London Film Festival Opens With 'A United Kingdom' European Premiere

A ?United Kingdom - Rosamund Pike and Oyelowo - Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

The 60th edition of the U.K.'s biggest film event kicked off Wednesday night with Amma Asante's period drama starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.

An unseasonably warm October — so far — ensured that the opening-night red carpet for the 60th BFI London Film Festival remained dry Wednesday night.

Crowds descended upon the U.K.'s cinema hub of Leicester Square to see stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike and director Amma Asante welcome the European premiere of A United Kingdom as the curtain-raiser for the 12-day event. 

Clare Stewart, the creative director of the fest, described Asante as one of the U.K.'s "most distinctive and important filmmakers," adding that she'd been intrigued by her previous work, including the 2013 hit Belle.

For Oyelowo, a producer on the film which chronicles the real-life romance between an African king and white English woman in the 1950s, bringing Asante — who had given him his first break out of drama school almost two decades ago — on board was important to telling the story.

"Like me, she's of African descent but born in the U.K.," said Oyelowo. "You needed that perspective on a story that traverses both the U.K. and Africa."

The Selma star added that he first became hooked on the story because he spent much of his childhood watching British period dramas.

"I sat there watching these movies — loving these movies — and never saw anyone like me. But we've been here for centuries, it's true!" he said.

Asante applauded the London Film Festival for "facilitating another glass ceiling being broken" as both a female and black director opening the event, adding that she hoped the fest's diversity theme helps enable "talking becoming partner to action and progress."

Oyelowo and Asante are both set to appear at Tuesday's Black Star Symposium hosted by the British Film Institute, a major debate concerning diversity in the film and TV industry that will discuss, among other things, why black U.K. talent such as Oyelowo have been forced to relocate to the U.S. to further their careers.

The London Film Festival, which also will feature gala screenings of Lion, Their Finest and Queen of Katwe, runs until Oct. 16 and will close with the European premiere of Ben Wheatley's action-thriller Free Fire starring Brie Larson.