The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Mark Gatiss
Steve Pemberton
Reece Shearsmith
Michael Sheen
David Warner
Bernard Hill
Victoria Wood
Simon Pegg

directed by
Steve Bendelack

Few British comedies can be better suited to make the difficult transfer from small to big screen than The League of Gentlemen. There was always a definite cinematic quality to Royston Vasey and its grotesque inhabitants. But from the outset, it’s clear that this is not merely an extended episode with a greater budget to play with.

The clue is in the title – this is The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, not Royston Vasey: Apocalypse. Fans hoping for a straightforward run through of favourite characters and catchphrases may be disappointed.

The film opens in an appropriately alarming fashion with the League’s camera shy co-creator Jeremy Dyson (played here by Michael Sheen) being ambushed in his home by Tubbs and Edward. You see the writers have moved on to other projects and, facing extinction, the inhabitants of Royston Vasey have decided to do something about it.

Fortunately Bernice the vicar has discovered a portal into the ‘real’ world (it leads to Hadfield – the Northern town where much of the television series was filmed) allowing them to, literally, meet their makers.

After a few brief cameos from Royston regulars, it falls to Hilary Briss, Herr Lipp and inept Geoff to make the journey to Soho in search of Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith.

Initially it seems like an odd decision to focus on these three, but one of the League’s many joys was the way they gave depth and shape to all their characters as the series progressed. It’s not a new idea, fictional characters confronting their creators, but the League milk it for all its comic potential before changing the rules once more and detouring into their new screenplay, a 17th century supernatural thriller called The King’s Evil.

What saves Apocalypse – just – from complete post-modern implosion is its total commitment to its own warped logic. It also helps that the expected mix of literary and cinematic references (some obvious, some less so) and dark, frequently scatological, humour is unaltered.

This is a film that works within its own parameters, necessarily ditching some of the show’s blacker elements and instead humanising previously one-note characters, a process that is made possible by the not inconsiderable acting talent of the central trio, especially Gatiss as the repulsive but commanding Briss. It also manages to reflect, somewhat loosely, on what happens when writers decide to leave behind their most popular creations.

The League have envisaged this as a stand alone film and, while it has no real narrative connection with its TV counterpart, it’s hard to imagine what you’d make of it without prior knowledge of the characters and their world. I suspect this is going to be one of those films you either get or you don’t; it’s bound to alienate some fans. The ending is also a bit of a let down despite the presence of a three-headed stop-motion monster.

What it does have, however, is numerous powdered wigs, litres of giraffe spunk and Victoria Wood talking about cocks; in other words the makings of a distinctly British cult film, a real late night curio, and I don’t imagine the League will be too disappointed with that result.

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