Ilkley Film Festival celebrates Brassed Off 20th anniversary

Hard to believe, but Brassed Off was released 20 years ago.Hard to believe, but Brassed Off was released 20 years ago.
Hard to believe, but Brassed Off was released 20 years ago.
Home Guardsmen, musical miners and cannibal troglodytes'¦ Ilkley Film Festival has them all. Tony Earnshaw reports.

Martin Pilkington has to pinch himself when considering what he’s achieved with Ilkley Film Festival.

“Having reached our third festival we’ve screened films to over 11,000 people, a figure I am in disbelief with,” says the 31-year-old director. “Ilkley has a wonderful range of venues for the festival and the new Ilkley Cinema will make a brilliant small-scale addition. It’s ideal for some of the indie previews we have lined up and is a complete contrast to the grand King’s Hall.”

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In many ways Ilkley is the perfect place to host a film festival. Everything is within walking distance, the town itself has embraced the event and whilst locals support it there is growing evidence that more and more film buffs are commuting in to sample the programme.

This year’s event runs from February 17-21 and opens with a 20th anniversary celebration screening of Brassed Off, the modern classic by Bridlington-born writer-director Mark Herman. Herman will be there in person alongside Bradford-born producer Steve (A Fish Called Wanda) Abbott plus actors Stephen Tompkinson, now starring in ITV’s DCI Banks, and Philip Jackson, a veteran of film and TV known for Little Voice, My Week with Marilyn and Agatha Christie: Poirot.

“As Brassed Off was about to be released I remember thinking it might appeal to an audience within, say, a five mile radius of Barnsley but, like most films, would fade from even their memory in a matter of weeks,” remembers Herman.

“A few months later and the film was being enjoyed and understood across the world (apart from places like Los Angeles where it must have seemed like a movie from Mars). I certainly never thought it would go on to become such a slice of Yorkshire’s cultural history and still be being talked about 20 years later. It’s flattering that Ilkley Film Festival has devoted its opening night to celebrating that anniversary.”

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The IFF’s 2016 line-up includes a welter of titles representing the best of new releases. They include Suffragette, The 33, Dad’s Army, A Bigger Splash and Oscar fare in the shape of Carol, Room, The Danish Girl, The Big Short, 45 Years and Asif (Senna) Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy.

But for those looking for sneak previews of upcoming movies there are several to catch up with. Perhaps the most off-kilter – certainly the most eye-poppingly visceral – is Bone Tomahawk.

Part Western, part skin-crawling horror, it stars Kurt Russell as a grizzled, no-nonsense sheriff who embarks on a rescue mission to recover a doctor’s wife carried off by Indians. But these are no ordinary indigenous people. Instead they live deep within caves from which they emerge to hunt. Their diet: human flesh. More gore spatters the screen in Pride and Prejudice with Zombies with Yorkshire actors Lena Headey (from Huddersfield) and Sam Riley (from Menston) leading the cast of the film version of the smash hit 2009 mash-up of Jane Austen and the shuffling living dead.

Sir Ben Kingsley (who hails from Snaiton, near Scarborough) is the Sikh driving instructor taking on a troubled pupil in Learning to Drive. A comedy-drama also starring Patricia Clarkson as the self-obsessed book critic whose marriage suddenly implodes, it’s been described as a charming, funny feelgood movie. Then there is High-Rise, director Ben (Sightseers) Wheatley’s adaptation of the cult novel by JG Ballard starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons. New movies don’t come much bigger or more anticipated…

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Ilkley itself is represented via two very different films from different eras. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a Powell and Pressburger picture from 1943, and The Water Babies, based on the book by Charles Kingsley, a winning blend of live action and animation that stars James Mason and Bernard Cribbins. Shot partly on location at Denton Hall, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp stars Roger Livesey as Clive Candy, the bluff old army officer who realises too late that his notion of an honourable war is no longer valid as the world faces Hitler’s hordes.

It was a star-packed ensemble that travelled to Ilkley to embody the live action scenes that bookend The Water Babies. Mason was villainous Mr Grimes, Cribbins was his servant Masterman and Billie Whitelaw played multiple roles including Mrsdoasyouwouldbedoneby. Now rarely seen, The Water Babies rightly receives a screening in the town where it was made. It also gives modern audiences a chance to see a style of animation that sadly went out of fashion in the 1990s as CGI took over.

Documentaries include Brand: A Second Coming (a soapbox for Russell Brand), Star Men (revered astronomers hit the road), Ski Heil (ace German skiers forced to train Nazi troops) and The First Film, in which writer-director David Wilkinson presents an impassioned and compelling case for locating the invention of moving pictures in Leeds in October 1888.

Says Pilkington: “I’ve been really pleased to be able to bring such a varied selection of films to Ilkley for this year’s festival. I hope that everyone coming to the festival this year sees something that surprises them. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with some of the year’s most lauded films and see first those that will be talked about in the months to come.”

Ilkley Film Festival, King’s Hall, Ilkley Playhouse and Ilkley Cinema, February 17-21

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