Today marks the opening of this year’s BFI London Film Festival. From today until 21st October cinemas across London will be screening the latest and greatest that cinema has to offer (and a few duds no doubt too). The festival opens tonight with visionary director, and LFF regular, Steve McQueen’s latest Widows.
Liam Neeson leads a criminal gang as they steal a large cash amount from a local rival. Within minutes of the film opening Neeson and friends die in a spectacular showdown with the police that takes their illicit haul down with them. Following his death, Neeson’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) finds herself not just losing a husband but inheriting the $2 million debt he incurred by dying mid-heist. After uncovering her late husband’s plans for another, bigger heist Veronica assembles her fellow widows (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) to do what their husbands were too deceased to finish.
If the above sounds less like a Steve McQueen film and more like the plot of a Lynda La Plante series then you’d be right; McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn adapted their screenplay from La Plante’s 1983 ITV series. The action has been moved from England to Chicago but Flynn’s experience in writing twisty thrillers means the criminal nature of the film is left intact. What McQueen has brought to proceedings is a clever focus on racial inequality in North America and cynical white politicians who try to exploit them. This mix of generic crime drama with something more meaningful elevates the script above its genre mates.
As a director McQueen absolutely excels. From the opening sequence of machismo-driven “romantic” moments intercut with the explosive events that lead to our titular widows earning their name, we are treated to a film made by a man with an eye for detail. With a simple pan of his camera McQueen can play with dialogue and make subtle revelations about the nature of his characters. McQueen has brought Widows a long way from early 80s ITV but there are moments when the necessities of plot come barging in and exposition ruins an otherwise prefect composition. It is the more traditional elements of Widows that holds it back from being a McQueen classic but equally I can see it becoming a modern crime staple.
Viola Davis is an absolute star in the lead role. She holds the film together through her steely determination as she plays a woman who is both strong and falling apart internally. Outside of the widows are a large cast of fine actors keeping the surrounding plot rolling on while Davis, Rodriquez, and Debicki give us our reason to keep caring.
Widows screens at the festival on 10th, 11th, and 12th October before being released in the UK on 6th November.