Lights! Keswick! Action!
Yes, yes, we all know that the cusp of spring is the ideal time to visit the Lake District. As winter is finally sloughed off and the light shifts up a gear and nature begins to unfurl in all of its majesty, there is no place in the world that I’d rather be – except, perhaps, a darkened room; preferably a darkened room showing some of the greatest films that have been made over the last 12 months or so. Thankfully, the Keswick Film Festival has three glorious and darkened rooms, which can be found at the Theatre by the Lake, the beautifully restored Alhambra Cinema and nearby Rheged. And, boy, are they packing some great films this year, many of which have received one of our Film of the Month rosettes. I’m talking about films such as The Souvenir (which also nabbed our Film of the Year award). Writer/director Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical tale concerns a middle class film student who embarks on a troubled affair with a louche older man in early 80s London. It is a compellingly enigmatic, unsettling and tartly amusing story and features a fantastic central performance from Tom Burke.
The festival also finds room for the feature that bagged second spot on our Films of the Year round-up in the shape of Monos. Columbian writer/director Alejandro Landes’ intense Lord of the Flies-style tale of child soldiers in the mountains boasts a similar hallucinatory intensity to ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Herzog’s ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’, while being totally its own beast.
A film that didn’t make our Best of Year list is The Personal History of David Copperfield – but that’s chiefly because it came out in 2020 (and it’s certain to feature in this year’s round-up). This is Armando Iannucci’s fun and frantic take on the Dickens’ classic with Dev Patel in the role of the titular hero making his way through Victorian England, encountering the virtuous, and not-so-virtuous poor, as well as the capricious rich, while gradually learning to assert his identity.
One of the best folk horror films of recent years is Midsommar. It concerns a young American couple who visit a midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. Bad mistake! What begins as a carefree summer holiday soon turns into something increasingly unnerving and downright bizarre. It stars the brilliant Florence Pugh who is on fine form here.
The festival boasts plenty of award-winners (and not just The Crack award-winners, either) including Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which trousered Best Screenplay and Queer Palm at Cannes. Set at the back end of the 18thcentury, with the rugged coast of Brittany as a constant backdrop, Céline Sciamma’s film concerns Marianne, an artist commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant Lady Héloise – a portrait that is to be sent to a potential husband in Venice. As the artist observes her model the glances between the two women become – sound the Cupid Klaxon – even more meaningful…
Another film that cleaned up at Cannes, indeed taking the Palme d’Or, was Parasite. This South Korean, blackly-comic thriller, is the tale of two families from different ends of the social spectrum. The Kims eke out a living using their wits while the Parks enjoy a lifestyle of luxury. As the Kims infiltrate their way into every aspect of the Park’s life, however, it seems that their luck is about to change.
There are plenty of films really packing a punch this year not least For Sama. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of director Waad al-Kateab’s life through fives years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict erupts around her.
Another very different family story is The Farewell from Chinese-American director Lulu Wang who turned real-life family experience into a radio programme before subsequently adapting it into a film. It follows a Chinese family who, when they discover their beloved grandmother has only a short while left to live, decide to keep her in the dark and schedule an impromptu wedding so they can all gather together before she passes.
Other festival highlights include The Runaways (“Three children, two donkeys, one big adventure…” this uplifting British film will open the festival); The Kingmaker (an extraordinary documentary about Imelda Marcos); The Nightingale (an Australian period drama set in 1825 in a British penal colony which sees a young woman seeking revenge for a terrible act); Hope Gap (starring Bill Nighy playing opposite Annette Bening in this nuanced relationship drama); and Ken Russell’s Dance of the Seven Veils (a biopic of Richard Strauss which so enraged the Strauss family that it hasn’t been seen for 50 years).
There are over 25 films in this year’s programme so make sure you bone-up on the full programme from the website, below.Keswick Film Festival, Thursday 27 February-Sunday 1 March. keswickfilmclub.org/festival