Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Germany/UK. 2001.

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Lucky Break is a prison escape comedy with a musical twist. Directed by Peter Cattaneo, the Oscar-nominated director of international hit The Full Monty, it stars James Nesbitt (Waking Ned, ITV’s Cold Feet), Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense), Timothy Spall (Topsy-Turvy, Secrets and Lies) and Christopher Plummer (The Insider, 12 Monkeys).   It was written by Ronan Bennett (Face, A Further Gesture) and produced by Barnaby Thompson (An Ideal Husband, Spiceworld) and Peter Cattaneo.

James Nesbitt and Olivia Williams play an in-mate and a prison counsellor whose romance blossoms behind prison bars. 

The film starts with Jimmy (James Nesbitt) and Rudy (Lennie James) attempting an ill-planned and badly executed hold-up and robbery at a bank. They are quickly arrested and hauled off to HM Prison Long Rudford. 

It’s not long before they are putting on costumes and wigs and taking singing and dancing lessons. They've turned Thesp, for an awfully amateur production of the prison governor's musical, Nelson - The Musical.

Lucky Break. All Rights Reserved.But all is not what is seems. Behind the theatrical posturing lies an elaborate escape plan. Ringleaders Jimmy and Rudy have come up with what they consider a watertight scheme to coast their way to freedom. But all is not plain sailing when a romance blossoms between Jimmy and his co star Annabel Sweep, the beautiful Prisoner Support officer.

Meanwhile Head of Prison Security Perry (Ron Cook) smells something fishy. Cook’s uncompromising and, at times, sadistic role as Head of Security, Mr Perry, is pivotal to the film:  “Perry is an antagonist and one of the main catalysts for the actual story line, which is always good to play”, explains Cook.  “The rest of the cast called him a baddie, but I played him as someone who does his job very well, but with extreme prejudice.  Moreover, he doesn’t like physical violence and is more of a psychological bully.”

Will it be curtains for Jimmy and his gang, or will they pull off the performance of their lives? And for Jimmy, will the choice be love or liberty? We all know the answer to that don’t we, otherwise it would be a pretty poor show.

Contrary to what Ron Cook says I found his Head of Prison Security character to be too blunt and brutal in the context of what is a romantic comedy. In particular he bullies Cliff Gumball, played by Timothy Spall at his most shabby and down-heeled, and that’s impressively pathetic if you look at his other performances (especially in his Mike Leigh films). “Cliff really shouldn’t be in prison.  He was used by people he thought were his friends and consequently was unable to prove his innocence.  He just wants to serve his sentence, keep his head down and get out,” explains Spall.  Dog-eared, weather-beaten and desperate to be with his young son, Cliff sustains himself with a kind of eternal optimism:  “By nature he is a sensitive and simple guy and in a sense an innocent, and he pays the ultimate price.”

Lucky Break. All Rights Reserved.Spall visited Wandsworth Prison with Olivia Williams and comments:  “I was brought up about two miles from Wandsworth Prison, so I’ve always been aware of it and particularly as a place one would not want to end up in.  Highlighting the importance of his role, Spall explains:  “ I think my character represents the realities of prison life. Anything that isn’t to do with the everyday ritual of work and confinement and, therefore, tedium, must come as a great relief.  The musical also provides Cliff with an opportunity to impress his son.”

The prison musical, Nelson - The Musical is excellent, indeed you want to see more of it than Lucky Break itself. This isn’t surprising, as in reality Stephen Fry is the author of this musical.

James Nesbitt and Olivia Williams work well together as a romantic couple but it is Lennie James as Rudy who stands out once he’s given a few decent scenes later in the film. Unfortunately, Lucky Break tries to cover too many bases and is a jumble of romance, comedy, drama and musical bits. For these reasons it doesn’t quite work as a whole. 

Nigel Watson
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Material Copyright © 2001 Nigel Watson