10 of the most captivating new indie films to watch this autumn
Cinema looks set to shine in 2023, not least in the UK, with a wealth of new British films set for release in the coming months. From heartwarming romance to supernatural horror, expect stellar direction and performances from some of this country’s most promising newcomers and established names. Whether it’s the latest gripping drama from Sam Mendes, a clever Lily James rom-com or a powerful coming-of-age indie, add these new British films to your watchlist this 2023.
Empire of Light
This new release marks Sam Mendes’ first solo outing as writer as well as director, and unsurprisingly he carries both off with aplomb. Set in Margate in the 1980s and penned as “a love letter to the movies”, Olivia Colman stars as Hilary, a depressed cinema manager who works at a seafront cinema called the Empire. There she’s joined by her pompous manager, Mr Ellis (Colin Firth), and long-time projectionist Norman (Toby Jones), but it’s the young new ticket-seller, Stephen (Micheal Ward), who finally ignites a spark in Hilary, as the pair develop a blossoming relationship.
The film deftly tackles numerous themes, from mental health issues and racially motivated violence to the fragile art of moviegoing, and features spellbinding performances from both Colman and Ward, surely on a path to becoming one of Britain’s brightest young acting talents. With beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, it’s a gentle, heartfelt watch.
In cinemas now
This eery, beautifully-filmed psychodrama set on the Cornish coast is the haunting follow-up to acclaimed director Mark Jenkin’s 2019 film Bait, and is just as captivating as the original. Set on a windswept island off the Cornish coast in the days before May Day 1973, this new British film follows an unnamed volunteer, played by Mary Woodvine, who’s stationed alone on the island.
There’s no real plot to speak of – more a pervading atmosphere of uncanniness that shifts seamlessly between dreams and reality, forcing both the protagonist and the viewer to question what is real and what is a nightmare. Poetically shot in richly saturated colours, the film offers up an intensely authentic portrayal of Cornwall – not the sun-soaked tourist postcards we’re used to, but a land battered by the elements and dogged by its history. Spine-tinglingly lyrical, this film will stay with you long after the credits roll.
In cinemas now
Douglas Booth and Hannah John-Kamen star in this supernatural horror about a young couple that escape their urban nightmare to relocate to the tranquillity of rural Ireland – only to discover that new horrors await them there. Settling into a tumbledown house in the middle of nowhere, the couple are shocked by the local stories of the mysterious creatures who live in the ancient woods at the foot of their garden, and it’s not long before they encounter them for themselves.
Following in the same vein as modern horrors like Midsommar, Get Out and It Follows, it’s an unsettling watch that draws on themes of outsiders, and what it takes to turn pacifists towards acts of violence. For the idealistic Jamie and Maya, it only takes a run-in with a dangerous local family – where the patriarch is played by Colm Meaney – for them to learn just how quickly things can unravel.
In cinemas 27 January
She Is Love
What happens when you check into a country B&B, only to find yourself face-to-face with your long-estranged ex-husband and his new girlfriend? That’s the premise behind this charming new British film from Jamie Adams, which stars Haley Bennett, Sam Riley and Marisa Abele as the trio caught up in this unfortunate love triangle.
Bennett and Riley play Patricia and Idris, a divorced couple in their late 30s who have been separated for over a decade. As they find themselves thrown together, they must decide whether to revisit the past, and accept whatever consequences may befall them as a result. Officially selected for the latest BFI London Film Festival, the film offers up a funny, touching and tender portrayal of love, in all its messy glory.
In cinemas 3 February
After screening to critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival, there’s been plenty of hype about this directorial debut from Georgia Oakley, which is billed as a queer variation on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Set during the homophobic era of Margaret Thatcher, it takes place in 1988, just after the introduction of the stigmatising Section 28 law that prohibited local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or gay “pretended family relationships”.
Rosy McEwen plays Jean, a closeted gay woman who teaches PE at a secondary school and is terrified about having the school find out about her sexuality. When she finds herself drawn to a new pupil, Lois (Lucy Halliday), her secret threatens to be revealed. A quiet and soulful drama, Blue Jean deftly explores the difficulty with which Jean straddles both worlds, and reveals how she must hide her very selfhood in order to get by.
In cinemas 10 February
What’s Love Got To Do With It?
This London-based rom-com, directed by Elizabeth’s Shekhar Kapur and penned by Jemima Khan, feels like a welcome return to the brilliant British rom-coms of old, and follows hot on the heels of the news that a fourth Bridget Jones film is currently in the works. Lily James stars as Zoe, a successful documentary filmmaker on the hunt for her next project. When her childhood friend Kaz (Shazad Latif) announces that he is starting the arranged marriage process, she decides to use it as the inspiration for her new film.
Khan’s script, which pulls elements from her own experience of marrying a Muslim man and living in Pakistan, brings a welcome realness to the genre, while a turn from long-time Richard Curtis collaborator Emma Thompson as Zoe’s mother harks back to the rom-coms of yesteryear. Charmingly frothy and fun, this is a modern update that makes for delightfully easy viewing.
In cinemas 24 February
Luther: The Fallen Sun
It’s the TV series that cemented Idris Elba as a household name – now Luther is back in feature film format. Released four years after the grand finale of the show, the film will appeal to long-time Luther fans (and has been written by the show’s creator, Neil Cross), but also promises its own standalone story, for those unfamiliar with the previous seasons. And despite being based on the hit BBC show, the film has actually been created by Netflix, and will air on the streaming giant after a limited cinema release.
Elba reprises his role as maverick detective John Luther, alongside Dermot Crowley who returns to play DSU Martin Schenk; multi-hyphenate talent Cynthia Erivo and Andy Serkis will also star. Following on from the end of the fifth season, where Luther found himself behind bars, the film revolves around a serial killer who’s terrorising London. Haunted by his failure to capture the psychopath who now taunts him, Luther decides to break out of prison to catch him – by any means necessary.
In cinemas 24 February and on Netflix on 10 March
Girl is a powerful coming-of-age drama, written and directed by established theatre actress Adura Onashile, who has previously been named as Screen UK and Ireland Star of Tomorrow. Premiering in Sundance’s World Dramatic Competition, it stars talented French actress Déborah Lukumuena (who won a best supporting actress Cesar at Cannes in 2017 for her role in Houda Benyamina’s Divines) and is her first English-language role.
Lukumuena plays Grace, the mother of an 11-year-old girl Ama (an on-screen debut for Le’Shantey Bonsu) who, together, create solace in a gentle but isolated world that they obsessively create. However, as Ama begins to grow and develop, she starts to challenge the boundaries and rules of this make-believe insular world, which gradually forces Grace to face up to a past she’s struggling to forget.
In cinemas 1 March
This is one of a trio of debut feature films from some of Britain’s most promising new filmmakers, all of them supported by BBC Film, that have been selected for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in what Eva Yates, Director of BBC Film, calls, “a remarkable achievement and testament to the talent and tenacity of these directors and their brilliant producers and teams.”
The romantic comedy, which screens at Sundance Premieres, is directed by Raine Allen Miller from an original screenplay by co-writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, and features Vivian Oparah (Class, The Rebel) and David Jonsson (you’ll recognise him from Industry and Deep State). The stellar actors star as two 20-somethings dealing with bad relationship break-ups. The disillusioned and dispirited pair connect over the course of an eventful day in South London and, as it unfurls, they begin to bond as they help each other deal with their exes, potentially restoring their faith in romance in the process.
In cinemas 17 March
A Clever Woman
This brooding, enigmatic British film about mourning centres around two sisters, Dot (Josie Lawrence) and Phoebe (Tanya Myers), who return to clear out their childhood home a year after their mother’s death. Formerly a successful composer and musician – both sisters are now performance artists themselves – the house is filled with the music their mother once wrote, as well as her much-loved Steinway pianola, which they use to play some her favourite pieces.
While there, the sisters are forced to face their conflicting emotions about the difficult woman who raised them, and question how their father could have put up with their mother’s blatant infidelities. Every Sunday, he would take the girls to the same beach, so that she could entertain one of her lovers. Both Lawrence and Myers turn in excellent performances and improvise most of the dialogue throughout, lending the film a starkly naturalistic quality that only adds to its intriguing lure.
In cinemas 17 March
The cast in this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s 2018 play about a struggling geriatric hospital – brought to the big screen by Richard Eyre – reads like a Who’s Who of Britain’s finest acting talent: Dame Judi Dench! Jennifer Saunders! Derek Jacobi! They play the patients and the formidable ward sister Gilpin (Saunders) at a fictional community facility in Yorkshire, which is currently at risk of being closed down by Whitehall bean-counters who want to replace it with glitzy “centres of excellence”.
Featuring stellar performances from the cast and plenty of Bennett’s signature zingy one-liners, it’s a funny, moving tale about the most vulnerable members of our society and the value of the NHS, with the film adding in a hard-hitting new Covid-related section to the original play. At a time when the NHS and the UK’s care system remain in dire crisis, it feels like a particularly poignant watch.
In cinemas 17 March
Written and directed by Charlotte Regan, Scrapper has been described by its producer Theo Barrowclough as a quirky, heart-warming British indie, which “challenges the perception of working-class kids and is filled with comedy, colour and joy.” The film tells the story of Georgie, a dreamy 12-year-old who lives happily on her own in London. When she’s not stealing bikes with her best mate Ali to make ends meet, she’s filling her flat with magic, a place where the resident spiders are always making snarky comments and she seems to be building a weird endless tower into the sky from her mum’s bedroom. That’s until her estranged father turns up and forces her to face reality.
The cast includes Harris Dickinson, who will also star in Ruben Östlund’s Cannes title Triangle of Sadness, as well as streetcast newcomers led by Lola Campbell and Alin Uzun. With executive producers including Michael Fassbender and premiering in World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance, this comedy-drama is one not to miss.
UK release date tbc