LFF 2008: Frost/Nixon

The film version of Peter Morgan‘s play about the Nixon interviews conducted by David Frost in 1977 made me a little nervous. 

As someone who was a huge admirer of the London stage production back in 2006, I had concerns that many of qualities that made it work so brilliantly on stage could be ironed out for the big screen.

However, it is to the film’s great credit that director Ron Howard and Morgan (who wrote the screenplay) have not only preserved the insight and charm of the play but made it work in a different medium. 

For those not familiar with the story, it explores how ambitious English talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) persuaded the disgraced former US president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) to a series of taped interviews nearly three years after his resignation. 

They culminated in a dramatic admission by the 39th president that he had essentially betrayed his country. What is particularly interesting about Morgan’s version is the way it shows the incredible tensions and ironies behind the scenes of what is now a famous piece of television history. 

Whilst Nixon was resigning in August 1974, Frost was presenting a very light-hearted talk show in Australia – one sequence shows Nixon pondering Frost’s offer whilst the presenter himself is filming a low budget item in Sydney about an escapologist.

It also shows the window of opportunity opened up for Frost by the US media, who were reluctant to pay the former President for a news interview and felt that Frost was something of a lightweight when it came to asking the tough questions. 

All the major networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) turned Frost down and he was forced use some of his own money to finance the project. 

Professionally and personally he had a lot at stake and much of the script’s power comes from contrasting two men looking to reignite their careers in the form of these televised interviews. 

The stage version managed to brilliantly tease out the contradictions and characters of both men and Sheen and Langella were both outstanding in their roles. 

Thankfully Howard has managed to preserve the power of their portrayals and although conventional Hollywood wisdom would have been to cast bigger names, the decision to stick with the actors who knew these characters so well has proved to be absolutely correct. 

Sheen does a superb technical impression of Frost but also conveys the charm and drive that made the interviews happen, whilst Langella gets beneath the infamous veneer of  Nixon, showing us how formidable yet fragile he could be. 

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent: Matthew Macfadyen as John BirtOliver Platt as Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell as James Reston, Jr. and Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, all convince in their roles as key aides to the two central characters. 

Also notable is the vivid period feel, with the costumes and sets adding an all encompassing sense of realism that the theatre can’t quite provide.

With his cinematographer Salvadore Totino, Howard has also opted for a more intimate approach with the camera usually staying quite close to characters rather than giving us lots of establishing shots of the Californian setting.

It is worth noting that some liberties with actual events have been taken – Frost himself has highlighted that Nixon’s famous confessional answer didn’t come at the end of filming and that a crucial sequence prior to that never actually happened. 

Although this leaves some debate about Morgan’s approach to history, which he has achieved huge success with in recent years scripting The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, it does make for powerful drama as well as demonstrating how slippery remembering events can be.

It remains to be seen how this will do at the box office, but despite the high brow nature of the material, there is a surprisingly accessible quality on display here. 

The genial nature of Frost’s ambition and the politically incorrect tone to Nixon’s stubbornness help make both characters a compelling double act. 

What might seem like a dry, talky period piece is brought to life by the energy and charisma of the two performers. As they duel in front of the cameras about Vietnam and Watergate, they joust off it about Italian shoes, cheeseburgers and women. 

It is this surreal mix of the personal and political that lies at the heart of why the play and this film version work so well. 

In the fictionalized details of the Frost/Nixon interviews we can see the deeper truths about how the powerful abuse their position and how that is presented to the public who have been betrayed.

Frost/Nixon opens the London Film Festival tonight and is released in the UK on Friday 9th January and in the US on December 5th   

> Official site for Frost/Nixon
> Frost/Nixon at the IMDb
> The Times with a piece by director Ron Howard about making the film and an interview with David Frost about his verdict
> Find out more about Richard Nixon at Wikipedia
> Read a transcript from the interviews at The Guardian

Festivals London Film Festival News

London Film Festival 2008: Lineup Announced

The full lineup for the 52nd London Film Festival has been announced.

Amongst the highlights are Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, W., Quantum of Solace, The Class, Che (in two parts), Waltz With Bashir and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.


Frost/Nixon (Opening Film): Ron Howard directs this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play about the interviews David Frost (Michael Sheen) conducted with the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1977. Morgan adapted his own play and this could well be a heavyweight awards contender if it is anything like the highly acclaimed play.

W. (The Times Gala): Oliver Stone’s political biopic of George W. Bush which sees Josh Brolin play the outgoing US president. A highly impressive supporting cast includes Elisabeth Banks, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Richard Dreyfuss, Toby Jones and James Cromwell as the film charts his extraordinary road from the black sheep of the Bush dynasty to the US presidency.

Genova (The Mayor of London Gala): Director Michael Winterbottom’s latest film is about a man (Colin Firth) who relocates to Italy with his two young daughters (Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine) as he comes to terms with a family tragedy.

Waltz With Bashir (Centrepiece Gala): One of the most acclaimed films at Cannes earlier this year was this anti-war documentary. Director Ari Folman which uses animation to explore his own experiences in the Israeli Army during the first Lebanon War. Realising the limits of his own memory, he tracks down and interviews old friends and comrades in a politically charged study of innocence, memory and war.

Quantum of Solace (Film on the Square Gala): The 22nd James Bond film (which easily makes it the longest running franchise in film history) is directed by Marc Forster and sees Daniel Craig return as the legendary secret agent.  This film picks up the storyline just one hour after the end of Casino Royale, making this the first direct Bond sequel, as 007 fights the urge to make his latest mission personal.

The Other Man (Hewlett-Packard Gala): The latest film from award-winning theatre and film director Richard Eyre is about a husband (Liam Neeson) who suspects that his loving wife of 20 years (Laura Linney) may be cheating on him. Antonio Banderas and Romola Garai star in supporting roles

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Sky Gala): Woody Allen’s latest sees him relocate to Catalonia with this tale of two US students Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) both fall for the charms of Latin seducer Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Things are further complicated when his tempestuous ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) re-enters the scene.

The Brothers Bloom (American Airlines Gala): Writer-director Rian Johnson (who made the startling debut Brick in 2006) has assembled an impressive cast for a comedic twist on the heist movie. Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are expert swindlers still searching for the perfect con, who lure an eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) into their elaborate scheme.

Easy Virtue (MasterCard Gala): Australian director Stephan Elliott revisits Noel Coward’s social comedy, retaining the 1920s setting, whilst giving it a modern feel. It is about a young aristocrat (Ben Barnes) who impulsively marries a glamorous and sexy American (Jessica Biel), which leads to a culture clash. The ensemble cast also includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth and Kris Marshall.

Che [Part 1 & Part 2] (Tiscali Gala): Stephen Soderbergh’s biopic of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara (Benicio del Toro) is screened in two parts. The first chronicles his rise from doctor to successful revolutionary and the second deals with his attempt to orchestrate the great Latin American revolution.

The Class (Sight & Sound Special Screening): The winn er od the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is an adaptation of François Bégaudeau’s novel Entre les Murs, which is based on his experiences working in a school in Paris. Bégaudeau himself plays a committed teacher attempting to reach out to his pupils through language and literature.

Hunger (Time Out Special Screening): Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen ventures into film making with this drama about the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike led by Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender plays Sands, whilst Stuart Graham and Liam Cunningham star in supporting roles.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunger S. Thompson (Documentary Gala): ‘Gonzo’ journalist Hunter S. Thompson is the latest subject for documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who uses a wealth of archive footage and high-profile interviewees such as Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Carter, to paint a fascinating portrait of the counterculture icon. Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Laothing in Las Vegas back in 1998) narrates along with extracts from Thompson’s work.

The Secret of Moonacre (Family Gala): Based on the popular children’s novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, director Gabor Csupo’s latest offering follows Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue-Richards), an orphan who inherits a book that provides a key to a past world and may answer the riddles of Moonacre Manor. With supporting performances from Ioan Gruffudd and Juliet Stevenson.

Slumdog Millionaire (Closing Night Film): Danny Boyle directs this true life tale of a poor teenager in Mumbai who goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in order to find his true love. It has already got rave reviews at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and looks like an early awards contender.


These are the other notable films from around the world that will be screening in cinemas in Leicester Square during the festival.

24 City (Ershisi Cheng Ji) (Dir. Jia Zhangke / China)
Achilles And The Tortoise (Dir. Takeshi Kitano / Japan)
Adoration (Atom Egoyan / Canada)
American Teen (Dir. Nanette Burstein / USA)
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi / USA)
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Dir. Uli Edel / Germany)
Ballast (Dir. Lance Hammer / USA)
A Christmas Tale (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin / France)
Dean Spanley (Dir. Toa Fraser / UK, New Zealand)
Il Divo (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino / Italy)
Frozen River (Dir. Courtney Hunt / USA)
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Dir. Kim Jee-Woon / South Korea)
Hamlet 2 (Dir. Andrew Fleming / USA)
Heart Of Fire (Dir. Luigi Falorni / Germany & Austria)
Incendiary (Dir. Sharon Maguire / UK)
Johnny Mad Dog (Dir. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire / France, Belgium & Liberia)
Lake Tahoe (Dir. Fernando Eimbcke / Mexico)
Let’s Talk About The Rain (Dir. Agnès Jaoui / France)
Lion’s Den (Dir. Pablo Trapero / Argentina)
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Dir. Peter Sollett / USA)
Of Time And The City (Dir. Terence Davies / UK)
A Perfect Day (Dir. Ferzan Ozpetek / Italy)
Quiet Chaos (Dir. Antonello Grimaldi / Italy)
Rachel Getting Married (Dir. Jonathan Demme / USA)
Religulous (Dir. Larry Charles / USA)
The Secret Life Of Bees (Dir. Gina Prince–Bythewood / USA)
The Silence Of Lorna (Jean – Pierre & Luc Dardenne / Belgium, France & Italy)
Sugar (Dir. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck / USA)
Surprise Film
Synecdoche New York (Dir. Charlie Kaufman / USA)
Three Blind Mice (Dir. Matthew Newton / Australia)
Three Monkeys (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan / Turkey, France & Italy)
Tokyo! (Dir. Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Bong Joon–Ho / France, Japan)
Tulpan (Dir. Sergey Dvortsevoy / Russia)
Two Lovers (Dir.  James Gray / USA)
Tyson (Dir. James Toback / USA)
The Warlords (Dir. Peter Chan / China)
Wendy & Lucy (Dir. Kelly Reichardt/ USA)

For a full list of films showing at the festival go to the official LFF website.

> The Times report on this year’s lineup
> Official LFF website
> Check out our reports from last year

Festivals London Film Festival News

Slumdog Millionaire to close the London Film Festival

Slumdog Millionaire will be the closing film at this year’s London Film Festival.

Directed by Danny Boyle, it is the story of a streetkid from Mumbai (Dev Patel) who goes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

I spoke to Danny last year and he told me a bit about the story, which you can listen to here:



The film recently received a lot of buzz and critical acclaim at the Telluride Film Festival and looks like an early awards season contender.

It will screen this week at the Toronto Film Festival and opens in the US on November 28th.

A UK release is expected for early 2009.

This is a clip from the film:

Here is the official press release:

London – Wednesday 3 September: The Closing Night Gala of The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival will be the European Premiere of Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is the story of Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who finds himself  just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’.

Arrested on suspicion of cheating, Jamal tells the police the incredible story of his life on the streets, and of the girl he loved and lost. But what is a kid with no interest in money doing on the show? And how does he know all the answers?

When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the police and sixty million viewers are about to find out … Dev Patel (Skins) stars alongside an all-Indian cast including Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal and Freida Pinto in this uplifting drama set and shot in India.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was adapted for the screen by Oscar®-winning writer Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY) from the bestselling novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup.

The film was produced by Christian Colson and Executive Producers Tessa Ross and Paul Smith, with cinematography from Boyle’s regular collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle (28 DAYS LATER).

Pathé Distribution will release the Film4 funded film in the UK in early 2009 and Pathé International is handling international sales.

In addition to bringing the Festival’s 16 day celebration of cinema to a close, Danny Boyle will give a career interview as part of the Tiscali Screen Talks series.

Sandra Hebron, the Festival’s Artistic Director comments: ‘We’re thrilled to be closing our Festival with this latest film from one of the UK’s most talented and versatile directors. Pulling together a wealth of talent from two continents to tell this moving and truly contemporary tale, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE will bring this year’s Festival to a vibrant and cheering close.’

On having his film invited to close the London Film Festival, Danny Boyle comments: “I am delighted that the film will receive its European premiere at the London Film Festival. I hope that Londoners will respond to this story about another great megatropolis – Mumbai, “the Maximum City”.’

The full programme for The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival will be announced next Wednesday (10th September).

The London Film Festival runs from 15-30 October 2008

> Official site for the London Film Festival
> Official US site for Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight
> /Film with more photos from the film
> Listen to our full interview with Danny Boyle from April 2007 about Sunshine

[Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan / TM and © 2008 Fox Searchlight / All rights reserved.]