Pass the Remote: Sparkling lineup at SF’s ‘Mostly British’ film fest

L-R, Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman play off each other well in "Wicked Little Letters," the centerpiece offering in the 2024 Mostly British Film Festival. (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

It’s a no-brainer to say Anglophiles are the target audience of the annual Mostly British Film Festival in San Francisco. But the fest isn’t solely for them. The program ventures beyond U.K. borders, brewing up a perfect cup of cinematic tea for those hankering for quality fare that roams to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and India. 

What makes this toast to English-language films from the (former) Commonwealth such a Bay Area good time is that it unflaggingly brings the sizzle to its programming. Look at a few of the titles screening this year: “How to Have Sex,” “How to Please a Woman,” “Wicked Little Letters.” 

Those are just part of what fest directors and San Francisco notables Ruthe Stein and Jack Bair are offering on tap for filmgoers from Feb. 15-22 at the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco. The duo teams with CinemaSF to host the 26-movie event. 

Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) and Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) party hard in “How to Have Sex.” (Courtesy Mubi)

The festival opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with the award-winning “How to Have Sex.” It closes at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 with “The Old Oak,” the final film—so its influential filmmaker, Ken Loach—claims.   

Tickets are $15-$20 for most screenings; $35-$50 opening for night; $20-$30 for closing night and $250-$350 for passes. For more information, go to or the Vogue Theatre box office

Here are three films we highly recommend:

We’ve seen this scenario on screens before: While on vacation, a group of rowdy teens drink to excess, hook up, and then nurse a wretched hangover soused in regret. That’s what goes down in British filmmaker Molly Manning Walker’s award-winning debut “How to Have Sex,as a trio of teen female besties (played by Mia McKenna-Brice, Lara Peake, and Enva Lewis) leave inhibitions behind while they party hard in a resort hot-spot on Crete. The difference here from the antiquated run-of-the-mill teen sex comedy is that Walker adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach and avoids straying into the overly explicit. This is a snapshot and a warning. 

“How to Have Sex” concentrates on 16-year-old Tara (McKenna-Brice in a breakout performance) and her experience as an outsider as she ponders losing her virginity. Walker makes each young woman distinctive and introduces two “boys next door” whom the girls meet while stumbling out on their balconies one late morning. They take a shine to Tara. 

The movie seemingly heads into salacious and sleazy territory as Walker addresses tough subjects. She wants to make viewers uncomfortable, and her authenticity behind the camera and McKenna-Brice’s piercing performance shape Tara’s plight into one that will strike a nerve with many in the audience. It’s a powerful debut. In addition to screening at the Vogue, “How to Have Sex” opens at San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse on Feb. 16.  

In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s excellent “The Lost Daughter” Jessie Buckley portrayed a younger version of Olivia Colman’s complicated character who is dealing with the fallout of her past. The actors, who earned Oscar nominations for their performances in the 2021 Netflix drama, never appeared onscreen together. But in Thea Sharrock’s profanity-dense “Wicked Little Letters,” the festival’s centerpiece selection screening at 730 p.m. Feb. 21, they finally do. And they set off fireworks that’ll make you positively giddy. 

Based on a true incident in a 1920s English seaside village, the movie finds two drastically different neighbors —fiery Irish migrant Rose (Buckley) and prim and proper Edith (Colman)—in a feud over anonymous expletive-laced letters circulating about town and getting everyone riled up. The finger-pointing, naturally, swivels the way of the tempestuous Rose, the outsider who is not averse to cursing. Even though “Wicked Little Letters” loses some of its gumption in its somewhat satisfying final act, it’s still quite a pip to watch Colman and Buckley bicker, and to see Anjana Vasan, as the lone female police officer, begin to suspect something is not right.

In “Pretty Red Dress,” Travis (Natey Jones) taps into a facet of himself that makes him feel good. (Courtesy Mostly British Film Festival)

If you only can make it to one event, I recommend putting on your sassiest scarlet frock and sashaying your divine self to “Pretty Red Dress” at 9 p.m. Feb. 17. Dionne Edwards’ debut feature, a sorely overlooked 2023 South London-set drama, is about three members of a Black family dealing with gender issues, each defying the status quo. 

The sexy and thoughtful Late Night Spotlight also encourages honest conversation about ridding ourselves of faulty gender “norms.” Ticket holders are encouraged to show up in a red dress). 

Sensationally acted, the movie opens with the reunion of the handsome but insecure Travis (Natey Jones), just released from prison, with his confident singer partner Candice (Alexandra Burke) and their getting-into-trouble daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun). Candice hopes to land a gig that requires her to channel Tina Turner (music numbers are a delight) and spots the titular red dress, which Travis fancies as well, and buys for her.  

When Candice discovers Travis wearing it in their apartment, she is outraged, and cannot fathom what’s going on.  

Part of the beauty of “Pretty Red Dress” is that the characters refuse to react in tidy, conformist ways, making the film feel real, raw and hot-wire alive. 

Refusing to resolve what happens in a sentimental group hug, the film offers a truthful exploration of how it can be limiting and stifling to conform to cultural barometers about what being a certain gender means, robbing souls of their sequined, shimmering vibrant potential.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *