A pair of monarchs are striding into UK-Ireland cinemas this weekend, as Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King and Stephen Frears’ The Lost King look to reign.
eOne’s The Woman King is starting in 577 cinemas, including 50 iMax screens plus 4DX and Dolby Vision venues. The historical epic is inspired by events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of Africa’s most powerful states in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was protected by an all-female warrior unit known as the Agojie.
Viola Davis stars in the film and has been garnering awards buzz for her performance since its gala launch in Toronto. The cast includes Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and Screen Stars of Tomorrow Sheila Atim and John Boyega. The story is by Maria Bello, who also produces and Dana Stevens.
The warrior women were previously the subject of 2019 TV documentary Warrior Women With Lupita Nyong’o, which played on Channel 4 in the UK.
It is a fifth feature for US director Prince-Bythewood, who debuted with Love And Basketball in 2000 (opened to £46,423 in UK-Ire; closed: £130,213). Most recently she directed The Old Guard, a 2020 Netflix action thriller starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Davis, who is also a producer on the film, has four previous Oscar nominations – two in best supporting actress and two in best actress. She won once – best supporting actress for Fences (opened: £102,688; closed: £1.8m) in 2017, for which she also won the equivalent Bafta.
Frears’ The Lost King is also opening this weekend, released in 574 sites by Warner Bros in UK-Ireland on behalf of Pathé, which produced and sold the title. It was also produced by BBC Films, and Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow Productions.
The Lost King tells the true story of an amateur historian who defies the stodgy academic establishment in her efforts to find King Richard III’s remains, which were lost for over 500 years. Sally Hawkins stars as the historian, with Coogan as her husband and Harry Lloyd as Richard III.
Coogan reunited with Jeff Pope in writing the script; the duo previously received multiple adapted screenplay awards and nominations for 2013’s Philomena – also directed by Frears – including the Bafta award and a nomination at the Oscars.
That film was a box office success in the UK and Ireland, opening to £1.5m on its way to a strong £11.4m, against a reported budget of just $12m (£7.4m in 2013). With fears that this type of mid-range budget, independently produced title is being squeezed out of the theatrical market, all eyes will be on The Lost King to prove there is still an audience for it.
UK stalwart Frears has now directed 24 feature films, starting with Gumshoe in 1971; he broke through with 1985’s My Beautiful Laundrette, which scored writer Hanif Kureishi an original screenplay Oscar nomination.
Philomena is Frears’ highest-grossing film in the UK and Ireland, followed by a couple of royal-themed releases, which bodes well for The Lost King – 2017’s Victoria & Abdul (opened: £1.9m; closed: £10.1m) and 2006’s Oscar-winning The Queen (opened: £856,273; closed: £9.4m).
Stars head to Amsterdam
With Disney’s Amsterdam starting in 622 sites, a third wide release this weekend will raise hopes of a continued revival for the UK-Ireland box office after a tough summer.
Written and directed by David O. Russell, 20th Century Studios comedy-drama Amsterdam is set in the 1930s, when three friends are framed for a murder, and uncover an outrageous plot.
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington star with Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek and Robert De Niro.
It is a 10th feature film for the director, although 2015’s Accidental Love credits the pseudonym ‘Stephen Greene’, as O. Russell requested to be removed from it after filming completed.
His films regularly land in the £5m-£7m range, with the one exception being his highest-grossing title here to date – 2013’s American Hustle, which started with £39,595 from one location, and ended on £13.7m. That film was buoyed by 10 Oscar nominations, although it didn’t convert any to wins – the second-highest number of nominations without a win in Oscar history, behind The Turning Point and The Colour Purple with 11 each.
This week’s non-fiction releases are led by Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares in 50 cinemas through Paramount. Most of those sites are in Ireland, given the subject: a look at the career of Irish music star Sinead O’Connor, through her rise to fame and how her iconoclastic personality led to her exile from the pop mainstream.
The film debuted at the online Sundance Film Festival in January, taking in CPH:DOX, Seattle, Hot Docs, Galway and Edinburgh on its subsequent tour.
Last month Ferguson was selected as one of four winners of the inaugural BFI & Chanel Filmmaker Awards, receiving a £20,000 prize to put towards future projects.
Universal is opening Vengeance in 138 sites – the writing and directing debut of US actor B.J. Novak, who is best known for roles in Saving Mr. Banks and the US adaptation of TV’s The Office. Novak also stars in the comedy thriller about a New York City writer who attempts to solve the murder of a woman he briefly knew. The film is produced by Jason Blum through his Blumhouse Productions, which finds regular success with low-budget, high-output genre titles; the creative team includes composer Finneas O’Connell, who is known for his work as a songwriter with his sister Billie Eilish.
Park Circus is releasing a 4k restoration of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the film’s 30th anniversary, in 246 sites including the three major chains. Gary Oldman stars with Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves and Richard E. Grant, the film opened to £2.6m on its original 1993 release, ending on £11.5m – a huge result for the time.
Further new titles include extreme horse racing documentary Pure Grit in Irish cinemas through Wildcard Distribution; Cannes 2019 Golden Eye winner The Cordillera Of Dreams in seven sites through New Wave Films; women’s health rights documentary Vicky in 23 cinemas across Ireland and Northern Ireland through Volta Pictures (formerly Element Distribution); and sci-fi fantasy After Blue (Dirty Paradise) through Anti-Worlds Releasing.
Warner Bros’ thriller Don’t Worry Darling has topped the charts for two weeks, and will look to hold that spot amid strong competition; including from another holdover, Paramount’s Smile, which has played well throughout its first full week.