Directed by Steve Bendelack. UK. 2005.

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It’s taken awhile for the League of Gentleman - Mark Gatiss (the tall one), Reece Shearsmith (the short one) and Steve Pemberton (the fatter one) - to make the transition to the big screen; longer than it took Kevin and Perry or Ali G, but similar to Mr. Bean (who is referred to as a joke) it is the next step for The League who like Rowan Atkinson’s creation conquered all before them, from stand-up circuit to radio, and then the big step to television with the now inevitable one of the big screen.  

Throughout the television series you felt that the League would benefit from the step up to celluloid, due to the filmic techniques used in their three series and the sheer wealth of characters they could call upon to create some semblance of a plot.  And unlike the previous titles mentioned above - which suffer from unoriginal plotting (all the characters go to Spain) and formulaic narrative strategies (Bean and Working Title) which would mean removing the characters out of their natural habitat - the League are able to keep that which makes them so unique and eccentric, their Englishness.

To explain the plot of what we are left with would ruin the film and give me a headache, but the gist of the narrative is that the characters of Royston Vasey become aware that the League are not writing for them anymore meaning Royston is being destroyed by fireballs.  And as apocalyptic events start to unfold (including the gross out moment of “a giraffe spunking over some old biddies”), the characters enter the real world (our world familiar to the audience) to confront the League and make them write for Royston Vasey again.  

This means you have to concentrate a lot for a comedy, and there is also a further thirty minutes of the other screenplay the League were writing entitled ‘The King’s Evil’ which the League play in again; serving as both an example they can write and act away from the shackles of Royston Vasey while not giving up their thirst for grotesque and gothic humour.

Having two separate worlds and characters would mean all manner of camera trickery and split screen technology but the script is so well thought-out and plotted that you only see the three members of the League at one time in shot or in a scene, either as a Royston Vasey character or a self-reflexive rendering of themselves as self-absorbed and shallow.  Many comics use this when confronting their own characters, this gives sympathy to their creations rather than themselves; you never see a writer deep in despair at creating an alternative world (Charlie Kauffman can be excused).

Like Working Title films, which it attempts to challenge, it does have shots of London, one good character scene takes place in the London Eye and they use it as a punch line (“Now get going!” - “I will as soon as it comes round”).  However, the problem is not down to its humour or its task of stereotyping English behaviour, you get the impression that if you go to see the film with no prior knowledge of the League from television or wherever, you will more than likely get a headache and wonder what is going on.

This is a shame as it is a great advert for some fine character acting from all three League members; Gatiss as Hilary Briss (the Butcher), who first appears in a pastiche to the criminal from Lean’s Great Expectations, is a character of leadership; Shearsmith as Geoff Tipps is given a stronger role rather than being laughed at as on the show and Pemberton as Herr Lip moves beyond the pun and innuendo to show a character of compassion and hope, unlike his homosexual pigeon-holing in the series and stealing the bragging rights in the process.  It is good to see them go through the film with these three periphery characters as the mainstays of the piece over the established Edward and Tubbs, showing them as capable and confident writers linking it to their ability to perform these characters effectively.

Despite that positive note, the drawback is a feeling that they have been a bit too clever for their own good.  The need to further their legacy of Royston Vasey and yet distance themselves from it (hence the other screenplay inclusion) means it leaves them sitting very much on the fence still deciding on which side to fall into to.  Naturally they should move on from this and return to Royston when a sizeable trough in the career path has appeared.  And on this evidence the time to move on is now more apparent but they have left Royston with some happy memories.

Jamie Garwood
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