What a swell party that was…

Wendy Ide sums up the best
— and the worst —
of the London Film Festival
(Times Online - 30 October 2009)

It might last for only two weeks, but for those of us in the thick of The Times BFI London Film Festival, it feels longer than many wars. But battle-scarred and sleep-deprived as most of the festival faithful undoubtedly are by now, the consensus is that, bar a few days of ticketing chaos and teething problems at the new venue (the Vue cinema in Leicester Square), this year’s festival was a resounding success.

Best new festival event

A new initiative at this year’s festival was the introduction of an Archive Gala in which a newly restored version of a long-lost classic is presented to the public. And programmers could hardly have picked a better film with which to launch the new gala strand than Anthony Asquith’s Underground.

The restoration of this 1928 silent film, set in and around the London Underground, presented a huge challenge to the dedicated team who pieced it together from the degraded fragments that remained. But their hard work resulted in one of the high points of the festival. With an energetic live, semi-improvised accompaniment by the pianist Neil Brand and his Prima Vista Social Club, the film reveals the Underground as a hotbed of sexual tension, intrigue and chance romantic encounters. It also gives a fascinating glimpse of industrial London’s lost skyline. A climatic chase across the roof of the Lots Road power station in Chelsea reveals a forest of chimneys shrouded in coal smoke. It’s a cause for celebration that this cinematic gem and piece of London history has been preserved for future generations.