Set the Thames on Fire
Dir: Ben Charles Edwards
Ben Charles Edwards's awesome debut could be one of the most overlooked British films of all time. With flashes of The Bed-sitting Room about it, an essence of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and a slab of Delicatessen (and pretty much every Terry Gilliam film you can think of), it follows a rich tradition of darkly-comic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic fantasy. It was marketed as a comedy on release, which it is and it isn't, while the script is wonderfully poetic and brutally eloquent, it isn't laugh a minute or anything close, but more of a tragicomedy with very dark overtones. I can imagine that the casting of Noel Fielding and Sally Phillips probably gave many the impression that this would be a quirky comedy, which it is, but it certainly isn't The Mighty Boosh or Smack the Pony. I believe this misjudge marketing and misunderstanding is what lead to negative audience reviews but the critics were unanimously full of praise. It's a wonderful film, beautifully written with a unique visual panache. It avoids many of the clichés associated with post-apocalyptic/dystopian movies and adds its own unique brushstrokes to the genre. The story is simple, while the premise is less so. London has become flooded and is essentially now an island with its inhabitants living mainly a squalled existence. The minority rich own the island and police it with steampunk-style coppers. This isn't about rich and poor, power or struggle though as such but the rich are seen as powerful due to wealth, rather than intelligence although there is the feeling that a brutal regime is fast approaching. Much of what happened, how people manage and the bigger details are never really addressed or even that important in the grand scheme of things as this film is really about friendship. Two young men, Art - a manic-depressive pianist and Sal, a full of beans escaped psychiatric patient, meet at a cocktail party for the rich and corrupt. The party has been organised in The Impresario's honour, The Impresario being the feared ruler as it were. When Art is kicked out and set upon by a guest in a pig mask, Sal steps in and knocks him out with a bottle of tequila while Art quips that "Some great friendships simply come about when there are just two people in a room that aren't C*nts". The story goes down a rabbit hole of surreal wonder from there on. Sadie Frost (who also produces) is good as Mrs Hortense, the boy's landlady, happy for rent to be paid by alternative methods and both Noel Fielding and Sally Phillips are great as cross-dressing assistant to The Impresario and tarot card soothsayer respectively. For me though, the best performance comes courtesy of David Hoyle (of The Divine David fame) whose breath-taking monologue as The Magician, is an unexpected delight that seems to come out of nowhere. It's beautifully written and delivered magnificently and worth watching the film for alone. It's an under the radar triumph, destined to become a cult classic although I believe it deserves more.