Doll & Em – BFI London Film Festival

A couple of months ago the BFI’s London Film Festival 100 page catalogue dropped through my door, and I was actually surprised by how many films are on over the next couple of weeks. I’ve always been vaguely aware of the festival but somehow it’s always passed me by. But having an old fashioned brochure in my hand made me stop and read it…half an hour later I’d identified about 10 films I wanted to see, although I eventually rationed myself to 4.

My first ever visit to the film festival wasn’t really a film at all; Doll & Em is a six-part show due to air on Sky Living sometime in 2014 but here we got to see it back to back – essentially a box-set night with a hundred or so total strangers in a central London cinema. With so many films and venues, I wasn’t expecting much festivity at 6pm on a Thursday night but it turned out to be quite an occasion. Not only was there an unadvertised introduction and Q&A with leads, Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells plus director, but there were a few other actors dotted about the audience – notably Jonathan Cake who will be familiar from Poirot, many a period drama and lately Desperate Housewives. I also ended up sitting in front of Emily Mortimer’s enthusiastic entourage so it was quite a starry evening with a definitely sense of occasion.

The show itself is set in LA, a scripted improvisation following the story of film star Em who hires her best and oldest friend Doll to be her assistant after her UK life implodes. Em is making a film but Doll becomes more popular, and in each episode their relationship is tested on set, at parties and at home. Seeing all six shows worked really well in the cinema, showing the nuances of female friendships and the mini jealousies, betrayals and tender moments that will be familiar to everyone. This type of fly-on-the-wall tragi-comedy has roots in The Office and to some extent Extras, with the odd cameo for stars like Susan Sarandon and John Cusack. They probably won’t thank me for saying this but you could see it as an inverted version of Made in Chelsea or TOWIE, but done by people who can write and act convincingly, with plausible storylines.  It drew you in, showing multiple sides to a long and very ordinary friendship in a slightly unreal situation. So my first visit to the Film Festival was pretty exciting, and with more films to come, I’m definitely looking forward to what the next one will bring.

The BFI London Film Festival is on until 20th October. Doll & Em is expected on Sky Living in February.


About Maryam Philpott

This blog takes a more discursive and in-depth approach to reviewing a range of cultural activities in London, primarily covering theatre, but also exhibitions and film events. Since 2014, I have written for The Reviews Hub as part of the London theatre critic team, professionally reviewing over 400 shows. The Reviews Hub was established in 2007 to review all forms of professional theatre nationwide including Fringe and West End. My background is in social and cultural history and I published a book entitled Air and Sea Power in World War One which examines the experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy. View all posts by Maryam Philpott

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