Sunday, 26 October 2008
IMDb Link : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0419256/
Richard E. Grant writes and directs this film, partly based on his own life, about a young boy growing up in 1960s colonial Swaziland. The subject matter may sound as dry as the Serengeti and although it’s no ‘White Mischief’ it is still an enjoyable film with some decent performances.
The film opens with our young hero, Ralph, seemingly asleep on the back seat of a car but he is actually awake and witnessing his mother getting it on with a neighbour. Infidelity is seemingly a way of life in the colonies with heavy drinking filling up the rest of the day. Ralph’s Dad, played by Gabriel Byrne, is a career army man now charged with arranging schools, a task that sees him away from home a lot, a situation that doesn’t help his chronic alcoholism.
His Mum, played by Miranda Richardson has grown tired of the life and when Dad takes on a new commission she decides to leave the family for her lover leaving the boy with only a lip stick smeared glass to remember her by. Dad finds solace in the arms of local busybody Julie Walters and finding his son something of a handful sends him off to boarding school. He returns a few years later, now played by the kid out of ‘About a Boy’ to find his Dad has married feisty American Emily Watson who upsets the stuffy social balance of the community.
Watson’s ballsy and brash character inspires the boy to come out of his shell and rebel against the ‘wah-wah’ double talk of their ‘superiors. He gets a part in a local production of ‘Camelot’ and despite some rebellion involving ‘A Clockwork Orange’ things look good for opening night, especially as Princess Margaret is coming. With the show on track, only Dad’s nagging head ache can put a spanner in the works and thwart a potential happy ending.
I quite enjoyed this film which beats a similar path as ‘White Mischief in showing that Brits behaving bad abroad is nothing new. It does however lack the intensity of that film as well as the violence and nudity. As a memoir I’m sure it’s pretty interesting for Grant and his family but for an outsider looking in, not an awful lot happens.
Nicholas Hoult does well as the 14 year old Ralph although playing an awkward teenager with a love for drama presumably wasn’t much of a stretch. His parents were less good with Byrne especially unconvincing as the drunk gun toting father. Richardson is OK as the Mum but I never though she was as bad as the script seemed to want to suggest. Further down the line you get most of the cast from ‘Acorn Antiques’ with Julie Walters and Celia Imrie doing their Mrs Overall and Toffee nosed snob lady respectively. Watson was a bit jarring as the free spirited American and her casting didn’t seem believable against the stuffy colonial officer Byrne.
The predictable scenes of rebelling against the establishment were clear and present and while being a lot of fun for the participants, came across to this viewer as a bit ill mannered and rude. As a bio-pic the film would have been better if Grant has used his experiences wholesale because once you go down the ‘inspired by’ route you start wondering if all the interesting stuff is made up and the dull stuff real.
It’s not a particularly bad film but as a rites of passage piece it doesn’t really inspire, and towards the end I couldn’t care less if a rhino charged through the lot of them. Now that would have liven things up a bit!
Best Bit : Ducking into ‘A Clockwork Orange’
‘W’ Score 14/23