Steve McQueen's thriller 'Widows' opens London Film Festival

Actress Viola Davis poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actor Daniel Kaluuya poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actress Viola Davis poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actress Michelle Rodriguez poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actress Michelle Rodriguez poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actress Viola Davis poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening of the London Film Festival and the premiere of the film 'Widows' in London, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

LONDON — The London Film Festival kicked off Wednesday with the European premiere of British director Steve McQueen's whip-smart heist thriller "Widows."

The film stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki as women who band together after their husbands are killed in a robbery gone wrong. The Chicago-set movie by the Academy Award-winning, London-born director of "12 Years a Slave" weaves insights about race, money and class in America into a twisting thriller plot.

The 62nd London festival includes the event's biggest-ever batch of films by women. Organizers say 38 percent of all films and 30 percent of the 225 features in the lineup have female directors, an increase on 24 percent of features in 2017.

Films directed by women include Sudabeh Mortezai's sex-trafficking drama "Joy"; Karyn Kusama's police thriller "Destroyer" starring Nicole Kidman; and Sara Colangelo's drama "The Kindergarten Teacher" with Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The schedule also includes David Mackenzie's kilts-and-carnage Scottish epic "Outlaw King"; Joel and Ethan Coen's Western anthology film "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"; Alfonso Cuaron's Mexico-set "Roma"; Mike Leigh's historical saga "Peterloo"; and Peter Jackson's documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old," which transforms grainy footage from World War I into color.

Jackson's film was having its premiere weeks before the centenary of the end of the 1914-18 war in which 20 million people died.

The "Lord of the Rings" director worked with film from the Imperial War Museum, using cutting-edge digital technology and hand coloring to restore and alter the original footage. He paired it with archive audio recollections from veterans of the conflict.

Jackson said the process revealed new details and brought out the humanity of the soldiers.

"They suddenly are human beings just like we are," he told The Associated Press. "You can see the jokers and the serious ones and the worrying guys and you know, all the different sort of personality types that you encounter today — they were all there and you could see it on their faces."

The festival closes Oct. 21 with John S. Baird's Laurel and Hardy biopic "Stan & Ollie."

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Hilary Fox contributed to this story.

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