Monthly Archives: November 2015

Carry on Girls

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: In the sleepy seaside town of Fircombe (geddit?), Councillor Sidney Fiddler plans to liven up the tourist trade by holding a pageant, much to the dismay of his bride to-be Connie Philpotts, whose hotel is overrun by the bevy of beauties. Sid ingeniously drums up publicity for the show but he is unprepared for the meddling of rival councillor, arch-feminist Augusta Prodworthy.

While ‘dignified’ would never be the first word used to describe the Carry ons, there is always a sense of fun in the series’ best examples (Cleo, Cowboy, Up the Khyber) and the knowledge that if one joke isn’t to your taste, there will be another one along in a couple of seconds. Carry on Girls, with its one-note script by a deeply uninspired Talbot Rothwell, feels murky and decidedly undignified.

There are several reasons for this, not least of which is the age of the Carry on crew by this point in time. Sid James puts his all into the role of randy Cllr Fiddler but looks old, and it’s barely credible that he would captivate widowed Connie Philpotts (Joan Sims, asked to be more shrill than usual), let alone Babs Windsor, who turns up on a motorbike as Hope Springs, aka Miss Easy Rider. Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey are sorely missed, as too much screen time is left to lesser lights like Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor, who plays the oafish, ineffectual Mayor Bumble. It is significant, too, that Carry on Girls is not a parody of another genre but a film showing contemporary England; this is bound to date the film, and the scenes in Bumble’s house paint the seaside town, and the seventies as a whole, as a rather grim place.

Not having a genre or film to lampoon also means that the script has to come up with its own gags, and Carry on Girls is particularly bare on this front (pun intended). There are a few basic jokes that are stretched beyond tolerance: in the first, buxom contestant Dawn Brakes (Margaret Nolan) has part of her clothing torn off, either by somebody’s clumsiness or by Hope in an effort to get the beauty show more publicity – this scene in particular, with the two women chasing each other round the hotel lobby on all fours, definitely fails to qualify as dignified, and Nolan is further humiliated during a photo-shoot with Robin Askwith as Peter Butterworth’s clumsy, lascivious admiral lands on top of her.

The second joke is a variation on the first involving the removal of Kenneth Connor’s trousers; the third is a series of pratfalls, personified in Jack Douglas’ William, performed in verbally and physically twitchy Alf Ippititimus mode; and then there’s the tiresome innuendo, with every reference to doing ‘it’ milked, plus two separate stabs at a joke about taking down knickers.

There are a couple of bright moments, for example when publicist Bernard Bresslaw is made to pose as a contestant when a television crew appears, or whenever Patsy Rowlands is on screen as the mayor’s gloriously slovenly wife; but the highlights are few and far between and lost among the film’s highly dubious sexual politics. June Whitfield plays the councillor opposed to the beauty contest; with an assistant who dresses in a tie and suit (so is almost certainly a lesbian), she organises the local women’s lib movement and activates their dowdy ranks into causing chaos at the beauty show.

While this does provide the film with a climax of sorts, it also suggests that there are essentially two types of women: dolly birds (the film’s term, not mine) and flat-chested harpies. There is, naturally, only one kind of man, the sort who goes ‘Phwooar’ at other women but expects virginal chastity in his own partner – Bresslaw lays down the law to fiancée Paula (Valerie Leon, unaccountably dubbed) because her costume shows off her belly button (‘I will own you!’ he says, referring to their impending marriage). The film does give an example of another type of man, but the less said about monstrously camp TV producer Cecil Gaybody (Jimmy Logan) – yes, he’s actually called Gayboy at one point – the better.

Without a decent story or script, Carry on Girls is a sad example of the fag-end of the Carry on series, reflecting the fact that when the films were good they could be very good, but when they were bad they were pretty horrid. When I say that worse was to come – Carry on England and Carry on Emmannuelle followed – it is not to give much praise to this film, but to indicate the direness of the later efforts. You have been warned!


Carry on Nurse

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Newspaper reporter Ted York goes into hospital for an appendectomy and is tasked with writing a piece on the goings-on in the public ward. However, the quirks of his fellow patients, and the charms of the ‘angels’ watching them, prove a strong – if shapely – distraction.

The second film under the Carry on banner decamps the action for the first, but by no means only, time to the men’s ward of a public hospital. Reporter Ted York (Terence Longdon) is admitted with appendicitis and quickly becomes acquainted with the way things operate (excuse the pun): lowest of the low is orderly Mick (Harry Locke), at the beck and call of the crabby, demanding Colonel (Wilfrid Hyde-White), placing bets and smoking cigars in his own room. Only slightly higher in rank is clumsy student nurse Dawson (Joan Sims), then pretty staff nurse Dorothy (Shirley Eaton); bossy sister Joan Hickson tries to keep them all in order, for she – like the rest – live in fear of Matron’s (Hattie Jacques) sharp tongue during her rounds.

Ted’s visiting editor thinks the ward would be a great place for a spot of reportage, but Ted’s attention is almost fully taken by Dorothy. Besides, his fellow in-patients are a curious, distracting bunch, especially at visiting time: there’s Henry and his wife Rhoda (Brian Oulton and Hilda Fenemore), trying desperately to hide their humble status (she works!); fed-up Perce and his emotional wife Marge (Bill Owen and Irene Handl), fretting over compensation for his broken leg; famous boxer Bernie Bishop (Kenneth Connor), believing his broken hand is nothing to worry about; eccentric music lover Humphrey Hinton (Charles Hawtrey); and pompous science student Oliver Reckitt (Kenneth Williams), who slowly warms to the charms of attractive visitor Jill Thompson (Jill Ireland). When suave Mr Bell (Leslie Phillips) comes along with a bunion, delays in his operation threaten his saucy weekend away with Meg (June Whitfield); however, getting tiddly on champers and asking an equally drunk Oliver to perform the surgery seems a drastic way of guaranteeing he gets round to his ‘snogging’.

It’s easy to see why the Carry ons kept going back to hospital: there’s a distinct chain of command ripe for mockery, demonstrated best when Matron’s stroppy instruction to remake the beds is filtered all the way down; there’s plenty of scope for jokes about undressing and nudity; and what could be more Carry on than a bunch of ageing men looking at women in tights and muttering ‘Phwooar!’? There’s a bit of all of this, in a very tame fashion, in Carry on Nurse. What there isn’t is a plot. The closest you come is York’s pursuit of Nurse Dorothy, who might herself be interested in sleazy Surgeon Stevens (John Van Eyssen), but that really is it.

The drunken surgery on Bell is the most protractedly amusing scene in the film, with Phillips backtracking and Williams making a wonderful drunk while the rest fall about laughing because of the gas (as in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the laughter’s contagious). Yet it’s isolated: there’s no climax, and absolutely no consequence to the patients’ actions, when you might imagine gagging a nurse would have one or two implications.

So, the story literally goes nowhere, making greater demands on the cast to deliver. As I’ve said, Williams does a great job while Hawtrey is his usual unusual self (having a drink, for a change), Phillips plays up his ‘Ding dong!’ persona to the hilt, Connor does what he does, Joan Sims is charmingly maladroit, while Shirley Eaton only has to look pretty to fulfil her remit, which she does in spades. Jacques is less fully used, unfortunately, while Longdon is plain of both face and personality. There are a few chucklesome bits, such as Connor getting smacked in the chops by a young child, or the Colonel famously getting his comeuppance; there’s also a cracking cameo from Rosalind Knight as an insanely intense student nurse. But there’s simply not enough highlights, or enough zip in Norman Hudis’ script, to make us overlook the lack of dynamism, overall arc, or the fact that most of the characters and ideas dribble away without resolution (Leigh Madison has all of ten seconds as a female doctor).

As I’m sure I’ve said before, the Carry ons were undoubtedly at their best when they were parodying something else, since the thing parodied – Cleopatra, Westerns, historical adventures – gave the writers a ready-made frame to hang the quickfire gags from. Carry on Nurse is quite nice, and gentle, and inoffensively saucy, which is preferable to the leering smut the series would later become; but in truth it’s more a collection of re-enacted anecdotes than it is a bona fide film.

Carry on Teacher

WFTB Score: 13/20

The plot: Popular headmaster Mr Wakefield has a dream job waiting at a shiny new school, but first of all he and his staff must survive an inspection by liberal psychiatrist Alistair Grigg and his assistant Miss Wheeler. The teachers try to impose discipline without resorting to the dreaded cane, but the kids have their own agenda and are determined to push the staff to the limit.

Maudlin Street Secondary Modern school is your average state school, its kids and staff engaging in a constant battle to get the upper hand. Acting head Mr Wakefield (Ted Ray) has a new headmaster’s job lined up, but first of all he must get through a week of inspection by Alistair Grigg and Felicity Wheeler (Leslie Phillips and Rosalind Knight). It promises to be tricky because the kids, headed up by ringleader Stevens (Richard O’Sullivan), are in playful mood; and Wakefield’s trusty cane is frowned upon by Grigg, a new-age thinker who believes in letting kids run free.

The inspectors watch the sometimes-farcical lessons conducted by the teachers: Science, where nervous Gregory Adams (Kenneth Connor) suffers a case of premature launching; Physical Education, where Sarah Allcock (Joan Sims) finds her short shorts fail to cover her modesty, driving Grigg to a state of distraction; English, where Mr Milton (Kenneth Williams) gets his knickers in a twist about the naughtier bits of Romeo and Juliet, which the pupils are putting on with musical accompaniment from Mr Bean (Charles Hawtrey); finally, there’s maths teacher Grace Short (Hattie Jacques), who has little time for Grigg’s namby-pamby ways. The more the kids play up – starting a whispering campaign about a bomb and causing havoc during Milton’s production of Shakespeare – the more ‘Wakie’ despairs of getting his promotion; yet his exhortations for Gregory to woo Felicity, despite his crippling shyness, may just yield results. And the staff may get a shock when they realise why the kids have been so evil.

I’ve now seen the majority of Carry on films and before watching this, the third in the series, I probably (despite my best intentions) made the following assumptions: black and white, pre-Sid and Babs, so patchily entertaining but both a little twee and slightly stuffy. Happily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right from the start, the inclusion of youngsters lends the film a lively, rambunctious air, which the senior actors and writer Norman Hudis all thrive on. Whereas the strict hierarchy and archaic wards of Carry on Nurse obviously belonged to the late 50s, the script of Teacher retains a freshness: with the exception of the corporal punishment, the dynamic between the staff, and between the teachers and the pupils, feels as though it could be that of a modern-day school (admittedly, I’m only going from my own long-gone schooldays, a couple of teacher friends and the odd episode of Waterloo Road, hardly renowned for realism). What’s more, the film achieves a rare and satisfying combination of arch, lightly suggestive jokes, funny set-pieces (the chaos surrounding the play is brilliantly played out) and an overall story that provides consistent motivation for the characters, even if it does, however briefly, fall prey to a most un-Carry on-like sentimentality in its Goodbye Mr Chips moment. I fell for it, anyway.

The real joy of Carry on Teacher, however, is found in the staffroom. The quintet of series stalwarts – Williams*, Hawtrey, Jacques, Sims and Connor – are used intelligently, amusingly and in near-perfect balance. Allcock’s desire for Grigg and Milton’s sparring with Bean are particular highlights, but each takes turns to shine and there’s a particular pleasure in seeing the five of them interact simultaneously. Even if their big moment – the alcoholic tea-inspired game of musical chairs – is essentially the same joke as Hudis used in Nurse, it’s performed beautifully.

I’m not a big fan of Connor, and have generally found his nervous mannerisms more irritating than amusing; but he makes the most of his pivotal role here, mangling his words with skill and finally throwing caution to the wind in a performance which foreshadows Gene Wilder‘s Leo Bloom in The Producers. Connor is helped immensely by playing opposite Rosalind Knight, who proves perfectly charming as Miss Wheeler. Future sitcom star Richard O’Sullivan is effective as chief troublemaker amongst the children, who are generally much more palatable than a bunch of disruptive kids have any right to be. If Ted Ray makes less of an impression, it’s partially because he’s landed with being the authority figure, but mainly through unfamiliarity. A legend of radio comedy, Ray never became the film star his Ray’s A Laugh cohort Peter Sellers would. He doesn’t raise too many laughs here, but does a nice line in quiet mortification.

Carry on Teacher doesn’t, perhaps, deliver huge belly laughs or the memorable moments that were later anthologised in the Carry on Laughing TV series; but it’s a complete film in every sense, and delivers a wonderful ensemble performance from five actors at the top of their game. Comedies have been broader, saucier, more uproarious and much less idealised than Teacher, for sure; but this is a top-notch entry in the Carry on series and, in its understated way, a little gem.

NOTES: Far be it from me to pooh-pooh other critics, but one Carry on-specific website doesn’t like the film because (and I quote) “Kenneth is still acting.” Heaven forbid he should try to act a role, rather than conform to the face-pulling camp caricature he would later become!

Heavenly Creatures

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: A friendship between two girls in 1950s Christchurch develops into a vivid shared fantasy, and an intense romance. When parental troubles threaten to separate the pair, they decide that drastic action must be taken.

Pauline Rieper (Melanie Lynskey), also called Paul or Yvonne, is a taciturn child, relegated to sleeping in the shed while her mother and father, Honora and Herbert (Sarah Peirse and Simon O’Connor), run a hectic Christchurch lodging house. Paul’s life brightens up considerably when precocious Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) arrives at school, and despite their different backgrounds – Juliet’s parents Henry and Hilda (Clive Merrison and Diana Kent) are a college rector and marriage guidance counsellor, respectively – the pair strike up a close friendship, which blossoms into a fully-fledged fantasy called the ‘Fourth World’, whose ‘saints’ are the likes of Mario Lanza and James Mason.

When Juliet is struck down with TB, the girls develop their fantasy and write to each other as lovers Charles and Deborah, rulers of Borovnia and parents of troublesome child Diello. Juliet recovers, but the girls’ parents are increasingly troubled by the intimacy of their friendship. When the Hulmes’ own marriage goes beyond guidance, they plan to pack Juliet off to South Africa, panicking the girls into raising money to flee to Hollywood; Mr Hulme offers the distraught Pauline the chance to go with Juliet, but Honora refuses to give consent. Concluding that her mother is the only impediment to her happiness, Pauline plots to remove that impediment, by whatever means necessary.

Back in 1994, Peter Jackson was a cult director, known and loved by a select few for low-budget splatter movies Bad Taste and Brain Dead (I can’t comment on Meet the Feebles, but it sounds…odd). Which makes it all the more astonishing that Heavenly Creatures is as thoroughly and pleasingly accomplished a piece of storytelling as you could ever hope to see. Beginning at the bloody end, like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (I’m sure more apposite examples are available), the film tells its true story using Pauline’s own words and reveals a fascinating, if ultimately harrowing, incident with psychologically intriguing protagonists.

Crucially, Jackson and [screenwriting] partner Fran Walsh have nailed what’s truly important. Pauline and Juliet’s relationship is bursting with intensity, whether that’s expressed in sexual passion, wild fantasy, joy or anger; and it captures the overwhelming strength of emotions felt in adolescent love, never mind the h…h…homosexuality. It also delves into the psychology behind the crime, establishing a terrible tension as Paul becomes ever more resentful against her mother – she may hate her, but we see Honora as a confused woman just trying to keep her family together, entirely undeserving of her distressing fate.

Furthermore, the script lets us delve as deeply as we like into the facts behind the crime: was it a case, to paraphrase Larkin, of the mum and dads (ahem) messing up the kids? The Riepers smother Pauline, whilst the Hulmes are aloof or altogether absent. Or did the parents disapprove of the relationship, not because of the stigma of lesbianism, but because the girls dared to cross class boundaries? Did the girls’ childhood illnesses affect them in unfathomable ways? Or were they, as Paul suggests, simply mad?

With the story mostly focusing on two teenage girls, it was vital that the right actresses were chosen to play them. The good news is that the filmmakers couldn’t have wished for better than debutants Winslet and Lynskey. We all know what a good actress Winslet is, and she plays the precocious English girl beautifully, as well as becoming an intriguing fantasy figure (she sings Puccini nicely too); however, this is really Lynskey’s film. Her portrayal of Paul/Yvonne/Charles/Gina is a complicated mixture of childish innocence and experience (Pauline’s depucelated at a tender age), romance and mundanity, tender love and burning hatred, and she pulls it off brilliantly. Melanie’s child-like face conveys timeless emotions, and although her actions are ultimately horrific, Pauline is largely a sympathetic and darkly humorous figure. The adult actors are all well cast, too, Peirse bringing much pathos to her part and Merrison showing kindly, if distant, paternalism.

Heavenly Creatures also succeeds on a technical level. Jackson achieved fame through the incredible success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which set new standards for fantasy effects, be they prosthetic effects or CGI. However, what really impresses here is the real world. The recreation of 1950s Christchurch is impeccable, while the sunlit romance of the Hulmes’ house Ilam is a perfect base for the girls’ fantasies; there’s also a wonderful piece of trickery when the camera zooms around the inside of a sandcastle. If anything, these moments are more successful than the pure fantasy of the Fourth World or the clay people of Borovnia; in the former, the morphing gardens and CGI butterflies now look dated, while the latter’s immobile faces don’t quite have the desired effect, although we can clearly understand the director’s intentions (just as a comparison, Gilliam’s Brazil, while by no means perfect, pulled off its fantasy elements with more aplomb).

Since Return of the King, Jackson’s CV has been much discussed: though they all have supporters, the likes of King Kong, The Lovely Bones and The Hobbit have had their critics due to their extensive use of computer imagery and indulgent running times. Heavenly Creatures is a much more modest production than any of those above, but is arguably more successful – creatively, if not financially – than all of them; if you’ve never heard of it, or not seen it, I recommend that you seek it out as soon as you can.

Interview with the Vampire

WFTB Score: 9/20

The plot: Louis de Pointe du Lac celebrates the two-hundredth anniversary of becoming a vampire by granting an interview to sceptical journalist Daniel, taking him from his birth in blood to the present day and recounting the companions he has gained and lost along the way.

It’s often said that period dramas reflect the time they are made more than the period they portray, and this is particularly true of Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel. The story begins in present day San Francisco with Christian Slater’s Daniel meeting self-possessed vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) before quickly rolling back two hundred years, but everywhere there is a mid-90s sensibility that detracts from the incredible story Louis reveals.

In 1791, Louis is wealthy but has recently lost his wife and child and, tired of life, seeks death in New Orleans bars and whorehouses; what he actually finds is Lestat (Tom Cruise), a vampire who offers him an alternative. Louis becomes a vampire but unlike his voracious mentor retains a semblance of human squeamishness, so finds the people-killing difficult, choosing instead to feed off the blood of rats, chickens, poodles and the like. When Louis does eventually take a life, that of young Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), an orphan sheltering in a plague-ridden area of town, he takes her changed, doll-like form into his care and is disturbed to discover that she has a hunger that matches Lestat’s, at times even exceeding it. Louis and Claudia come into conflict with Lestat and flee to Paris, where Louis embarks on a search for others of their kind and finds an unfriendly bunch of theatrical bloodsuckers who stage a horrific spectacle each week for their kicks. Although their senior figure Armand (Antonio Banderas) is fascinated by the New World vampires, his colleagues are less tolerant and pursue Claudia, as her youth and her treatment of Lestat are both considered unforgivable.

Had this film been made in the seventies, it would no doubt have been dirty, blood-soaked and exploitative, revelling in the many possibilities for sex and violence available in the script. As it is, however, this nineties’ production is quite clean and polished, notwithstanding the blood and dead animals strewn around the sets (there are a few nasty moments but you would hardly describe this as a horror film); and the sex is toned down, nudity spared to essentially one stylised sequence in the Theatre des Vampires.

The dominating presence in the film is hair and wigs. I can scarcely believe the hair and wigs didn’t look preposterous at the time, but at fifteen years’ distance (in the careers of the principals, as well as a viewer) everyone does look very silly, especially as their hair always stays clean, conditioned and pristine however messy they make their victims. Tom Cruise looks like Michael Bolton, whereas Pitt reminded me of the model Fabio; these elements take away from the atmosphere of the film, which in any case has a few other issues.

Firstly, although we are clearly meant to sympathise with Louis, he is still a vampire and mass-murderer, even if he mostly murders other vampires; secondly, Claudia occasionally comes across as fairly brattish, screaming until she (almost) makes herself sick – and when Dunst’s scenes with Cruise and Pitt do not resemble something out of My Two Vampire Dads, she is cuddling up to Brad in a way that was surely perfectly innocent in its intentions but now feels a bit iffy. Certainly the references to Pitt as her ‘lover’ jump out more nowadays than the unconvincing nudges about Armand’s attraction towards Louis. Given all this, the fact that Lestat’s constant killing fails to raise so much as an eyebrow amongst New Orleans society is a minor point.

Interview with the Vampire is an interesting film to watch now, but more for the light it shines on the actors’ careers and the clean nineties treatment of the subject than the story itself. Given this extremely qualified endorsement, it is perhaps unsurprising that sequels have been slow in seeing the light of day (if that’s not an unfortunate choice of phrase for a vampire movie). If Lestat and friends are to be seen again, we can only hope that next time the tale grabs more attention than the manes.

About a Boy

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Rich layabout Will Freeman makes up a son in order to chat up single mothers, so can hardly complain when someone else’s, troubled twelve year-old Marcus, invades his cosy world. Marcus’s frequent visits are a pain but he is a useful conversation piece when pretty single mum Rachel catches Will’s eye; however, the boy’s depressive mother Fiona constantly threatens to cast a cloud over everyone, and everything.

Fans of Nick Hornby disappointed by High Fidelity’s move from London to Chicago in film form will be pleased to note that About a Boy stays put, although the action is brought forward by nine years. The latter decision does have its own consequences, but more of that anon.

Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) considers his life to be pretty much perfect, as he has reached the age of thirty-eight and not accumulated any dependants or done an honest day’s work in his life, having a decent income generated from the royalties of his father’s ubiquitous Christmas song Santa’s Super Sleigh. However, Will finds that girlfriends are becoming ever harder to come by – especially as he has nothing to talk about – so after a fling with one single mother proves fantastically non-committal, he seeks out others, going as far as inventing a son called Ned to gain himself favours at Single Parents Alone Together, a self-help group charmingly known as SPAT.

His smooth ways get him close to Suzie (Victoria Smurfit), but when her friend’s son Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) tags along at a picnic and kills a duck with a loaf of bread, Will has no idea what he has let himself in for. That same day Marcus’s mum Fiona (Toni Collette) attempts suicide, and although she is unsuccessful Marcus turns to Will for both help and sanctuary; the problem is, whilst Will can tell the deeply unfashionable Marcus what music he should be listening to and what he should wear, and even buy him trainers (which are promptly stolen by bullies), he is the last person in the world who might be thought of as a father figure.

Nevertheless, Marcus and Will come to a sort of understanding, and when Will is smitten with Rachel (Rachel Weisz) at a New Year party Marcus agrees to pose as his son to help things along, in exchange for advice about getting school tough girl Ellie (Natalia Tena) interested in him. Predictably, the deceit doesn’t hold, and worse, Fiona starts to become depressed again, forcing Marcus to take drastic action. The question is, will Will be enough of a man to involve himself selflessly in the lives of others, no matter how silly it makes him look?

Perhaps the unfairest thing you can do to a novel adaptation is watch the film immediately after reading the book, and this is exactly what I did with About a Boy (though I first saw the film a while ago, before buying the book). For fans of the novel there are immediate issues: where are Marcus’s glasses, for example? Why does he have a hamster? And is Hugh Grant (unconvincingly playing snooker, for no particular reason) really what we think Will looks like, even with his age nudged up a bit? These are minor points, but more relevant is the updating of the story from 1993 to 2002. This removes the Kurt Cobain aspect of the plot and therefore a major reason for Ellie (Cobain’s biggest fan) and Marcus to sympathise with each other. In fact, Marcus and Ellie’s relationship is disappointingly reduced to little more than a one-way crush and passing acquaintance, when the boy’s burgeoning affections for the vulnerable older girl, and her partial reciprocation, should be there to complement Will falling for Rachel.

It’s not all bad, though, and the film judiciously skirts around people like Marcus’s father and girlfriend to concentrate on the central relationship between the young lad and Will. Whatever you think of Grant in the ‘adult’ role, Hoult is excellent as the eccentric but shrewd youngster and the two share a good rapport; importantly, the screenplay keeps most of Hornby’s best dialogue between them intact, bringing out both the comedy and (unsettlingly for each of them) deeper emotions of their odd interactions. The device of Will and Marcus narrating events is effective and the appearance of both at a potentially humiliating school concert – Marcus’s ploy to cheer up his mother – is a cute conclusion (the book’s ending lacks a big-screen punch); and even if the final scene ties up the loose ends rather too neatly, it is preferable to the novel which merely dribbles away. Credit too to Smurfit and especially Collette, who as always inhabits her part, nailing Fiona’s accent and good-and-bad kookiness without a shred of vanity; her hippy lifestyle is entirely credible, even if the clothes she chooses for herself and Marcus are a stylised depiction of Boho. Similarly, Badly Drawn Boy’s soundtrack is a stylised interpretation of the characters’ straggly lives, but while I’m not a fan none of it is unpleasant per se.

In the final analysis, About a Boy doesn’t quite pull it off as a film for the simple reason that the source material cannot be pulled into the shape the Weitz brothers (or more probably their producers) desire. It’s not quite a buddy movie, not quite a domestic drama, and certainly not a Four Weddings-style rom-com, which is what the casting and marketing people desperately want it to be (attempted suicides don’t sit well in the genre, as This Year’s Love amply proved). It’s a shame that About a Boy loses some of the satisfyingly chunky and tangled elements of the novel, but it retains the central dynamic and that, together with some fine performances, makes the film – if not the equal of the book, which you should read if you like the movie – watchable all the same.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: On the way to see the professor who brought them together, young sweethearts Brad and Janet suffer a blow-out, forcing them to seek help from the inhabitants of a mysterious castle. Once indoors, they are subjected to a night that sees the creation of a new life, and an awakening of their sexual selves from which they will never recover.

If you went looking for a definition of the word ‘cult,’ you would have to get in somewhere the idea that the cult object is both incredibly precious and utterly worthless at the same time. This is certainly true of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and in two ways. Sharman’s film of Richard O’Brien’s stage musical has famously become the standard of cult cinema, inspiring bizarre levels of devotion from its keenest fans, at the same time as its detractors write it off as cheap trash; but more than that, the film itself is a contradiction, proving itself a brilliantly original oddity one moment, and a stultifying bore the next. To describe the film as simply good or bad under such circumstances appears pointless, so cult will do very nicely.

Two of the things you really want to get right in a musical (and everything that is good about the film stems directly from the stage), namely the story and the songs, are well served here. The story, pitching newly-betrothed middle Americans Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, the latter labouring under flu during filming but still looking lovely) into the spooky B-movie world of Dr Frank N. Furter, is riotously camp, but with a spicy edge of sexual aggression thrown in. And the songs, whilst I don’t love the opener Science Fiction/Double Feature, are by and large surprisingly complex slices of pop-rock: Over at the Frankenstein Place, Sweet Transvestite, Rose Tint My World and Going Home are my favourites, though it would be remiss not to mention perennial party favourite The Time Warp.

These songs are nicely arranged and all the actors can sing, Bostwick and Sarandon harried around the house by domestics Riff Raff (O’Brien), Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and hanger-on Little Nell. But all these, as well as tragic biker Eddie (Meatloaf), are completely overshadowed by the appearance of original London cast member Tim Curry. His Frank N. Furter is frightening, sexy, posh, effete and bullying all at the same time; and of course he has a belting, rich voice which drips sensuality. Curry is so at home in the role he has struggled to shake it off, but he is undeniably the star of this show.

So far, so good. But even Curry’s presence cannot save the film when the music’s not playing, and the songs only mask the fact that the film looks embarrassingly cheap. From the bare sets to the budget props, from the pitiful number of extras – including the distracting presence of Christopher Biggins – invited to the convention to the unsteady camerawork, the film looks as though it was shot in a couple of days with all expenses spared.

None of which would matter so much if the film flowed nicely, but although the film has humour throughout (I love the line: ‘It’s not easy having a good time. Even smiling makes my face ache’), a number of scenes, for example the creation of Rocky, or the meal, are not sufficiently dynamic to hold the interest of a non-participating audience. The only positive thing you can really say about Sharman’s direction is that out of the visuals and the music, he chose to screw up the right one. And a quick word on Rocky himself: Peter Hinwood certainly looks the part, but he is not blessed with a great range of expressions, or, one assumes, his own voice.

Once the Floor Show begins, The Rocky Horror Picture Show keeps its pace up to the end (forgiving the dreadful laser effects) and if you have given yourself up to – rather than given up on – the movie by then you are very likely to come out singing; but in general, the celluloid version fails to replicate the thrills of the live show. There’s a lot to enjoy about this unique movie, not least the fact that there’s nothing quite like it, and it does contain some striking moments; but equally it contains some horrible dead spots. It’s great. It’s terrible. And, therefore, is a true cult classic.