British cinema is back in competition at the 68th Venice Film Festival, where after a three-year absence, the UK brings three films to the Lido in a year which is dominated by English-language cinema, but which showcases exciting works from Germany, France, Israel, Greece, Russia, Japan, China and Taiwan among other territories.

The UK’s Lido offering includes Working Title’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, directed by Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson starring Gary Oldman and Oscar winner Colin Firth (who returns to the Lido after his acclaimed performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man in 2009).

Also in competition from the UK, Andrea Arnold’s take on the Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights [pictured] and Steve McQueen’s second directorial foray Shame about a sex-obsessed man (Michael Fassbender) in New York whose younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves in with him.

In addition to the competition offer, Madonna will fly the UK flag with her second work, W.E.,  a two-tiered love drama, on one level about King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and on the other, a contemporary story between married woman and a Russian security guard in New York. The film has secured Italian distribution from Archibald Film.

The UK has an additional three titles in the experimental Horizons (Orizzonti) section dedicated to various cinematic languages.

“The programme this edition, I have to say, represents us better than the other editions and that resembles the qualities and dynamics we would have always liked to capture,” artistic director Marco Mueller told journalists at a Rome news conference.

This year’s US offer is also strong and is perhaps the one that has morphed most over the past few editions, in part to the global financial crisis.

Summing up the US films this year Mueller said, “It’s an American cinema different than that body of work we are used to and which needs Venice (to showcase it).”

Venice begins with the election year themed Ides Of March, George Clooney’s fourth feature in competition, starring himself, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

Other titles in competition from the US (there are five in total) include Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse featuring Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, Donna Murphy and Selma Blair is the story of a blooming romance between two thirtysomethings, he an avid toy collector and she, the family’s ‘dark horse’; Abel Ferrara’s end-of-world drama 4:44 Last Day On Earth with Willem Dafoe; William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, a black comedy about a drug dealer prepared to revert to extreme solutions when his stash is stolen; Texas Killing Fields the second film from Amy Canaan Mann, a Texas bayou homicide thriller featuring Sam Worthington, Chloe Moretz and Jessica Chastain.

Jessica Chastain will also be seen in Al Pacino’s long-gestating out of competition doc Wilde Salome. Another out of competition high profile US film is Steven Soderbergh’s virus outbreak thriller Contagion with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Gwyneth Paltrow, certainly one if this year’s main draws.

Germany, in co production with Canada, offers David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, starring Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel.

From Asia, Taiwan is present with historical drama Seediq Bale by director Wei Te-sheng – an epic set during Japanese rule of Taiwan; from China/Hong Kong, Ann Hui’s A Simple Life is inspired by a true story, of a heartwarming relationship between a young master a big family.

From Greece, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth follow-up Alps is a grief-themed dark comedy about people that stand in for lost love ones in order to help overcome loss; from Russia, Faust - the last part of a historical tetralogy, which also includes the Moloch, Taurus and The Sun directed by a legendary Russian film director Alexander Sokurov; and from the Middle East, Israel brings The Exchange – Erin Kolirin’s writer/director project is a drama about a family man obsessed with looking at his own life out of context.

The competition also offers shows Mueller’s desire to push boundaries and offer space for the experimental, which he does this edition with three comic artists’ films in competition including Japanese director Sion Sono’s adaptation of psychological-drama manga Himizu; France’s Chicken With Plums by Persepolis directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud with Isabella Rosselini and Maria de Medeiros; and Italy’s L’ultimo Terreste by comic book artist “Gipi” (Gian Alfonso Pacinotti), in his film debut.

In addition, France is strong this edition with two other hot competition titles: A Burning Hot Summer (Un Ete Brulant) from Philippe Garrel starring Monica Bellucci about a painter tormented when his wife leaves him, and Roman Polanski’s Carnage, via Medusa — for which a Medusa rep said Polanski is mulling over the idea of a video conference. The comedy-drama about two families who decide to meet after their two sons engage in a schoolyard brawl stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly.

Italy will compete with three titles from the countries top producers: Cattleya and Fandango. From Cattleya, Cristina Comencini’s Quando La Notte set in the Alps focuses on a woman struggling with motherhood who encounters an important new love; and Emanuele Crialese’s awaited Terraferma, his latest forway into issues surrounding immigration and Italians set on the tiny islands of Lampedusa and Linosa.

The story focuses a tiny island impacted by the arrival of thousands of poor Africans that cross the sea to escape hunger and political strife. The film cast a survivor of such a crossing and echoes the real life immigration emergency currently unfolding in Europe. Crialese last won a “Revelation Lion” on the Lido in 2006 with Golden Door. The aforementioned L’ultimo Terreste comes to the Lido via Fandango.

Out of competition pictures are also strong this year and include Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries, a jealousy drama set in an elite boarding school with Lily Cole and Sarah Bolger; Chantal Akerman’s Cambodia-set La Folie Almayer is the story of a merchant whose dreams of riches for his beloved daughter collapse under the weight of his own greed and prejudice; Japan’s Takashi Shimizu brings Tormented; and Tony Ching Siu-Tung (China/Hong Kong) offers The Sorcerer And The White Snake featuring Jet Li. Finally, Italian master Ermanno Olmi’s latest Il Villaggio Di Cartone with Rutger Hauer is among films in the 21 film out-of-competition line-up.

The Moth Diaries is one of five Canadian films to screen in Venice, the others being A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg, in competition; Marécages by Guy Edoin, in Critics Week; Cafe De Flore by Jean-Marc Vallée; and Another Silence by Santiago Amigorena, in Venice Days. The Canadian films were supported through the Canada Feature Film Fund administered by Telefilm Canada.

While most of the competition and some out of competition titles were tipped earlier this week on ScreenDaily, a few more tid-bits can be expected. Mueller confirmed the presence of his by now signature ‘surprise film’ and referenced a last-minute offer from another director for whose work, Mueller said, they would “try to find room.”

This edition also marks the last year in artistic director Marco Mueller’s second four-year mandate in which he confidently presented an all-world-premiere official selection, across all selections (excluding retrospectives), which he said was a first in Biennale post war history. He, and Biennale President Paolo Baratta opened the press conference providing information about the Lido’s upgrade – in services, accessibility and screening venues – as part of the Lido’s refurbishment, which is in progress. The duo wanted to put across the message: the Lido is not going to sink.

The Venice Film Festival runs Aug 31-Sept 10.

For the line-up list announced today, click here.