Hand-Picked Gems Shine at Mostly British Film Festival

25 Mostly New Films to Enjoy During Festival, Scheduled from February 9th - 16th

Guest Column by Mostly British Film Festival Co-Director, Ruthe Stein

Most of my time working on the Mostly British Film Festival I am alone in a tiny office watching potential entries through links. But last year, thanks to the only perk to emerge from the Covid pandemic, Zoom, I shared my cramped space with Helen Mirren for a discussion of her opening night movie "The Duke," which was shared with our enthusiastic festival audience.

Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain in the 1983 film version of "The Thorn Birds"

This time around Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown join me to share their delightful memories of shooting "The Thorn Birds." The festival is celebrating the 40th anniversary of this sexy saga of a Catholic priest (Chamberlain) harboring a forbidden love for an impressionable heiress (Ward) to a sheep farm in the 1920s Australian Outback.

Richard, at 88 still recognizable from his stint as Dr. Kildare, speaks from his Los Angeles home, and Bryan and Rachel are at their house in Sydney. The two – an unhappily married couple in "The Thorn Birds" – fell in love on the set and are now celebrating their own 40th anniversary.

Bryan tells me he was reticent at first to respond to Rachel’s flirting, not because he wasn’t attracted to the stunning young British actress, but because this was his first Hollywood gig and he feared behaving improperly. Fellow cast member Jean Simmons egged on Rachel in her pursuit of Bryan, telling her if she were younger she would make a play for the hunky Aussie with the great pecs (the first thing Rachel noticed about him).

Richard has his own encounter with another grand dame: Barbara Stanwyk in the role of the family matriarch. In the script, he arrives at the sheep farm soaking wet and removes his clothes at what he thinks is a secret hideaway where she is meant to discover him. Richard recalls that for the first time in her more than 50 year career, the legendary actress forgot her lines. “Barbara told me later that it had been a long time since she’d seen a naked man,” he said with a laugh.

Most of the festival’s 25 entries were selected months ago by a committee of film devotees, especially Maxine Einhorn and Kathleen O’Hara, as well as myself. We chose them strictly on our cinematic instincts rather than the word in the industry. With so many of our choices receiving recognition we couldn’t have foreseen, our committee feels like we’re on a lucky streak at the roulette wheel.

I knew I wanted "Emily" to open the festival 15 minutes into watching it. This story of the life of "Wuthering Heights" author Emily Brontë is far removed from a typical biopic. Because so little is known about this Brontë sister, writer-director Frances O’Connor was able to take poetic license and tells the story of the kind of woman who might have written such a boldly sensuous novel. I felt like the film was my secret find. Recently I was pleased to see Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle put it on the top of his list of “Movies to Watch Out For in 2023.” 

Nadeem Shehzad in "All That Breathes"

"All That Breathes" captured Maxine’s attention with its remarkable true story of two brothers intent on rescuing the meat-eating black kites that sail across the polluted skies of New Delhi. The siblings treat the birds that literally fall from the sky. The documentary won top prizes at Cannes and Sundance but it felt like it belonged in an art house. So imagine our delight when it recently was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. The buzz surrounding it is louder than the high whistle these birds make.

"A Night of Knowing Nothing" threads fictitious letters between two film students who have ended their intercaste relationship

Another special documentary, "A Night of Knowing Nothing," was brought to my attention by a friend, Amit Ghosh, who often screens Indian films for us. He was taken by this intimate look at social life at a Mumbai university told through the letters of two students whose burgeoning love is halted by his family, who forbid their son from seeing a woman considered below his caste. Those of us at Mostly British thought this film would remain unknown until our screening. But lo and behold the New York Times named it one of “The Best Genre Movies of 2022.”

Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in "Aftersun"

We can hardly claim to discover "Aftersun," which captured seven British Independent Film Awards and is lingering in theaters far longer than predicted because of enthusiastic word of mouth. A film about remembering, it features a young Scottish woman recalling a holiday she shared with her father at a Turkish resort years earlier. Since we announced her film Charlotte Wells was nominated for a DGA award honoring a first-time director.

Cast as the woman’s father is the Irish actor Paul Mescal who the festival staff have had our eyes on since his thrilling TV performance in "Normal People." While we strive to premiere films we made an exception in this case so as many people as possible could enjoy the film on a big screen. To make the program special we teamed it with another fine film, "God’s Creatures," in which the incandescent actor steals the show.

I explained our plan to focus on Mescal to his publicist while requesting a Zoom interview with him to play at our festival. She explained that he was busy rehearsing the role of Stanley Kowalski in a London production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." But she said if he couldn’t do the interview he would at least tape introductions to both films for us. So with that commitment the festival program includes a Paul Mescal Double Feature.

But in the end he declined to participate personally in the festival, claiming he was just too busy. Now that Mescal is getting raves from theater critics and offers for more films, he is most likely past Mostly British ever catching up with him. To my amusement I read he found time after a recent performance for a cup of coffee with Angelina Jolie. So I am left to conclude “too busy” is a relative state of being.

For information on additional film screenings and ticket information, visit mostlybritish.org - the festival takes place February 9 - 16. Festival passes and individual tickets available.

Main Image: Emma Mackey in "Emily"

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