British films at Berlin 2015

The world premiere of Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, Ian McKellen’s debut as Sherlock Holmes, and glorious Technicolor classics help make up the British selection at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley

45 Years (2015)

45 Years (2015)

More than usual excitement attends the competition section of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, with new films by Werner Herzog (Queen of the Desert), Terrence Malick (Knight of Cups) and Jafar Panahi (Taxi) being unveiled as world premieres. Add to those new work by Patricio Guzmán, Isabel Coixet, Pablo Larraín, and veterans Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders, and the Golden Lion line-up looks strong indeed.

In among them for British cinema is 45 Years, the eagerly awaited latest from Andrew Haigh, director of the much-acclaimed gay drama Weekend (2011). Following work on the HBO series Looking, he returns to film with a psychological drama starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as an ageing couple whose marriage takes a tortuous turn after the discovery of the body of a long-dead lover.

Reflections on the past are also central to Mr. Holmes, screening out of competition and starring Ian McKellen as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes living in rural retirement and musing over old mysteries. Loosely adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, this British production is the latest film from American writer-director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn).

Playing out of competition too is Kenneth Branagh’s new film for Disney, a big-budget live-action version of Cinderella. Shot at Pinewood and on location in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, Cinderella boasts a starry cast that includes Lily James, Richard Madden, Hayley Atwell, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård and Derek Jacobi.

Mr. Holmes (2015)

Mr. Holmes (2015)

There’s a special gala presentation of Simon Curtis’s Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as an ageing Jewish woman who embarks upon a fight to win back the Klimt painting that was plundered from her family by Nazis during the Second World War. Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance and Jonathan Pryce co-star.

The festival’s youth sidebars Generation 14plus and Generation Kplus showcase cinema suitable for audiences aged over 14 and under 14 respectively, with accordingly aged jury members passing judgement. For the over 14s, there’s the international premiere of British feature The Beat beneath My Feet, featuring Luke Perry, as well as the short film A Confession, directed by Petros Silvestros. Two more British shorts play for the juniors: Michael Lennox’s Boogaloo and Graham and the co-production A Gift of My Father, directed by Salam Salman.

Tell Spring Not to Come This Year heads a smattering of British documentaries in the programme. Its directors Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy follow the lives of a company of the Afghan National Army that’s attempting to defend Afghanistan’s Helmand Province from Taliban attacks.

Berlin also presents another festival outing for Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, his powerful British co-funded follow-up to 2013’s must-see documentary, The Act of Killing; while Australian/British short doc Let’s Dance: Bowie Down Under remembers a David Bowie trip to Australia in the early 80s to film the ‘Let’s Dance’ video.

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus (1947)

Perhaps the fullest showcase for UK cinema at Berlin this year, however, is to be found in the Glorious Technicolor retrospective, where a number of gems from the early days of three-colour filmmaking in Britain will screen again in new restorations. These include Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s dizzying Himalayan melodrama Black Narcissus (1947), the Alexander Korda-produced 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, John Huston’s Oscar-winning adventure The African Queen, and David Lean’s family drama This Happy Breed (1944). Less familiar titles in this strand are Marc Allégret’s Blanche Fury (1947), starring Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger, and the 1936 film Wings of the Morning – the very first three-colour Technicolor film made in Europe.

Chalk up the international premiere of a new 4K restoration of James Bond classic Goldfinger (1964) in the Berlin Classics programme and the selection of British films at Berlin 2015 provides much to look forward to and plenty to reflect back on.

45 Years and Boogaloo and Graham are backed by the BFI Film Fund.

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