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The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005)

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Directed by:

Steve Bendelack

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United Kingdom

In these postmodern times, smallscreen characters have a funny way of haunting their movie remakes. Former ‘Angel’ Jaclyn Smyth had an uncredited cameo opposite her younger replacement in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003); Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul appeared alongside their cinematic incarnations in Starsky and Hutch (2004); and Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in the BBC’s original radio and television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, plays a ‘ghostly image’ in the 2005 feature film of the same name. This conceit, however, is pushed to its absurd Pirandello-esque limits (and beyond) in ‘League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’, a film which dares to ask what happens to neglected fictional television characters.

With their appearances in live stage shows, on radio series and on television, the fictional villagers of Royston Vasey have brought fame and fortune to their comic creators the ‘League of Gentlemen’ (writer/performers Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and writer Jeremy Dyson) – but now that the League have turned to a new, unrelated filmscript set in 1690, Royston Vasey is threatened with a full-blown apocalypse. The Reverend Bernice Woodall (Shearsmith) opens a magic portal to an alternative universe – but before she can lead a rescue mission, the villainous fugitive butcher Hilary Briss (Gatiss) has passed through instead with his two hostages – innuendo-spouting German pederast Herr Lipp (Pemberton) and disgruntled loser Geoff Tipps (Shearsmith). The trio steals the screenplay and kidnaps the real Pemberton, with Lipp impersonating him so that the comedian’s absence does not arouse any suspicions. In Pemberton’s household, Lipp discovers he has an unlikely affinity for fatherhood – while Geoff writes himself an even more unlikely heroic rôle in the filmscript (“a clever man with a big cock comes in”), attracting the attention of the League’s ‘new’ characters. This leads to a paradoxical showdown between the freakish villagers, their seventeenth-century rivals, their real-life performers and a giant Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion monster, at the meteor-showered church of Royston Vasey – where all risk meeting their makers.

‘League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ takes the pantomime anarchy of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, adds the ingenious self-referentiality of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, throws in knowing parodies of everything from ‘The Name of the Rose’, The Shining, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ and all manner of cheesy British seventies horror, and seasons it with some good old-fashioned toilet humour and frightful double-entendres. The result is something diabolically smart, surreally funny, and uniquely British. The script is constructed in such a way that even its wildest conceptual leaps never seem too distractingly clever-clever, and its events and characters are intelligible to viewers unfamiliar with the denizens of Royston Vasey (although there are also plenty of rewards for connoisseurs of the League’s previous excursions there). Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith all play multiple rôles, including old favourites (like Tubbs, Edward, Papa Lazarou, Matthew Chinnery and Pauline), some entirely new characters, as well as decidedly unflattering versions of themselves – while Michael Sheen portrays the non-performing co-writer Dyson (although the real Dyson has a cameo as a consultant in the hospital where the character Dyson lies in a coma).

With its winning combination of high-concept and low-brow, ‘League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ shows that there can be more to bigscreen comic adaptations than mere catchphrases and nostalgia – and, for a film about village people, it is definitely more entertaining, and arguably more camp, than ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’.

It's Got: A violently ejaculating giraffe; Tubbs on a toilet, declaring "I made a little brown fish"; Herr Lipp confronted with the fact that he is "nothing more than a bad pun"; British seventies horror icon David Warner playing the seventeenth century warlock Dr Erasmus Pea; and the apocalypse.

It Needs: Not to have a sequel - despite the jokey promise at the end of the final credits that a new League of Gentlemen film (entitled The Windmills of Your Bum) is in the making, Apocalypse is a virtually impossible act to follow.

Alternatives:

Adaptation, Galaxy Quest, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Truman Show, Time Bandits

Summary

These grotesque characters in search of their authors conjure up something diabolically smart, surreally funny, and uniquely British.

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