Posts Tagged ‘Steve Bendelack’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published June 8th 2005:

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to this ‘stealth’ edition of the film review column that isn’t as defunct as everyone thought it might be, 24 Lies A Second. Quite coincidentally this week we feature a tale of authors haunted by a past project that refuses to go away, in the form of Steve Bendelack’s The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this is a movie that’s dragged its feet in reaching the screen, given that it’s more than thirty months since the League’s last TV series (and arguably about five years since the peak of their popularity). Doubtless this is partly down to the vagaries of getting a British comedy film made these days – the vaguely similar Shaun of the Dead took three years to get made – while the extracurricular projects of the various League members (novels, appearances in other people’s shows, straight acting, doing the Guide movie, radical televised biographies of Dickens, etc) have probably taken their toll as well. But here we are, and the question is: just what have the famously unwilling-to-just-sit-there-and-coast League come up with?

Well, ahem. The renowned Scottish hippy-writer-visionary-nutcase Grant Morrison has proposed that such is the complexity and sophistication of certain longstanding fictional universes that sooner or later they will inevitably achieve sentience and start evolving without the assistance of writers. This certainly seems to be happening to the grotesque rural hellhole of Royston Vasey in the movie. Strange and terrible events (some involving the ejaculate of the camelopardalis reticulata) are occuring, leading clinically fed-up vicar Bernice (Reece Shearsmith) to realise an appalling truth – Royston Vasey is only fictional! The writers responsible for its creation have decided to move onto new projects, and as a result its dissolution is imminent. The folk of Vasey being the horrific monsters that they are, they’re not going to take this lying down. Using a convenient plot device they effect entry into the ‘real’ world, and a crack (and cracked) team comprising local shopkeepers Edward (Shearsmith) and Tubbs (Steve Pemberton), Hilary Briss the specialist butcher (Mark Gatiss), hopeless businessman Geoff Tipps (Reece Shearsmith), the unsavoury Herr Lipp (Steve Pemberton) and the indescribable Papa Lazarou (Reece Shearsmith) set out to change the minds of recalcitrant writers Reece Shearsmith (Reece Shearsmith), Steve Pemberton (Steve Pemberton), Mark Gatiss (Mark Gatiss) and Jeremy Dyson (Michael Sheen – eh?).

Oh well, if nothing else at least the League have managed to get their names into one single review more often than virtually anyone else I can recall. Anyway it turns out that they have forsaken Vasey in favour of a Tigon-style horror movie set in the 17th century, The King’s Evil. Obviously the Vaseyites endeavour to halt this project, but not before one of their number accidentally wanders into the fictional reality of the new film. Peculiar wizard Doctor Pea (David Warner)¬†and his friends have no more desire to be set aside than their predecessors, and so the stage is set for… oh, don’t ask.

I’d like to see how this goes down in Topeka, demanding as it does a fairly detailed familiarity with not only the original TV show but the personalities responsible for it – there’s a fairly pivotal scene involving Dyson-the-character which is largely there simply because Dyson-the-writer is the Leaguer who hardly does any acting and he was clearly equally unwilling to appear as himself in the film. It’s clear the League didn’t want to fall into the same traps as some of their predecessors transferring from TV to film (the notoriously bad ‘everyone goes on holiday to Spain together’ plot of the big screen Are You Being Served? is inevitably referenced), and their strenuous efforts to do something new and original means that they fall into a brand new set of traps instead.

Well probably. This is such a dementedly strange film that it’s difficult to be sure. It’s certainly not as funny as one might have expected (and the makers doubtless hoped) it to be. There are some laughs, but not that many – and the humour, rather than dark, is more often broad and crass. However it certainly retains the attention and even engages the emotions: there’s a touch of pathos as one Vasey resident in particular struggles to come to terms with the realisation that he’s a one joke character based around a bad pun. It’s never dull.

The Leaguers themselves carry most of the film, playing the vast majority of roles between them. Reece Shearsmith probably wins the ‘most parts played’ trophy, while Steve Pemberton gets the strength in depth award (he also spends more time playing himself than either of the others). Rather disappointingly Mark Gatiss seems to spend most of the film playing Hilary Briss (not a particularly engaging character). It’s to the credit of the League that they portray themselves as complete sods: pill-poppers, poor parents, uncharitable and prone to making film references at the least helpful moments. They’ve drafted in some top-drawer support for cameo duty: Peter Kaye, Bernard Hill, Victoria Wood and Simon Pegg all feature in The King’s Evil. It’s David Warner who walks off with the film’s comic acting honours, though. (Initial reports that the great Ray Harryhausen would be coming out of retirement for this movie seem to have been premature, though there are suitably reverent homages to the master at a couple of points.)

But in the end this an infuriatingly patchy film. It never quite overcomes the flaw in its central idea (if the Vasey characters are so utterly dependent on being written by the League for their existence, how can they sneak up on them without the writers knowing what’s going on?), and the perspective of the film (the story is told from the point of view of the characters rather than the creators) means the story loses some of its impact (the opening sequence, which reverses this, is considerably more successful in blending comedy with genuine creepiness and horror). It’s undeniably original, but probably the kind of original that baffles and repels audiences instead of beguiling them. The League of Gentlemen get ten out of ten for effort, but the fact remains that Apocalypse is the stuff of cult raves rather than mainstream success.

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