"Challenging", "uncomfortable", "offensive" were just some of the adjectives gleaned from reviews. I found it barely any of those things - and not helped either by one particular unfortunate miscasting.
Maxine Peake plays a working-class woman in early middle age who, since a child, yearned to be accepted as a stand-up comedienne (or should one refer to her simply as a 'comedian' these days? I can't keep up!) - despite being locked into a sour, childless marriage with a violently abusive husband. It's now the 1970s in northern England (Rotherham, in fact), and she notices an ad in the local paper announcing forthcoming auditions for an act to take the stage in a neighouring working-mans' club (not too big). She secretly snips out the announcement, deciding to give it a go, Of course, this is an era when female comedians are unheard of because women "just aren't funny"(!) - but she's determined to prove that she can raise laughs every bit as much as the men. Before the auditions, her husband finds out what she means to do and warns her that if she goes he'll break her nose!
Meanwhile, while browsing in a local bookshop, she's noticed by the owner (the marvellous, and usually reliable, Paddy Considine) their mutual attraction being immediate, a date following and a romance develops. Considine, in his considerable career to date, has played a wide range of roles, from frighteningly nasty to credibly sympathetic, sensitive and moving - but here, as a cultured intellectual (unmarried) I think his casting has, unfortunately, misfired. Her down-to-earthiness (even philistinism) plays against his own character's refined tastes, though she tolerates it to keep in with him, accompanying him to a cinema showing of that classic 1956 French short 'Le Ballon Rouge' (with which many of my generation will be familiar) - but she finally losing patience when he drags her along to see live Shakespeare. (An actual red balloon represents a mini-motif in this film). I think this is the first time I've seen Considine in a romantic role.
Also in the cast is Alun Armstrong as an ageing, yet still aspiring, amateur comedian down on his luck (if he's ever experienced any, that is) still trying to wow the locals but getting nothing but mocks and jeers for his pains. He tries to give some homely advice to the main character, though it's doubtful that, being the lifetime failure which he represents, it can be of much value. I thought this character was possibly the most affecting in the entire film.
There are also two or three cameos from well-known British, mainly TV, personalities.
I was expecting there'd be something of a controversial edge to Maxine Peake's act. In this film, if there is any at all, it's mainly confined to her final stand-up turn where she does eventually get the sought-for audience approbation - though it's still only the local crowd. I 'd thought that there'd be a trajectory right up to recognition at a national level. It doesn't go anywhere near that - and I think the film's more modest aims are to its credit.
I was barely shocked at all by the expected 'controversial' references in her stand-up routine (including using words like 'Pakis' and 'poofs') because when I was growing up these were words in just about everybody's vocabulary - yes, even my own - and would even be heard occasionally on TV. Furthermore, most British people of a generation even younger than mine will recall entire TV 'comedy' series being based on making fun of other (non-white) races - as well as mining the rich seam of queer put-downs where a comedy programme was incomplete if it didn't include a generous helping of homophobic 'humour' (Ha ha, what a hoot!)
So I think if there's any 'shock' element at all in this film it will be experienced only by those who are too young to have lived through those pre-p.c. times when such comments were so prevalent that hardly anyone batted an eyelid or, if they did, it would be dismissed as just harmless 'banter' or 'man-talk'! What was different in this film was the liberal use of four-letter words in Peake's act, words which would never have been heard on TV, at least up to the 1970s - though of course I know for a fact that in the environment of beer-swilling working-mens' clubs, even though I didn't go to any myself, such vocabulary on stage (as well as off, naturally) was as omnipresent as oxygen.
Two further things in this film I could have done without - the main character's talking to screen (us) but saying little of consequence, certainly nothing revelatory - and her meeting herself, a couple of times, as a young girl - even giving her a red balloon! - endowing the film with a portentousness that brought the whole thing down more than just a notch. Oh dear!
Maxine Peake herself presents a capable performance - though I didn't think her character's managing to laugh off the physical assaults against her were all that convincing when we, the audience, looked on horrified.
I've seen very little of director Adrien Shergold's work up to now as most of his work to date has been for TV and I'm not a great telly-watcher. His main achievement in this film for me, if lacking in memorability was, nonetheless, an important one - viz. I was never bored.................5.5.
I like Maxine Peake but not enough to go and see this, it doesn't sound much fun. (Incidentally, I'm off to see The Guernsey Potato etc tomorrow - not my choice, I agreed to accompany a friend. I don't mind.)ReplyDelete
I was more familiar with M.P.'s name than her face, Judith - though I see that she was in 'The Theory of Everything'. This one is very far from being a 'fun' film and if her 'victory' stand-up routine at the climax was meant to be uplifting it was against a grim backdrop. I was also dubious about any woman - or ANYONE at all - brushing off with such ease the assaults, physical and verbal, on herself.ReplyDelete
Good luck with 'Guernsey' tomorrow. I think it's turning into one of those 'marmite' films (or, on my case, 'vegemite'!) Though on that reckoning I was on the 'wrong' side and you may not be, for which I hope.
Peake has a history of not picking the best movie rolesReplyDelete
Other than vaguely knowing her name, I couldn't have named any of her previous appearances without looking them up. She does adequately in this, a role which seems designed to knock your socks off - only she doesn't quite manage it.Delete
The term 'cow' doesn't seem to be used much here in the States; I always thought it amusing.ReplyDelete
It's not heard now as often as it was in, say, up to the 1970s - and even then I think it would have been more frequently encountered in Northern England working class circles.Delete
Just discovered your blog and love it! Following you now!!ReplyDelete
Thanks so much, C & D. They are the very personal feelings of an ageing cinema-goer, but do please continue following as I might be able to direct you to something of value now and then which you might otherwise have missed - and there may not be many more of them now anyway.ReplyDelete
Are you ok, Ray? I ask because of your reply to C & D's comment.ReplyDelete
I saw the Guernsey Literary etc film and I tend to agree with you. I didn't dislike it, I didn't love it either. Loved the scenery though!
I'm fine Judith, and thanks for asking. I can well understand how my off-the-cuff comment above might have caused concern, which I hadn't intended at all, so I'm sorry about that.Delete
What I was referring to was that for some time I've been floating the thought that when I reach 5,000 films (only those seen in a cinema) I'll seriously think about packing it in as it's a nice round number. (It's currently at 4.890, so that, should take me to around the end of 2019). Another reason is that I feel increasingly out of sympathy with so many films made nowadays, when I'm clearly well outside the target audience parameters, so that I can't be a fair judge. In particular, my soft spot for animals has grown in latter years to such that the amount of emotional investment I put in their appearance, whether they are mistreated or not, but most especially the former, unbalances my view of the whole work. When I see any animal on screen everything else takes second place. So that's another reason why I find it increasingly difficult to give dispassionate judgements.
I'm not saying I'll definitely stop. When the time comes I'll give it serious thought but I'm just getting a bit weary of going to see so many films these days which I just know I won't enjoy - and to pay for it too!
Yes, the scenery in 'Potato' was ravishing. Such a shame that it wasn't shot in the titled location, where I'm sure the scenery would have been at least as nice or even nicer.
Ok, understood. Fair enough. I am glad you're ok. I agree with you about animals, too. I find myself wondering about the animals I see on screen and you're right, it does affect the view of the whole work. Is it something to do with increasing age? I think it is. (I'm even older than you!, I recall!)Delete
The animals aspect has taken on a further dimension, J, when, just a few weeks ago I finally made the long self-promised leap into being vegan, something I've been toying with for over 40 years, but my love of eggs (got to be free range, naturally) always prevented me going all the way. (I've been veggie since my ear;y teen years).Delete
My respect and love for ALL animals has, with age, become ever more acute, but as long as I can hold any feelings of militancy in check I can cope with it. (I'm sure that there must be some connection between my profound regard for animals and my lifelong difficulty in relating to humans).
I wasn't aware that you were older than I am, but (yet another symptom of ageing?) it matters less and less. We've all got the same destination, haven't we? :-)