The London Film Festival, an underdog among global movie showcases, was opening Wednesday with the world premiere of “Frost/Nixon,” a film about a British contender taking on an American heavyweight.
The Ron Howard-directed drama is based on Peter Morgan’s stage play about the 1977 TV interviews between talk show host David Frost and disgraced ex-President Richard M. Nixon. The event, in which 45 million Americans watched Nixon admit “I let the American people down,” made Frost’s career and ensured Nixon’s place in the political wilderness.
The film features Michael Sheen (Prime Minister Tony Blair in “The Queen”) as Frost – an affable TV personality but seemingly a journalistic flyweight – and a magnificent performance by Frank Langella as Nixon, a formidable political bruiser aiming for redemption.
It’s a fitting opener for a festival that artistic director Sandra Hebron has said is heavy on “politics, history, memory.”
Founded in 1957, the London festival aims to show the best of the past year’s world cinema to a British audience and does not hand out major awards like rivals in Cannes, Venice or Toronto.
But it has sought to raise its profile in recent years, with bigger pictures, more glittering stars and more world premieres. This year’s lineup of almost 300 films from 43 countries includes a record 15 world premieres.
Among the stars lined up to attend are Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, Liam Neeson, Benicio Del Toro and Rachel Weisz.
The festival’s biggest coup has been securing the first public screening of the new James Bond thriller, “Quantum of Solace.” It will make its debut for a paying audience on Oct. 29, immediately after a world premiere for an invited crowd including Prince William and Prince Harry. The film opens around the world from Oct. 31.
The lineup also includes Oliver Stone’s opinion-dividing George W. Bush biopic “W”; Steven Soderbergh’s revolutionary saga “Che”; Woody Allen’s Spanish-set “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; and “Hunger,” British director Steve McQueen’s Cannes Film Festival prize-winning film about Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands.
The festival closes Oct. 30 with “Slumdog Millionaire,” ”Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle’s film about an Indian teenager on the verge of winning a fortune on a TV quiz show.