BritWeek Features Luxury Car Rally, 'The Italian Job' Screening in Beverly Hills

Courtesy of Photofest
'The Italian Job' (1969)

The creation of 'American Idol' producer Nigel Lythgoe, the weeklong event includes a screening of the 1969 caper film starring Michael Caine, following a rally of iconic British cars on Sunday.

For one hour on Sunday, an invasion of iconic British cars will rally through Beverly Hills. Yes, there will be Minis along with Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins and McLarens. The drive starts at 10 a.m., one of three main events to mark the 12th edition of BritWeek

The U.K.-SoCal arts relationship dates to silent film days and has encompassed some of entertainment’s most celebrated musicians, actors and directors, including Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock. In recent years, the exchanges have broadened to include notable fashion designers, artists and sports stars. About 200,000 British citizens now live in Los Angeles, according to the British consulate.

Following a one-year hiatus, last year's Britweek agenda kicked off with A Shakespeare Jubilee, a performance featuring more than two dozen British actors reciting some of the Bard’s most famous speeches.The almost-annual celebration of the close cultural ties between the U.K. and Los Angeles launched in 2007 and has also featured screenings, exhibits, concerts and panel discussions, but never a rally. 

Earlier this year, BritWeek founder Nigel Lythgoe saw an opening after he heard that the Course d’Elegance, a hybrid car show-rally to the top of Doheny Drive, had been discontinued. The British-born Lythgoe, a former dancer and choreographer who moved to Los Angeles in 2002 and is best known as the creator of American Idol and the British original Pop Idol, felt that the rally fit with BritWeek’s themes. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a small rally with British cars? Brit cars are splendid!” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

The rally will start on North Crescent Drive and wind its way along some of Beverly Hill’s best-known streets, including Rodeo, Beverly and North Rexford drives and Santa Monica Boulevard. Among the cars displayed will be the 2019 Bentley Flying Spur, Rolls Royce Phantom and McLaren’s sleek new 600LT Spider.

Spectators will be able to view the cars for three hours following the rally and then attend a screening of Peter Collinson's The Italian Job (1969), which culminates with one of film’s most famous car chase scenes — and certainly the best-known involving British Minis — as a three-car wagon train slithers through Turin, Italy’s covered shopping galleries, narrow streets and staircases, trailed by hapless police. Entry to the cliffhanger starring Michael Caine is free, although event organizers are asking for a $5 donation that will be earmarked for the charities.

Lythgoe is co-hosting the car rally with Paul Crewes, the British-born artistic director of the Annenberg Center, who moved to the U.S. after taking his post four years ago. Both are admirers of British cars, which represent some of the country’s most iconic and beloved brands. The British road rally dates to the first decade of the 20th century, with early cars creeping through the countryside at speeds that wouldn’t test a recreational cyclist now.

Phillip Savenick, president of the Beverly Hills Historical Society, talked to THR about the rich automotive history of Beverly Hills. The city was the site of a major auto race in the early 1920s that drew 75,000 people and, over the years, stars often paraded their fancy cars in town. Rudolph Valentino drove an Issota Fraschini, a luxury Italian sedan that was also Norma Desmond’s car in Sunset Boulevard; Clark Gable drove a 1935 Dusenberg Model JN convertible coupe; and director Billy Wilder drove a 1959 Mercedes 300 SL Roadster, among others. 

“Cars were definitely a status symbol,” Savenick said. “These are crazy, wonderful cars and they showed wealth. ... Beverly Hills has always been famous for cars; it has always had a car culture.”

Until recently, the Concourse d’Elegance raised money for the renovation of the oil pioneering Doheny family’s Tudor-style Greystone Mansion, and there is an annual Father’s Day car show on Rodeo Drive, along with assorted unofficial showing(-off)s of historic and expensive cars.

BritWeek launches Wednesday night with the world premiere of a documentary about the Cavern Club, the Liverpool music venue where the Beatles rose to fame. The first retrospective exhibit of the late 19th century photographer Oscar G. Rejlander (a Swede who relocated to the U.K. and is sometimes called "the father of art photography") will cap the week on Thursday, May 2, at the Getty Center. 

The festivities will raise money for two film- and performing arts-based programs focused on children and teens, the Los Angeles-based Miracle Project and Northern Ireland’s CineMagic.