A two-week celebration of film began in London's Leicester Square last night, as the Times BFI 51st London Film Festival began with the gala premiere of Eastern Promises.

Starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, the crime thriller shines a light on the darker side of London life, telling the story of a midwife (Watts) pulled helplessly into the murky world of organized crime.

With Watts, director David Cronenberg, supporting actor Vincent Cassel and British Film Institute chairman Anthony Minghella in attendance, the premiere provided a glittering start to the UK's leading film festival, set to bring the cream of Hollywood to the capital.

Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs will receive its world premiere at the festival next week, Ang Lee's Lust, Caution - winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival - has its gala screening next weekend and Oscar hopefuls I'm Not There, Sicko and Things We Lost In The Fire also hit UK screens for the first time in the next fortnight.

The premiere of Eastern Promises illustrates London's growing importance on the world cinema stage, with Cronenberg filming a StEve Knight script on location.

With fewer than 60 per cent of London's population now ethically white British, the growing importance of the capital as a movie production centre is exemplified by the film, says producer Paul Webster.

"The London that has emerged in the last 20 years is a polyglot society," he said. "Eastern Promises is one of the first films to emphasise that. I saw it as a companion piece to Steve's earlier work, in that there is a thriller element in a part of London we don't know about.

"Eastern Promises should offer a real sense of what London is these days; a multicultural cosmopolitan city."

Knight, who also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, added: "There are hundreds of different languages spoken in our city and there are several different languages spoken in our film. The variety of locations reflect that and also show the diversity of London life, the way it is now."

Eastern Promises opens nationwide on October 26th.

18/10/2007 10:03:15