Gleefully scaling the fourth wall (the invisible
divide that suspends our logical disbelief at cinematic
storytelling), the three principal members of the radio
and TV comedy team, the League of Gentlemen, land fleet-footed
on the other side. They find they are certainly not in Royston
Vasey anymore. They're not even in Spent, the name of the
village in their radio days. The conceit that characters
enter into the 'real world' in order to prolong their existence
is not a new one (but then neither is 'boy meets girl' and
Richard Curtis is, Hugh Granted, quite rich, thank you).
The interest and excitement is not from the genre itself,
it's the way it's abused. And the League thrives on abuse,
self or otherwise.
attempting to divest itself of its most famous creations,
the League has bent things out of shape to fit the big screen
and as with all TV to movie adaptations (which the movie
acknowledges with more than a wink), the result is never
wholly a movie and obviously neither is it a TV show. It's
a mutant hybrid, like the creature created from spare parts
of zoo animals in their 1st series. That said, if you're
a fan, you'll love what they've done with familiar Vasey
residents and if you're introduced to the League via Apocalypse,
then it depends if you enjoy watching voluminous gallons
of giraffe 'issue' being ejaculated onto 'a load of old
biddies'. The simple expectation of what can happen when
you let Mark Gatiss' inept vet Dr. Chinnery anywhere near
organic life is usually enough for me. What he did to that
tortoise in the TV series still makes me smile in a way
my loved ones would not appreciate.
wonder if I'm alone in thinking (and therefore unfashionable,
heaven forbid but then I can't 'text' without spelling and
punctuating every word correctly) that Little Britain is Les Dawsonesque but regarded widely as being ironic (so
that's OK, overload them with awards). A significant percentage
of its impact, for me, is in the writing and performance
of the voiceovers. Tom Baker was born to narrate Little
Britain. Yes, Walliams and Lucas are very talented
performers but the gags tend to be rooted in the usual stuff
we sometimes blithely condemn for its non-PC-ness. It's
Ben Elton doing his 'tits' sketch condemning the laughs
while he still gets the laughs from the same material but
he fiercely pretends to stand at a 'right on' tangential
angle to it. As Elton is now aligned with Andrew Lloyd Weber,
we have to accept that the world has moved on. Humour is
not as easily pigeonholed. Where Little Britain really scores are the sketches that cannot possibly be thought
of 'funny' in advance. Written down, the words must stare
at the performers daring them to invest some comic invention
into them. Yesssss.
classic example from times past is the stand out surrealist
moment from Monty Python. Michael Palin has said that he
can judge whether his humour will be compatible with another's
by gauging their reaction to one of Palin's (and Cleese's)
finest moments - the Fish Slapping Dance. The fact that
Cleese almost loses it makes it even funnier. If you're
not familiar with it, be so quickly. Even the music is surreal.
The fact I shared a flat with the person who was the Fish
Slapping Dance's film editor's assistant still makes me
glow with pride. Anna Gregory, take a bow.
got into the League's TV series slowly. At first, I could
appreciate the talent on display (it felt like The
Comic Strip Presents with added morbidity) but
it was far more dark than humourous (belly laughs were not
encouraged by this talented foursome (the performing threesome
and the unseen Jeremy Dyson, co-writer) and until the one
defining moment in the second series, I was vaguely but
hypnotically attracted to it. It had an unhealthy grip,
no question, and the third series really did attempt a different
form, one that was successful in my evaluation. But I still
preferred my comedy laugh-out-loud. I watched, I appreciated
and groaned with pleasure every time Tubbs and Edward burned
up the airwaves. But it was still flying low, under my Black
Books/Father Ted radar.
all changed with the arrival of Papa Lazarous.
I cannot be alone in being deeply affected by this bizarre
creation. How else could you explain that a one note gypsy,
blacked up like a minstrel, with a voice like a drain Domestos
fled in terror from, is so wonderfully disturbing? Reece
Sheersmith's creation (always looking for 'Dave' and preying
on old women) is an alarming reminder that some prejudices
or assumptions of behaviour still can be perverted with
a great jolting shock. Papa Lazarous is a psychotic Krusty
the Klown, a deranged figure who holds a fascination to
those who have felt his power like no other TV character.
He has turned up live in Drury Lane to tumultuous applause
and just had to be in the movie but wisely (because like
the best and most lethal poisons) the League instinctively
knew that he is more effective in small doses. For some
reason his catchphrase "You're my wife now…"
is utterly chilling.
a portal to the 'real world' while their own seems to be
literally going to hell, three of Royston Vasey's more 'B-type'
characters slip into the London of today and try to meet
their makers. The one joke but double entendre'd Herr Lipp
is joined by Hilary Briss, the butcher with the heart of
a young boy (at £4.50 a pound, £4.99 if you
consume it on the premises) and that gag's not the League's
but neither is it mine. It all started with novelist Richard
Matheson. It was said of him that he had the heart of a
ten year old and he kept it in a jar on his desk. Joining
the paedophile and cannibal is the ordinary guy (but hugely
Northern in a way that Christopher Eccleston is not), Geoff.
It's a good cross section of known characters and the movie
is never less than entertaining for their specific inclusion.
reach the Smoke and descending on Soho Square, they find
their real life counterparts. It's a credit to the performances
to note that when Sheersmith is playing the 'real' Sheersmith,
he's an egomaniacal, media bastard who whines at not being
paid for a charity gig. The presumably self effacing Mark
Gatiss, (whose career high was defending how scary his Dr.
Who episode was on Radio Four) plays self-effacing
to a 'T' while the stout Steve Pemberton (the only Leaguer
with a 'normal' family on screen) is the terrified but bemused
hostage the Vasey threesome kidnap having his severely altered
ego take his place. One of the darker aspects of the movie
is having Herr Lipp becomes a surrogate father. What games
does he play with his 'kids' while his 'wife' is away?
exorcise Royston Vasey, the League is writing a new world,
a middle ages full of devil worshipping fops and dark magics.
As that reality shift is played out, Geoff inserts himself
into the screenplay and becomes a hero with no more expectation
in that life than being known for having a big dick. Royston
Vasey's inhabitants have ambitions very much below their
stations and waistlines. David Warner has great fun as the
Darth Vader of the League's third world (he conjures up
demons as effortlessly as he once killed off minions as
Supreme Evil in Gilliam's superior romp, Time Bandits).
comes across as surprising is the fact that you come to
actually care that Royston Vasey is dying and you are urging
on its fictional inhabitants to find some sort of life beyond
the fickle League's whims and creative aspirations. The
climax - at a church so Sheersmith's egregious female clergy
woman can enter the fray - is as off the wall as you'd expect.
And there is a moment of exquisite shock in the graveyard
as the 'real' League realise that Royston Vasey's predicament
is for real. Let's just say that this is the League's take
on laughing one's head off and it comes as a genuine shock.
after all this meticulous interweaving, Dennis Potter-like,
of worlds, times and fictions, how come the very best comedic
moment belongs to a middle aged woman (Pemberton's terrifying
Tubbs) sitting on a toilet in the first five minutes? It's
a credit to the writing that I still smile at 'her' utter
surprise at what most of us take for normal bodily functions.
don't think I can look at fish in the same light ever again...