The best of London Film Festival 2023

The best of London Film Festival 2023 | Soho House

From the 2000s throwbacks of ‘Saltburn’ to an unflinching exploration of rape culture in ‘How To Have Sex’, Hanna Flint shares her highlights

Saturday 14 October 2023   By Hanna Flint

I might be a bit biased here, but there’s no greater way to experience a film festival than in your hometown. OK, maybe the fact that I don’t have to book a flight or a hotel to attend might be a major factor in that – Cannes and Sundance aren’t cheap. But this year’s London Film Festival has been a great reminder of just how fun being surrounded by people as movie-obsessed as you can be.

The festival kicked off with the opening gala screening of Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall and it was the perfect event to dust off my Topshop Union Jack blazer from the mid-2000s. Set in 2006, the blackly comic psychological drama is like Skins meets Brideshead Revisited via The Talented Mr. Ripley. Barry Keoghan proves once again why he’s cinema’s greatest weirdo as Oliver, the outsider Oxford student who becomes somewhat obsessed with fellow student Felix, Jacob Elordi’s hot and rich aristocrat who invites him home to his estate for the summer. There are so many needle drops taking me back to nights out at Gatecrasher and the student union at uni. And at the afterparty at BFI Southbank, me and fellow millennial revellers committed murder on the dance floor – and by murder, I mean two-stepped to Sophie Ellis-Bextor and other 2000s classics until we got kicked out.

The best of London Film Festival 2023 | Soho House

Technically, my festival actually began a day earlier, at the Film4 filmmaker breakfast on the top floor of Soho House 76 Dean Street. I got to chat with critical peers and industry creatives, over oat lattes and smashed avocado bagels, about the exciting schedule of films the production company was screening across BFI Southbank, Picturehouse Central, and various other cinema venues in London and the UK. Molly Manning-Walker’s How To Have Sex and Andrew Haigh’s All Of Us Strangers were two of the best from the 10-strong line-up. 

Walker’s visceral teen holiday drama follows a trio of girls as they get wet and wild on a party trip to Magaluf. It becomes a holiday from hell for one of them when she loses part of herself in the pursuit of losing her virginity. It’s an unflinching, astute and compassionate exploration of the normalisation of rape culture delivered by an exciting young cast led by Mia Mckenna-Bruce, a drowning of age story like no other. And on Thursday night, I got to sit down with the filmmaker for a Q&A screening at the Charlotte Street Hotel.

All Of Us Strangers was an early Sunday morning jobby at Picturehouse Central, and dear lord, Andrew Scott did the damn thing. Having had the pleasure of hosting a Q&A with the extraordinary actor at Soho Summit earlier this year – and witnessed his stomping one-man turn in Vanya at the Duke of York’s Theatre the week earlier – I knew I was in for yet another riveting performance. Haigh’s tender, hallucinatory story about a screenwriter mysteriously reconnecting as an adult with the parents he lost as a child is beautifully conceived and evocatively realised with haunting cinematography and emotionally wrought turns by Scott and his co-stars Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell and Claire Foy. I was very grateful that my most adult trait is always keeping a pack of tissues on hand; there were many tears I needed to wipe away.

First-time filmmakers Luna Carmoon and Noora Niasari delivered some powerful women-focused stories grappling with mother-daughter relationships. Carmoon’s Hoard is a mesmerising, at times stomach-churning tale, about a foster teen’s gnarly regression after learning of her mentally ill mother’s death. Niasari’s Shayda zones in on an Iranian immigrant in Melbourne, 1995, after she takes refuge with her daughter at a women’s shelter to escape her violent husband, Hossein. Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who stunned earlier this year in Holy Spider, is a quivering vessel of emotions, sensitively portraying the experience of many women dealing with cases of domestic abuse and ostracisation from the culture they love.

And it would be utterly remiss of me not to mention the biggest ticket of the festival – Edgar Wright in conversation with the iconic Martin Scorsese. His recall of cinema, from Old Hollywood to European classics and beyond, was as impressive to behold as his memories from making Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy and The Aviator. The man’s a genius, and even if I had length and perspective issues with Killers Of The Flower Moon, I’m so glad he’s still making movies to be truly experienced on the big screen.

As this column is published the day before the closing night gala screening of The Kitchen, I’ll have to keep you posted on how the afterparty at 180 Strand pans out. But I know, like last year for the Glass Onion closer, I’ll be found near the kitchen waiting for canapes and Picantes in hand, and getting into some deep and meaningfuls about movies.

See our full screenings schedule to find out what’s on across all of our Houses around the world.