The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse

| June 3, 2005

Something of a cult in deepest darkest Britannia, I don’t think there was a man, woman, child or beast in the land who wasn’t disturbed, enlightened, unsettled and hugely entertained by this fantastical comedy when it made it’s debut on our screens back in the 1990’s. The feature film sees the characters cross over into the ‘real’ world to avert a devastating apocalypse in their hometown of Royston Vasey. Most of the characters are here, but the story itself revolves around just three of them, namely; Hilary Bliss, Herr Lip and everybody’s favourite gun totting loser Geoff.
The film has come out a slightly lighter shade than the series, but according to the writers it was not intentional and just developed this way when they were writing it. Which does mean some of the darker aspects of the humour are lost, slightly, but not entirely and compared to more mainstream films it remains dark enough, with good sight gags like an ejaculating giraffe and some nasty Oedipal eye loss for the more gore inclined among us.
Most interesting is the three new characters that are introduced when Geoff travels into the 17th Century. Tinged with the macabre and dressed appropriately, they are brilliantly realised right down to the twitches and over done make-up. It’s a great section of the film, coming across like the fantastic literature of the 19th Century, set as it is in late Medieval times involving daemons and sorcerers. For me it was the best part in a film that I really wanted to love, but I felt was not quite as knockout or cutting-edge as the series was. Some of the darker characters don’t get much of a look in, like Tubbs, Edward and my personal favourite the scarily uncanny Papa Lazarou, the very definition of Freud’s das unheimlich, a frightening circus ring leader who frequently calls everybody Dave, collects wives and likes to say, ‘This is just a saga now’, in a raspy, gurgling voice. He is nothing short of utter comic genius, perfectly pitching the comic with the frighteningly surreal, but we don’t see much of him in the film, although admittedly he is a somewhat difficult character to base a film on. Alas, what we have is a film that fans will love, but I’m not too sure people who haven’t seen the series will quite get what’s going on.
Like the greatly lamented and exceptionally brilliant sitcom Spaced (where’s that 3rd series, damn you!), the TV series of The League of Gentlemen used cinematic techniques to create it’s visual style and it worked wonders on the small screen, but perhaps doesn’t quite appear as sharp on the big screen, but this doesn’t make for a bad movie, far from it. There’s plenty to enjoy and the film piles layer upon layer to create a richly textured film with a lot of inter-textual references and parodying with knowing nods to the series and other films coming thick and fast. One notable pastiche is the stop-motion monster towards the end of the film, a definite nod to Ray Harryhausen and it does make for an exciting finale. Like the series it is lots of fun, grandiloquent, dismal, affectingly playful with the ideas and the characters, with the jokes being punctual but somehow not quite as daring as the series. The plot becomes overtly self-referential almost to the point where I thought the characters were going to come into the screening room, as much of the London based action is set in and around Soho. But to my disappointment they didn’t, probably for the best really as the shock may well have sent me running – screaming – back to the madhouse.
The transition from small to silver screen is effective and The League have produced a film that’s worthy and I imagine will be a massive hit, especially when it’s released on DVD, as some of the references will take more than one viewing to have an impact on the audience, as it does remain, after all, a local film, for local people.

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