8 Must-See Movies At The London Film Festival

arrival amy adams

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Published on

Autumn is a cinephile’s delight. Not only is the weather gloomy enough to justify spending a Sunday afternoon curled up at your local multiplex or arty screening room, it’s also a season where back-to-back awards contenders fill up the cinema timetable. Spanning 193 feature films, 52 documentaries and 144 shorts across 12 days, this year’s BFI London Film Festival is the perfect chance for you to get ahead on the films that everyone will be talking about come January. From an intriguingly diverse programme that ranges from period romance to thought-provoking sci-fi, these are our top picks…

Queen of Katwe

queen of katwe lupita nyong'o
Lupita Nyong'o in Queen of Katwe

On paper, a film about a young chess prodigy doesn’t necessarily sound too compelling. Queen Of Katwe, though, is different. A Disney biopic with just enough bite, it tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a young Ugandan girl who discovers an unexpected flair for the game. In her first non-CGI role since her Oscar-winning breakout 12 Years A Slave, Lupita Nyong’o stars as her strict mother, while David Oyelowo is a local minister - slash - amateur chess coach. It’s the sort of uplifting, life-affirming stuff that the studio does best, but avoids putting too much Disney gloss on the poverty and prejudice that Phiona is up against.


amy adams arrival
Amy Adams stars in Arrival ©LFF

If you sit down to Arrival expecting an intergalactic showdown in the vein of Independence Day, you’ll be met with far more cerebral, provoking fare. While ostensibly a sci-fi film, Arrival is less interested in its ‘heptapods’ (the aliens making the ‘arrival’ of the title) than in the human responses that they provoke. Amy Adams puts in a stunningly understated performance as Dr Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who’s drafted in to help the military communicate with some shadowy extra-terrestrials when 12 alien ships land on earth. It’s thoughtful, a little moody and beautifully paced – with a finale that delivers a gut-wrenching twist.


lion dev patel rooney mara
Dev Patel and Rooney Mara in Lion ©LFF

One of a handful of films to notch up an impressive pre-awards buzz on this year’s film festival circuit, Lion sees Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara star in an adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s adoption memoir A Long Way Home. Patel plays an adult Saroo, who embarks on an obsessive search for his Indian birth family using Google Earth, 25 years after being separated from them as a child. If early reviews are anything to go by, waterproof mascara will be a necessity.

La La Land

la la land emma stone ryan gosling
La La Land ©LFF

The latest from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle is a dreamy, sun-soaked love letter to Los Angeles that’s already earned comparisons with the musicals of Hollywood’s golden age – and (deservedly) generated rave reviews for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, its cinegenic leading couple. Reuniting for their third film (they've previously co-starred in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad), the pair showcase their impressive vocal talents as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz pianist, lost in the bright lights of LA. The phrase 'modern classic' gets thrown around a lot, but La La Land manages to be both without detriment to the other. Prepare to dance out of the cinema and fall in love with Gosling for the thousandth time.

Nocturnal Animals

amy adams nocturnal animals
Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals ©LFF

Can someone give Amy Adams an Oscar already? The star is making two very convincing plays for the Best Actress gong this season, with Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, the latest from impeccably turned-out polymath Tom Ford. His second feature is an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, with Adams starring as the Susan of the book’s title. A jaded (and – spoiler alert – very well dressed) LA type, she becomes embroiled in the world of a thriller written by her estranged ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), which plays out in colourful melodrama on screen as the lines between reality and fiction blur. Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Armie Hammer and Laura Linney round out an all-star cast.

A United Kingdom

rosamund pike united kingdom
Rosamund Pike in A United Kingdom ©LFF

Opening the London Film Festival is A United Kingdom, which sees Belle director Amma Asante take us back to another crisis point in British race relations; this time, her story is set against the backdrop of a crumbling empire. Back in 1947, the romance between Seretse Khama, first in line to the throne of what is now Botswana, and London office worker Ruth Williams was a source of controversy, ultimately escalating into political crisis. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike star as the central pair in what promises to be a thoughtful and timely period romance, with support from the likes of Downton’s Laura Carmichael and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton.

Free Fire

brie larson free fire
Brie Larson in Free Fire ©LFF

Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Sam Riley are in full American Hustle mode for this high octane ‘70s thriller, the latest from revered Brit director Ben Wheatley (he’s the man behind this year’s Hiddleston-starring Ballard adaptation, High Rise, and disturbing caravan ‘comedy’ Sightseers). If the trailer is anything to go by, Larson’s explosive turn couldn’t be further from her Oscar-winning performance in Room – perfect if you’re struggling to wait until 2018 to see her heading up one of the first (sigh) female led superhero movies as a doubtlessly kickass Captain Marvel.

American Honey

american honey sasha lane
Sasha Lane in American Honey ©LFF

Newcomer Sasha Lane is a force of nature in the latest project from acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold. A sprawling road trip movie (make sure you’re settled in for a long haul; the film spans around three hours) about being young, broke and careless, American Honey is an intense and intimate experience, powered on teenage angst and hard liquor. Aside from Shia ‘I’m not famous any more’ LeBeouf and Riley Keough, Arnold has assembled a gang of street-cast unknowns for her convincingly ragged gang of itinerant teens: Lane, who plays central character Star, was spotted partying on a Florida beach during spring break. Extra marks for an excellent soundtrack that makes a major set piece out of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love.’

The BFI London Film Festival will run from October 5 until October 16. For the full programme, head to www.bfi.org.uk/lff

READ MORE: Toronto Film Festival: 8 Films You'll Want To Watch

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us