As part of Screen International’s guide to the films to watch this awards season, we round up some of the key UK contenders.
Dir. Charlotte Wells
Bowing to acclaim in Critics’ Week at Cannes, Aftersun sees a young woman reflecting on a holiday she took with her father 20 years previously. Paul Mescal (a TV Bafta lead actor winner for Normal People) and newcomer Frankie Corio star in the feature debut of writer/director Wells, whose shorts including Tuesday (2015) and Laps (2017) have played the festival circuit. Aftersun will be released by MUBI in the UK on November 18 and by A24 in the US.
Dir. Richard Eyre
The latest from theatre-turned-film director Eyre — whose Notes On A Scandal was nominated for four Oscars and three Baftas in 2007 — Allelujah follows the efforts of a geriatric ward in a small Yorkshire hospital to save itself from closure. Adapted from Alan Bennett’s 2018 stage play, the film premiered at Toronto and features an ensemble led by Jennifer Saunders, Bally Gill, Russell Tovey and Judi Dench.
The Banshees Of Inisherin
Dir. Martin McDonagh
McDonagh boasts four Bafta wins and four Oscar nominations — gaining his sole Academy Award win with short Six Shooter in 2006. He has reteamed with In Bruges duo Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for a darkly comic observation of the doomed friendship between two men living in a remote part of Ireland. The feature premiered at Venice, where McDonagh won the best screenplay prize and Farrell won best actor. Barry Keoghan deserves attention for best supporting actor awards. Searchlight Pictures released in the US on October 21.
Dir. Georgia Oakley
Premiering in Venice’s Giornate Degli Autori strand earlier this year where it won the people’s choice award, writer/director Oakley’s debut — which also featured in the BFI London Film Festival’s first feature competition — is set in 1980s northeast England, and stars Rosy McEwen (TV’s The Alienist) as a teacher desperate to keep her sexuality under wraps. Altitude will release in the UK next February, and Magnolia has US rights.
Brian And Charles
Dir. Jim Archer
Archer made his name directing UK comedy TV series (The Young Offenders, Big Boys) and teams here with actor/writers David Earl and Chris Hayward, together expanding their own 2017 short. Earl stars as a hapless inventor living an isolated existence in Wales, until he builds a robot friend (Hayward). The mockumentary premiered at Sundance and won the audience award at the festival’s London offshoot. Focus Features distributed in the US in June and Universal Pictures internationally from July.
Dir. Frances O’Connor
UK-Australian actress O’Connor makes the move behind the camera with Emily, her fictional biopic of groundbreaking Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë. Screen Star of Tomorrow 2019 Emma Mackey, who in 2021 was nominated for a TV Bafta for her role in Netflix hit Sex Education, takes the title role in the film, which premiered at Toronto, was released in the UK on October 14 by Warner Bros and will be distributed in the US by Bleecker Street.
Empire Of Light
Dir. Sam Mendes
Mendes’s last film 1917 won three Oscars and seven Baftas, and grossed $385m at cinemas worldwide. He switches pace with this Searchlight-backed ode to cinema set in an English south coastal town in the 1980s, even then long past its prime. Oscar and Bafta winner Olivia Colman plays the assistant manager of the local picture house, opposite Blue Story star (and 2020 Bafta rising star winner) Micheal Ward as a new recruit. Themes of racism and mental illness play out inside a struggling cinema lovingly recreated by Primetime Emmy-winning production designer Mark Tildesley.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Dir. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
DH Lawrence’s steamy novel has been adapted several times, most notably in a 1993 TV version starring Sean Bean and Joely Richardson. The latter appears in this Netflix feature, although Lady Chatterley is played by The Crown’s Emma Corrin, with Jack O’Connell as the earthy gamekeeper who piques her interest. De Clermont-Tonnerre directed festival favourite The Mustang (2019); her Lady Chatterley’s Lover played Telluride and BFI London en route to a December 2 Netflix launch.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
Dir. Sophie Hyde
This Sundance title features two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson’s acclaimed performance as a widowed schoolteacher who hires a male escort (Screen Star of Tomorrow 2021 Daryl McCormack) to fulfil her overdue sexual desires. Searchlight Pictures successfully qualified the film for this year’s Oscars despite releasing digitally via Hulu, while in the UK Lionsgate’s theatrical release sets the film up for the Baftas — where its chances may be stronger. Thompson will be the big push, while other categories include UK comedian and writer Katy Brand for original screenplay.
Dir. Oliver Hermanus
South Africa-born, UK-resident Hermanus impressed with LGBTQ-themed indie dramas Beauty and Moffie, and now pivots to this 1950s London-set adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952). Bill Nighy stars as the council bureaucrat who receives a diagnosis of terminal illness and embarks on a mission to give his remaining life meaning. Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay could receive attention, and Bafta voters especially may be exploring far and wide — including Aimee Lou Wood’s supporting performance. A rare film to play Sundance, Venice, Telluride and Toronto, Living releases in the UK via Lionsgate and in the US via Sony Pictures Classics.
The Lost King
Dir. Stephen Frears
The creative team behind Philomena (nominated for four Oscars and four Baftas in 2014, winning the latter for adapted screenplay) reunites with this true story of an amateur historian uncovering the lost remains of King Richard III. Sally Hawkins plays the lead, opposite Steve Coogan, who co-writes with Jeff Pope. The Lost King premiered at Toronto, and opened in UK cinemas in October via Pathé.
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris
Dir. Anthony Fabian
Lesley Manville is a 1950s cleaning lady who sets her heart on owning a Dior dress in this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel. Manville was Oscar- and Bafta-nominated in 2018 for Phantom Thread, a story similarly set in the world of couture fashion, while co-star Isabelle Huppert received her own Oscar nomination a year earlier for Elle. Mrs Harris Goes To Paris has enjoyed an international release through Universal, and had grossed more than $15m at press time.
Dir. Michael GrandageSet in Brighton in two timelines — in the 1950s and 1990s — this adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ novel stars Emma Corrin, Harry Styles and David Dawson in a love triangle that impacts their lives when the men’s gay relationship risks exposure. Gina McKee, Linus Roache and Rupert Everett play the same roles in the later timeline — still dealing with the heartbreak of the past. Amazon Studios launched the film at Toronto, and releases on Prime Video on November 4.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical
Dir. Matthew Warchus
Warchus has regrouped his Matilda stage musical team of writer Dennis Kelly and composer Tim Minchin for a Working Title-produced screen adaptation, released by Sony in the UK and Ireland on November 25 and Netflix for the rest of the world from December 25, following its BFI London Film Festival world premiere. Boasting a cast of UK talent including Bafta and Oscar winner Emma Thompson as head teacher Miss Trunchbull, Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough as Matilda’s self-involved parents, and Irish newcomer Alisha Weir in the title role, it could be that rare family film to strike a chord with awards voters, especially at Bafta.
Dir. Sally El Hosaini
The Welsh-Egyptian writer/director won acclaim for her debut feature My Brother The Devil, which premiered at Sundance in 2012. Subsequently working in TV drama, the filmmaker returns to features with this real-life story of Syrian refugee sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini. After debuting in Toronto (where El Hosaini received the TIFF emerging talent award) and playing BFI London, the film will bow on Netflix on November 23.