Dir. Johnny Daukes, UK, 2012, 81 mins
Review by Jean Lynch
Acts of Godfrey is told in rhyme and this, along with its style, archetypal characters and themes, plot and subplots, makes comparisons with one William Shakespeare inevitable. Emulating the Bard is always hazardous but writer/director Johnny Daukes pulls it off and how! Trust me when I say that the form works and is quite delightful, with dialogue delivered unobtrusively by an excellent ensemble cast, doesn’t feel forced but flows naturally, and you can’t help but raise a smile at the clever word play. The film is witty, sharp and very hip.
We meet a rattle bag of characters congregating at a country hotel, the setting for a two-day motivational conference on successful selling. There’s ‘decent’ Vic Timms (Robertson), the ‘everyman’ who lacks the killer instinct, and medical reps, Terry (Ian Burfield) and Phil (Jay Simpson), who have it by the bucketful, along with a new drug, a combination of Viagra and coke, called ‘Poke’; an unrepentant widow-preying conman, Malcolm (a stand-out creepy performance from Harry Enfield) and his unwilling, downtrodden sidekick, Gita (Shobu Kapoor); Jamie, the cool dude music manager guy and, finally, two women – Jacqui (Mackichan) from Romford who sells ‘Spanish Villas to Villains with Clout’ and vixen-like Mary (Waring) who ‘can’t say no’ in business but is ‘f***ing frigid’. Prompted by course leader, Bradley Angel (Demetri Goritsas), each relates their story in a series of vignettes, highly stylised – Mary’s tale is in the style of a lavish Busby Berkley number – amusing and each in keeping with their personalities. Presiding over all this is Godfrey, our narrator, otherwise known as ‘Allah, Mohammed or God’ but ‘might just as well be called Gary or Rod’. He moves around the characters unseen, speaking directly to audience, ‘all knowing and seeing, the ultimate being.’
According to Godfrey, we are all just cards in a game he controls – ‘performers, obediently playing a role’. The question the film asks is whether events are pre-determined or if people can give fate ‘a bit of a shove’. Certainly, there seems a grander plan at work when it is slowly revealed, in a series of somehow plausible twists of plot worthy of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, that the lives of this seemingly random and mismatched bunch of people are, in fact, interconnected, with actions in the past having consequences in the present. Full credit to Daukes then that armed with all the ingredients of a full-blooded farce he chooses not to cook them up too much and instead keeps the humour real, deliciously dark, and on just the right side of pathos.
There is much to be admired here, not least the audaciousness of the risks taken in producing such a film. There will, of course, be naysayers, and it is a fact that the audience is always aware that this is a piece of art they’re watching, but then the film has no pretensions of being otherwise. In fact, during a highly sensual love scene (the editing, score & imagery being particularly evocative of arousal crescending to climax) in which Mary experiences her first orgasm, Godfrey chips in with a history of how the act of sex has been portrayed figuratively in cinema over the years, demonstrating the film’s self-awareness. One has to engage the brain in order to appreciate it, and it is undeniably a work of art, but when it’s well-done and highly enjoyable art what, may I ask, is wrong with that?
This is also one of the new breed of smaller theatrical releases that is simultaneously being released for paid viewing on Video on Demand, ensuring that even if you don’t live near to one of the ‘selected cinemas’ it’s screening at, you don’t have to miss out. The furore ahead of the recent film policy review demonstrated that audiences really do care about new, innovative homegrown film talent and this is the perfect opportunity to support that – and have a great night in too!
Popcorn is optional.
WATCH THE FULL FILM ACTS OF GODFREY NOW!
Acts of Godfrey is available to buy on DVD from 16th April 2012.