The 49th Times bfi London Film Festival opened amid torrential rain on Wednesday night (Oct 19) witha gala screening of Fernando Meirelles' TheConstant Gardener.

The director was in attendance along with stars Ralph Fiennes,Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, and author John Le Carre, who wrote the novel onwhich the film is based. New York-based Focus Features executives John Lyonsand James Schamus also attended.

Sandra Hebron, the festival's artistic director, noted that thefilm "has many of the qualities that we're aspiring to as a festival - The Constant Gardener is intelligent,ambitious, has passion, is very moving, and relevant. It's such a fine film.It's the perfect film for us to open the festival with."

Theusually predictable speeches got an extra dose of excitement because actorRalph Fiennes was unexpectedly delayed several hours on a flight from Los Angeles. Producer Simon Channing-Williams (whose Vera Drake opened last year's festival) stretchedout his on-stage remarks in the hopes that Fiennes would show up in time toappear on stage, and somewhat miraculously, he came dashing in just before thefilm began.

"I was hoping that the LFF might haveparachuted me in wearing a tuxedo but I'm not Bond," Fiennes joked afterrunning on stage.

BFI chairman AnthonyMinghella praised The Constant Gardenerfor being "what a film should be - a celebration of international creativetalents." The film does have quite a worldly pedigree - theUS-UK-Germany-Canada co-production was shot in Kenya, London,and Berlin by a Brazilian director with a mostly British cast.

The LFF will run through to November 3, when George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck will closethe event. More than 180 feature films will screen during the festival,including the world premieres of Richard Jobson's A Woman in Winter and Serge Le Peron's I Saw Ben Barka GetKilled (J'ai vu tue Ben Barka).

Other gala presentations will be James Mangold's Johnny Cashbiopic Walk the Line, Julian Fellowes' directorial debut SeparateLies, Shane Black's murder mystery Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, TerryGilliam's fantastical The Brothers Grimm, Australian western TheProposition, Cannes winner L'Enfant from the Dardenne Brothers, MichaelHaneke's thriller Hidden (Cache), and hit documentary The March ofthe Penguins.

This year's festival should be typically star-studded, withexpected attendees including Gwyneth Paltrow, Gael Garcia Bernal, TerryGilliam, Shane Black, Kirsten Dunst, Cameron Crowe, John Madden, DamienLewis, Julian Fellowes, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Atom Egoyan, Francois Ozon,Nick Cave, the Dardenne Brothers, and others.