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    Highlights From the Upcoming Mostly British Film Festival 2023

    By Jan Wahl–

    These days, when many of us think about the U.K., royals like Harry and Meghan come to mind. I, by the way, am firmly on Team Harry. How can we knock someone trying to make his family safe? But let us move over to the U.K.’s fine films, actors and actresses, TV programs, and series. From shows like Gentleman Jack and Absolutely Fabulous to some of our best films including The Imitation Game, Albert Nobbs, The Danish Girl, Billy Elliot, and Wilde, there are countless quality productions coming from a constitutional monarchy that is just 2.48% the size of the U.S.

    To showcase such treasures, my friend and colleague Ruthe Stein eight years ago put together the Mostly British Film Festival in San Francisco. Every year, at least 25 new films, documentaries, tributes, and short subjects unspool in February (this year from February 9–16) at the Vogue Theatre. Stein told me about the festival’s origins and what inspired her: “Nobody was doing it! We had every kind of film festival. So, I thought like a journalist to look for something fresh and new. Also, I love the British New Wave and so many English-speaking films from overseas. That’s why this festival is always about not only British films, but also (those from) Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and India.”

    This year, aside from movies, Stein has curated an amazing evening with Richard Chamberlain, Bryan Brown, and Rachel Ward about the making of The Thorn Birds via a Zoom interview where each will remember this radical television movie, full of lust and sex, religious guilt, and costarring the late great Barbara Stanwyck. Stein promises dish!

    For example, Stanwyck, for the first time in her long and illustrious career, forgot her lines during a scene with Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds. In the scene she walked in on him after he was caught in the rain and was nude. She just stared, finally saying, “Excuse me, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a naked man.”

    I recommend Chamberlain’s autobiography, Shattered Love: A Memoir, to understand this gifted actor and painter. I interviewed him for this book, and he was one my favorites. The book is sad. For a better time about a Hollywood heartthrob coming out, read Tab Hunter’s Tab Hunter Confidential, and see the documentary that goes with it. But I digress.

    I will so be in my seat at the Vogue for the film Blue Jean. It concerns a closeted lesbian, teaching during the homophobic Thatcher years, who reaches out to one of her students and shares her own younger fears and current insecurity. Directed by Georgia Oakley, it stars an actress, Rosy McEwen, from one of the great unsung British TV series, The Alienist. Stein told me that this movie is now so hot in the U.K. that she had to fight for it for her festival. 

    I had an opportunity to view in advance one of the documentaries playing at this year’s festival. Quant is the true story of Mary Quant, a designer who changed fashion, licensing, and marketing forever. Not only was Quant a remarkable artist and thinker, but she also developed a look and feel for clothing, haircuts, shoes, British working-class neighborhoods, and makeup, all with the idea of freeing people through her concepts and designs. From miniskirts to slickers to lip gloss, the film puts Quant in the middle of social, sexual, business, and industrial revolutions. She’s had a life well led, and is still with us and working!

    Philomena, The Theory of Everything, The King’s Speech, Colette, Carrington, and Belfast are just a few examples of the way British films masterfully reveal the world of one individual to us. The opening night of the festival will feature a movie based on Emily Bronte, the author of Wuthering Heights. Another film will be The Lost King. Some of you might have been following this remarkable story of an amateur archeologist who found King Richard III’s bones under a British parking lot. Sally Hawkins stars in this Stephen Frears film. There will also be a deep dive into the early films of Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.

    Four British movies on my current Top Ten so far are Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris; Living; Good Luck to You, Leo Grande; and Empire of Light. Season five of The Crown was excellent, with Dominic West portraying Charles (what Charles probably wishes he looked like) and Elizabeth Debicki as Diana. I do long for a more assertive Diana, the woman who walked through landmines and fought for AIDS. Perhaps in the future. Thinking of other great, recent films not limited to the U.K., do not miss Women Talking, She Said, 13 Lives, and The Fabelmans.  

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on January 26, 2023