European premiere.

Exploring a theme in tune with current events, the drama stars Gael Garcia Bernal who plays a Mexican migrant who tries to illegally cross the US border and evade an anti-immigrant vigilante.

The festival will conclude with the European premiere of Steve Jobs by Britain’s Danny Boyle, a film in which the late Apple boss is played by Michael Fassbender. – By Maureen Cofflard

Image – Screengrab of focusfeatures.com/suffragette