The London Film Festival opens Wednesday with "Suffragette," the story of British women who fought for the right to vote — a milestone on a journey to equality that many believe is still unfinished.

It's a fitting choice for a festival determined to champion women on both sides of the camera.

Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, the gritty early 20th-century drama — think blood and sweat, not "Downton Abbey" — is directed by Sarah Gavron ("Brick Lane") and written by Abi Morgan ("The Iron Lady.")

" 'Suffragette' is a film directed by British women about British women who changed the course of history," said festival director Clare Stewart. Stewart said its selection as opener signals the festival's desire to ask "what can we be doing to break down the barriers for women directors and how can we be ensuring that the debate is front and center for the film industry?"

While festivals including Cannes have been criticized for choosing few works by female filmmakers, 46 of the 240 features in the London lineup are by women, including Deepa Mehta's Indian-Canadian gangster movie "Beeba Boys" and Ondi Timoner's Russell Brand documentary "Brand: A Second Coming." Stewart said the figure "sounds fantastic when you say it like that, and then you realize it's still only 20 percent of the program."

Festival organizers have also invited actress Geena Davis, founder of an institute on gender in media, to host a symposium. And Cate Blanchett — star of two festival entries, "Carol" and "Truth" — will receive the British Film Institute Fellowship, a career honor.

Jay Leno revisits 'Tonight' show

For a few minutes, it felt like old times back on NBC's "Tonight" show on Tuesday. Jay Leno was telling jokes. Host Jimmy Fallon pretended to pull a hamstring during his monologue, calling for an emergency replacement — his predecessor. Leno, who left the show last year after two decades in charge, is promoting a new car-focused show for CNBC. Leno got rolling right away with political one-liners. He noted that presidential candidate Marco Rubio is being called the best communicator in the Republican Party, "which is kind of like being the smartest Kardashian." If Democrat Bernie Sanders wins, Leno said, "he'll be the first socialist elected president since 2008." And if the Republican race comes down to Jeb Bush against Donald Trump, it will be like "the tortoise and the bad hair."

running for a cause: Actor Ethan Hawke will run his first marathon next month to raise money for charity. Hawke said he and his wife, Ryan Hawke, will take part in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 to support The Doe Fund, which works to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism.

News Services