A squadron of British comedy films has been released in recent weeks, signalling a strong complement for next year's awards ceremonies and making a positive statement of the health of the industry. But I wonder if their success will reach beyond the UK, given the relatively small promotional budgets of British production companies. Certainly in New Zealand we often miss seeing British films on general release, and are lucky if we catch them in smaller art-house cinemas on short runs. So if you like the sound of any of these films, keep an eye out for them. I've marked each depending on the ultimate test of how well a film travels: how likely I think they are to play at the Rialto in Palmerston North...
Director Mike Leigh is known for the bleak and compelling honesty of his kitchen-sink personal dramas, typified by superb and emotionally engrossing films like Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake. But with Happy-Go-Lucky he deliberately set out to make an optimistic film - one focusing on a free-spirited, outgoing single girl played by Sally Hawkins. The sunniness of the lead character is undeniable, and the departure from Leigh's usual fare is marked - you'll probably keep waiting for someone to contract cancer or fall under a bus. But no, this film does exactly what it says on the tin. Indeed, Channel 4 Film said: 'Leigh has made an infectiously joyous, life-affirming, beautiful film that is a long glass of refreshing water in a time of fetishised misery and fascination with pain in cinema. Happy-Go-Lucky sends you away transformed, purely happy - at least until you board a bus. He's made a film for film reviewers'. (RPN rating: High)
Three And Out
Starring Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office) as a Tube train driver who's killed two passengers (through no fault of his own) in the space of a few weeks. While coming to terms with the deaths he discovers a little-known London Underground policy that if a driver has three 'one-unders' in the space of a month, they receive a huge redundancy package. So he sets out to find someone to be the lucky third. Most of the publicity surrounding the film, which was made in consultation with London Underground, has focused on the train-drivers' union's complaints and a picket at the premiere, which has led to a tit-for-tat war in the press. It remains to be seen if the movie handles the subject as sensitively as the makers claim it does, but pre-release reviews are generally positive. The Times said: 'as [the] plan reaches fruition, and a tube train thunders down a track towards a man that it may or may not demolish, Three and Out becomes a thing of eerie beauty, asking bigger questions about life, and about death, and leaving you in no doubt that it treats the reality of the latter with the utmost respect'.
Thing is, the trailer isn't that flash. And would it have been too close to the bone to use (Don't Fear) The Reaper rather than the overused Spirit In The Sky? (RPN rating: Middling)
[Edit, 9 May: Turns out this one didn't have legs. See Owen Gibson's report in the Guardian for an interesting analysis of the plight of the Britcom]
Son of Rambow
Set in the 1980s, this follows the quest of two young boys to remake a Rambo film using a video camera and a lot of home-made 'special' effects. The main character becomes completely entranced when he breaks free of his no-TV, no-movies Brethren mum (played by Spaced's Jessica Hynes) and watches Rambo for the first time. Taps into the rich vein of 80s nostalgia, but the BBC said 'beyond the belly laughs and sunny 80s nostalgia, this is a portrait of friendship which is truly tender and moving'. (RPN rating: High)
Well, this one's Irish rather than British. Some gangsters are forced to flee the nest and end up in Flanders, but lying low proves harder than expected for a bunch of crooks not used to blending into the background. It stars Colin Farrell and has been described by Thelondonpaper as 'funny yet disturbing'. (RPN rating: Chance'd be a foine t'ing)
Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth
Genre pastiches are hard to pull off, but this one has an excellent cast. Paying homage to low-budget 1950s B-grade sci-fi, the film boasts supporting actors Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Green Wing) and Mark Heap (Spaced, Green Wing). Reviews are middling: Time Out gave it three stars and said: 'Here, the budget was minimal (most of the sets were made of cardboard), the action is relayed totally straight and there’s a real sense that DaVison has a fondness for the material he’s sending-up. Many will find it tedious and obtuse, but if you can make it past the first half-hour, you shine to the shoddy CGI and dialogue that is constructed entirely from cliché'. (RPN rating: About as likely as this film winning an Oscar)