1 December 2021 Susannah

The British Film Festival

British Film Festival 2021

I love film festivals, but my absolute favourite each year is the British Film Festival. I can walk for five minutes and be at the cinema showing a fabulous selection of films. You won’t be surprised to hear that I especially enjoy those with a literary flavour.

Benediction is a movie about the poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon won the Military Cross for gallantry, but went on to oppose the war and write poems about the bloodiness of the trenches. This behaviour made him an embarrassment to the authorities, so he was sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh (which I have visited – they have a small museum there for the soldier poets) where he befriended and encouraged Wilfred Owen. Sassoon was gay, although he did marry, and after the war he suffered from survivor’s guilt. It is his own sense of failure (sexually, morally and as a poet) which makes this film almost unbearably sad. Warning – have the tissues handy!

To Olivia is a highly topical movie, since it tells the story of Roald Dahl’s young daughter, Olivia, who died of encephalitis, due to measles. After her death, which occurred before there was a measles vaccine, Dahl and his wife fought hard to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated. This is a film that should be seen by anyone not yet vaccinated against COVID. It was beautifully acted and very moving indeed. I loved it! Warning – have the tissues handy!

Miss Marx is about Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, and a tireless worker in promoting socialism. Her lover, Edward Aveling, was a playwright and in one interesting scene the two of them act out lines from Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House. The writer Olive Schreiner, author of The Story of an African Farm, was friendly with Eleanor and she also appears in the film. However, I had a very mixed response to this movie – good in parts. And never in all my life have I attended a film with such an utterly dire musical score – punk rock music so loud it hurts your ears. Warning – best to give this one a miss, but if you do go, take ear muffs!

And the movie The Duke has a gorgeous James Bond moment right near the end which is very funny. No tissues are required for this one.

Have you been to see any of the British Film Festival movies in the last month? Which one appeals to you the most? Let me know in a comment.

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Featured image credit- British Film Festival 2021, from https://britishfilmfestival.com.au/
Body image credit- Burt Lancaster & Claudia Cardinale, The Leopard, 1963 Titanus Italian movie adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057091/

Comments (11)

  1. Margaret Debenham

    The British Film Festival has brought much pleasure to the past month. I totally agree with your assessments – Miss Marx has been the only thumbs down so far, a strange mixture of styles and themes, in need of rather more editing, and that dreadful ear-shattering “music” – what on earth were they thinking? Benediction was very slow, very gentle and very beautiful – my favourite so far (still have to see Mothering Sunday today), but To Olivia and The Duke were also excellent – from the trailer I had expected The Duke to be more of a comedy, but like To Olivia it was also very moving, and – as you say – both beautifully acted. Falling for Figaro was enjoyable, largely because of Joanna Lumley, and Best Sellers maintained interest throughout (although I’m not sure why it was in the British Film Festival, apart from Michael Caine and the Jaguar). Off the Rails was quite pleasant, worth it mainly for some agreeable actors, the glimpses of France, Spain and Italy, and the extraordinary “God’s disco ball” effect in Parma cathedral. So good to get back to the cinema (although I confess my real love is the French Film Festival).

    • Susannah Fullerton

      We obviously have very similar tastes in movies, Margaret. I also enjoyed Off the Rails – pleasant, but forgettable, felt Mothering Sunday was strange and very slow, loved Sparkling about the history of champagne, and thought It Snows in Benidorm was seriously bad. That music in Miss Marx was truly hideous – I had to cover my ears. A very odd film.
      I also love the French Film Festival.

  2. Rosemary Stipanov

    Hello Susannah,
    We attended the wonderful film “Belfast”,at the British film festival. Kenneth Branagh , the director was born in Belfast in 1969 & at the age of 9 witnessed the horrors of the “troubles” in his town. Until then both Protestants & Catholics lived in harmony & all the children played together.
    1969 saw such an escalation of violence that stayed with him throughout his life & he was determined to make this movie. I do recommend it . Judy Dench plays a wonderful grandmother but all the praise must go for the 10 year old protagonist who is brilliant.Thank you Susannah for the wonderful newsletters, & we look forward to joining you later next year on some literary tours. I wish you & all your family a wonderful Festive season & a very Happy well travelled New Year.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      ‘Belfast’ is one of the ones I did not manage to get to, but I have heard it is excellent and look forward to seeing it soon. Thanks for the recommendation. My brother-in-law grew up in Belfast, son of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, which was not easy for him.
      Very ebst wishes to you both for a merry Christmas. I hope to see you both soon.

  3. Sally Petherbridge

    I thought Benediction was very good and it inspired me to read more about the war poets. Miss Marx was interesting but I thought that Eleanor deserved more about her life as an activist and as a translator. She translated Madame Bovary and The Dolls House, among other works. Presumably this was where the money came from that her partner squandered! Like you, I hated the music – what was the point????

    Did you see Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kurbrick’s film from 1975? It was shown in Canberra but only once. Over there hours long, but well worth watching. Again, in my case, as I saw it when it first came out and loved it.

  4. Jenny Hefford

    Like others I thoroughly enjoy the British Film Festival each year. My favourite film this year was Belfast, for which the soundtrack was perfect. I thought overall there was a strong coincidence in themes of loss and disease, probably to be expected in a year of pandemic. There was To Olivia, mentioned by someone else in relation to measles, and then The Last Bus, which follows the life of grieving parents after a child’s death to a disease which is not named, Benediction of course is backgrounded with loss and grief, and The Obscure Life of the Grand Duke of Corsica is about a plague caused by a new deadly variant of malaria. Enough.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also saw The Last Bus, and Off the Rails was about a group of friends doing a journey in memory of a friend who had died. You are right that there was a strong theme of loss and grieving.

  5. Suzanne Woolley

    I was very disappointed in Benediction- very slow moving and rather disjointed and most of the people in his milieu seemed rather unpleasant and narcissistic. My top pick was Belfast – written and directed by Kenneth Branagh and portrayed the ‘troubles’ in with humour and compassion. I also loved The Duke.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, ‘Bnediction’ was slow moving and I’d have liked more of his poetry, but I still found it moving. I missed Belfast, but hope it will come to main stream cinemas and I can see it then.

  6. Faye Burns

    What a wonderful way to ‘bounce back’ with The British Film Festival!’This film festival always seems to manage a great cross section of many of the arts
    I saw
    ‘Falling for Figaro,’-an intense, funny & brilliantly acted adventure.
    ‘To Olivia,’-emotional struggles from all family members, very reflective moments for quite a few days afterwards.
    ‘Miss Marx,’-fascinating as these themes are still relevant, to a point, today!
    I continue to be fascinated in reading about the struggles female artists, authors have endured through the ages!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also loved Falling for Figaro. I loved that Scottish scneery adn the Highland cow, plus the glorious music. A real feel-good film!
      Long may we have wonderful film festivals to go and see, with no lockdowns stopping us!
      Merry Christmas.

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