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The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse

Mon 11 Jul 2005 In: Movies

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN'S APOCALYPSE Dir: Steve Bendelack UK, 2005 35mm, 91 mins Although this is a film that is unlikely to mean much outside fans of the cult British comedy The League of Gentlemen, judging by the huge crowd at Auckland's Civic Theatre last night this is a surprisingly large group for a show that has been basically invisible on our shores. For those that aren't aware, The League of Gentlemen is a TV show best described as a comic horror/soap opera, set in the sinister Northern town of Royston Vasey. All the town's inhabitants – male, female, and in at least one case gender undetermined – are played by the same three actors, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss, and Reece Shearsmith, who also write the show. It has spanned three highly successful series and a Christmas special in the UK, picking up awards and accolades along the way to rival its lesser cousin and successor, Little Britain. While Little Britain relies heavily on a succession of one-joke characters to carry it, League has always been a bit smarter, with grotesque caricatures evolving and gaining surprising depth over the course of the series, thanks to some cleverly-planned story arcs that allowed the 60+ different characters to interact and overlap. Just in a time for a shift to the big screen, however, it appears the gents want to put a lid on the whole thing. Instead of moving forward, The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse is a sideways move, breaking down the fourth wall between fiction and reality in a manner similar to Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the last instalment in the Freddy Krueger movie series. The characters of Royston Vasey aren't too pleased at being neglected by their creators and put out to pasture, so they decide to break out into real world London, kidnap them, and force them to write a new series featuring Royston Vasey, which is falling into apocalyptic decay in the absence of new storylines. It's an audacious idea that almost critic-proofs the gents from resurrecting old characters, and there's plenty of opportunity to lampoon other British comedy shows that have fallen into the trap of resorting to stereotypes and tired plot rehashes in their translation to the big screen. Having said that, the gents manage to fall into a few of these traps themselves. The gross-out factor – employed outrageously within the series but usually with balance and restraint – is in full bloom here, and an almost-reliance on toilet humour to provide the big laughs is another cliche for film versions of British TV shows; not to mention simple-minded American multiplex comedies. There is much to enjoy for fans, however. Herr Lipp, the seedy gay German with a penchant for Freudian slips – "put yourself in my fist, Justin" – is given a chance to develop when he breaks into the real world and has to impersonate the actor who plays him, Steve Pemberton. Forced into his creator's shoes, he'll become a father for the first time, and upon discovering a stash of newspaper articles about the TV show he comes from, will be heartbroken to discover he is merely a two-dimensional one-joke character. Unfortunately, other old favourites feature only briefly. Creepy shop owners Tubbs and Edward get a stalking tour-de-force in the film's opening, only to be relegated to cameo status for the rest of the story; a missed opportunity, one would think, seeing that during the series one of Tubbs' catch-cries was always "London!". Psycho job centre employee Pauline (the blueprint for “Little Britain”'s Fat Fighters superbitch Marjorie Dawes) doesn't have much to do either. The budget is bigger, the scale is larger, and the plot twists are as audacious as ever, yet overall The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse feels more like a dessert than a full meal, unlike its televised predecessors. Much of the pathos, genuine horror, and I-shouldn't-really-be-laughing-at-this comedy that made the series so revolutionary is missing in action too – but it should be remembered that any one of the gents' characters in the hands of lesser comedians would have been strung out and recycled for twenty years. At least they know when to stop, and this book-ending film is as good a place as any to do it. Chris Banks - 11th July 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Monday, 11th July 2005 - 12:00pm

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