EWAN McGregor’s portrayal of Jesus during his 40-day desert fast, a controversial Amy Winehouse documentary, a new biopic of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson and a zombie drama fronted by Arnold Schwarzenegger have been given top billing for next month’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Disney-Pixar’s next big feature film, a new British “Romeo & Juliet-style” gangster drama, the latest big-screen adaptation of Under Milk Wood, and Richard Gere’s portrayal as a flamboyant billionaire philanthropist are also expected to be highlights of the 69th annual event.
McGregor, who plays both Christ and Satan in Last Days in the Desert, will be at its UK premiere and will also discuss his screen career - 21 years after launching Shallow Grave at the festival - in an “in person” event.
He leads the strongest home-grown line-up for years, along with EIFF patron Robert Carlyle, whose directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson, will open the event, while Peter Mullan, James Cosmo and Martin Compston will all unveil new films.
New artistic director Mark Adams revealed that Malcolm McDowell, Jane Seymour and Rhys Ifans will be among the stars at the festival, which will include 24 world premieres and 16 European premieres, both more than doubled from last year.
McDowell, star of cult classic A Clockwork Orange, and former “Bond girl” Seymour will both give insights into their individual careers, as well as appearing on screen together in Bereave, about a long-time married couple who each have to face up to their own mortality.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival has produced another excellent programme, showcasing Scottish talent, alongside some of the best of world cinemaFiona Hyslop
Ifans will unveil two new films - the new film version Dylan Thomas’s iconic radio play Under Milk Wood, which he appears in with singer Charlotte Church, and Len and Company, playing a miserable record producer opposite Juno Temple.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler – who worked on The Thomas Crown Affair, In The Heat of the Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – will be a guest of honour at the age of 93.
Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out, set inside the head of an 11-year-old girl dogged by conflicting emotions, has been confirmed for the EIFF’s annual family gala days after wowing critics in Cannes, where documentary Amy was shown despite protests from the singer’s family. John Cusack and Paul Dano will both depict Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness and drug abuse in Love & Mercy.
Former Doctor Who star Freema Agyeman will be starring alongside Steven Berkoff and Greta Scacchi in North vs South, which is set amid Britain’s criminal underworld, Other new British films include acclaimed relationship drama 45 Years, which stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, and romantic sci-fi thriller Brand New-U.
The festival is trying to arrange a live Skype interview with Schwarzenegger for the international premiere of Maggie, in which he plays the father of a teenager gradually turning into a zombie. It is hoped The Newsroom star Emily Mortimer will attend a sneak preview of the next season of comedy series Doll & Em, while Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard, star of HBO drama True Blood, is also on Mr Adams’ wish list of guests. The festival will close with rising filmmaker Scott Graham’s second feature Iona - set and shot on the Hebridean island -after his debut Shell was controversially withdrawn from the EIFF three years ago after being ruled out of the running for best British film.
Cycling legend Graeme Obree is expected to attend the event for the unveiling of a new fly-on-the-wall documentary, while the festival will also host world premieres of Swung, an adaptation of Ewan Morrison’s novel set amid the Glasgow swinging scene, Mullan’s new film Hector, in which he plays a homeless pensioner and Pyramid Texts, which sees Cosmo playing a veteran boxer.
Mr Adams, a hugely-experienced film critic, has only been in his post since March after taking over from Chris Fujiwara, whose surprise departure was announced by the festival last autumn after a tenure of just three years.
Mr Adams told The Scotsman: “You are only really as good as the films that are available to you, that’s the truth of it.
“As with any festival, you would always want more money available. We have ambitions, and we could do more and more. If you want to bring a superstar in they cost you a lot of money.
“The nice is that people in the industry are so supportive - distribution companies in the UK and internationally really want to get behind the festival.
“We never sat out to have a big Scottish programme as some kind of statement. It really did just happen.
“Everybody is saying to us that it’s such a powerful year for Scottish films, but the truth is all these films happen to be available. It really is the luck of the draw.”
The EIFF has, however, lost out on two big Scottish films - Michael Fassbender’s hugely-acclaimed turn as Macbeth, which wowed the critics at Cannes, and Sunset Song, the adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel, which is still being edited.
Mr Adams added: “The distributors of Macbeth have always had a release date later in the year.
“We spoke to them about, it but the festival just didn’t fit in with their plans. We knew that from the start. But they are talking about doing a big event in Scotland as part of their marketing strategy.
“We really hoped Sunset Song was going to be finished in time, we were speaking to everybody about it, but it’s simply not ready yet.
“I suspect they’ll want to put it in one of the big festivals later this year, like Toronto or Venice. It has that prestige to it.”
Tickets for the full programme for the festival, which runs from 17-28 June, go on public sale on Friday.