Cannes 2014: Which Brits will be flying the flag?

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

image source, Getty Images
image captionClockwise from top left: Robert Pattinson, Matt Smith, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

This year's Cannes Film Festival is shaping up to be a significant one for British talent, with two home-grown titles up for the Palme d'Or award and several others featured in other divisions of the official festival programme.

Such a pronounced presence is in marked contrast to last year's event, in which no British films were included in the main competition line-up.

"We've been through a bad patch and now we're going through a good patch," says Mike Leigh, whose latest drama Mr Turner - a portrait of the famous 19th Century painter - sees him in contention once more for the festival's highest honour.

"We're doing better," continues the 71-year-old, who was named best director at Cannes in 1993 and who went on to win the Palme d'Or three years later with Secrets and Lies.

"There's a great film-making tradition here, and there's some very good film-making going on."

Ken Loach, another Cannes veteran, is also up for the Palme d'Or - or Golden Palm - with Jimmy's Hall, his latest (and possibly last) film feature.

If anything, though, British offerings are even more to the fore away from the competition selection.

image source, Film company
image captionOn reflection: a promotional image for Snow in Paradise

Snow in Paradise, a London-set thriller about a criminal who turns to Islam, has been included in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, the section of the programme that focuses on new talent.

The Director's Fortnight section, meanwhile, features no less than three British titles, among them Queen and Country, the new film from John Boorman, and Pride, the second film from the acclaimed theatre director Matthew Warchus.

The latter, which will close the Quinzaine des Realisateurs, or Director's Fortnight, on 23 May, has a particularly British feel, focusing as it does on the unlikely alliance that formed between striking miners and members of the gay and lesbian community during the 1984 miners' strike.

"It's something that will be very recognisable to the Brits but will obviously have universal relevance as well," says cast member Dominic West, who plays a real-life gay rights activist who was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed HIV positive.

"I think it'll go down very well and I'm glad we were chosen," continues the actor, whose co-stars in the film include Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.

image source, Getty Images
image captionBoorman's Queen and Country is a follow-up to his 1987 autobiographical work Hope and Glory

"Just to get to Cannes is like being a non-league club winning the FA Cup," says Martin Askew, who co-wrote the script for Snow in Paradise with its director Andrew Hulme and who also has a role in the film.

His enthusiasm is shared by Pride's producer David Livingstone, who describes being part of this year's programme as "thrilling" and "just ridiculously exciting".

All in all, it represents something of a coup for the various publicly-funded bodies whose role is to finance British film and nurture British talent.

They include BBC Films, Film4 and the National Lottery-backed BFI Film Fund, all of whom have had some involvement in this year's roster of home-grown Cannes premieres.

Yet the British presence at Cannes extends much further than this. All the way to Hollywood, in fact.

Former Doctor Who star Matt Smith, for example, has a key role in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut Lost River (screening as part of Un Certain Regard on 20 May) for which he shaved his trademark locks last year.

Twilight actor Robert Pattinson, meanwhile, has two chances to walk the red carpet, thanks to his roles in Palme d'Or contender Maps to the Stars and crime drama The Rover (screening out of competition on 18 May).

image source, AP
image captionSo true: Spandau Ballet (minus Gary Kemp, far left) will be promoting a film at Cannes

Heartthrobs of a different vintage will be visible in the form of Spandau Ballet, who will be promoting a documentary about their 1980s heyday entitled Soul Boys of the Western World.

And then there is the opening night film Grace of Monaco, in which star Nicole Kidman is supported by the likes of Tim Roth, Robert Lindsay and Sir Derek Jacobi.

So what can they and their countrymen expect? According to Mike Leigh, one word - "mayhem".

"The sun shines, you get plenty to drink and you get sick of the sound of your own voice," he tells the BBC News website. "But if you're a film-maker, it's the centre of the universe."

"I can't wait," grins Dominic West, who will be attending the festival for the first time. "I want the yachts, I want Catherine Deneuve, I want Brigitte Bardot. They'll still be there, won't they?"

In the opinion of actor Timothy Spall, though, it is perhaps best to retain a sense of proportion.

"Obviously there's a massive amount of pressure for the film to succeed and for people to like it," he says of Mr Turner, in which he plays the title role. "But it's all ephemeral.

"One minute you can be in Cannes, walking up the red carpet in your tuxedo.

"The next minute you can be sitting at home, desperate for work, waiting for the phone to ring."

The 67th Festival de Cannes runs from 14 to 25 May.

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