Canceled due to COVID last year, the Mostly British Film Festival is back, celebrating the cinematic terrain of pre-Hollywood Hitchcock, Ealing Studios comedies, kitchen-sink dramas, David Lean, Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold, Judi Dench, Daniel Kaluuya, Emma Thompson and some great foot-chase scenes.
Presented by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, Mostly British features films from the United Kingdom and places linked to it, with screenings at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco. The 2022 edition takes place Thursday, March 10 to Thursday March 17, with a preview screening on Tuesday, March 8. Twenty-six movies from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and India are on offer.
“I just can’t wait for this to happen,” says Ruthe Stein, Mostly British founder and co-curator and former San Francisco Chronicle movie editor and critic.
COVID issues caused the cancelation of last year’s festival, and the postponement of this year’s program as well. But now, ticket sales are happening and a strong lineup of movies is ready to roll.
“The Duke,” a comedy directed by Roger Michell (it’s the “Notting Hill” director’s final film) and slated for an upcoming theatrical release, is the opening night feature. The 1960s, fact-inspired, very British story centers on a cabdriver, played by Jim Broadbent, who confesses to stealing a Goya masterwork from the National Gallery for Robin Hoods reasons. Helen Mirren costars and will make a Zoom introduction at the March 10 screening. A reception also precedes the screening.
“The Beatles and India” closes the festival. Directors Ajoy Bose and Peter Compton look at how Indian music and culture affected the Fab Four artistically and personally in this documentary, which is not expected to screen elsewhere in the United States. A reception follows the film.
Another prime selection, set for March 16, is “After Love,” featuring BAFTA-nominated Joanna Scanlan in a stellar lead performance. Were there a jewel-box honor granted to little gem indies, “After Love,” director Aleem Khan’s feature debut, would surely qualify. Scanlan plays Mary, a Muslim British widow who discovers that her recently departed husband had a second life, with a French woman.
“I spent a lot of time in the mosque,” Scanlan said about her preparation for the role. “I spent a lot of time talking to Aleem, talking to his mother, who is probably the most profound influence on the whole character.”
Documentaries featured in the Mostly British Film Festival include “Ronnie’s,” about London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and “My Name Is Gulpilil,” the award-winning Australian doc about the popular indigenous actor David Gulpilil.
Also from Australia is the festival centerpiece “Rams,” a sunny remake of the Icelandic tale about two ornery brothers and their prizewinning sheep.
Fare from Ireland includes “Wild Fire,” a domestic drama set in a community still traumatized by the Troubles, and “Deadly Cuts,” an over-the-top hairdressers-turned-vigilantes comedy.
From India, “The Last Film Show” is described as an “East Indian ‘Cinema Paradiso.’”
“I am pleased that I can give these movies a second chance, on a big screen,” says Stein, referring to films that “slipped in and out of theaters during the pandemic before most moviegoers knew they existed.”
These include the Australian crime drama “The Dry,” the aspiring opera singer comedy “Falling for Figaro” (costar Joanna Lumley will introduce the film via Zoom), and a Stein favorite, “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as emotionally isolated women who find love together on an 1840s English beach.
While the festival officially begins March 10, filmgoers should take note of a preview screening — of “Mothering Sunday” — set for Tuesday, March 8. Adapted from Graham Swift’s novel, the theater-bound drama involves love, loss, class and endurance in depressed post–World War I England. Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman star.
The Mostly British Film Festival was launched in 2009 as a showcase for British cinema — which, despite being in the English language, is sometimes considered by distributors to be too foreign for U.S. audiences.
The first year, “Colin Firth was our poster boy,” Stein recalls. “He was appearing in a movie called ‘Genoa.’”
“Back then, films arrived in cans,” says Stein, remembering the almost comical sight of Jack Bair’s San Francisco Giants office filled with film cannisters. Bair, in addition to being senior vice president and general counsel for the Giants, is cofounder of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation and a longtime force behind Mostly British.
Stein attributes the festival’s staying power to several factors.
First, the festival has a permanent home, the Vogue Theater, which the foundation owns.
“We’re also a community event,” Stein adds, describing the Vogue as an inviting neighborhood setting.
Further, the festival has built up a following. “There’s even a couple from England who come every year,” Stein says.
Stein also credits co-curators Maxine Einhorn, who is British, and Kathleen O’Hara, who is Irish, as key reasons for the quality of the festival, along with the film distributors who “gave us leeway this year.” Distributors “understand how hard it is to put a festival together during a pandemic.”
As for her own favorite British films, Stein cites: “Darling,” set in swinging London; the gangster drama “The Long Good Friday”; the romantic classic “Brief Encounter”; and “anything by Michael Powell,” including “The Red Shoes” and “I Know Where I’m Going!”
IF YOU GO:
Mostly British Film Festival
Where: Vogue Theater, 3290 Sacramento St., S.F.
When: Tuesday, March 8; and Thursday, March 10 through Thursday, March 17
Admission: $12.50 to $30 for individual tickets; $250 for a series pass
Screening schedule and contact: mostlybritish.org