Skip to main content

Never liked the fellow. Not sound on pigs.

Heavy Weather
(1995)

Why the BBC saw fit to furnish us with but one solitary ‘90s visit to Blanding Castle yet has since gone on to serve up two (so far) atrocious recent series with a markedly inferior cast is beyond me, but it’s most likely indicative of the Corporation’s increasingly slender grasp of quality control. Heavy Weather would have been the perfect opportunity to begin a prestige PG Wodehouse series, one to rival Granada’s Jeeves and Wooster.


Curiously, Douglas Livingstone (whose work includes the BBC’s classic 1981 Day of the Triffids) chose, or was asked, to adapt the fourth Blandingsnovel. While it couldn’t be said that the results suffer from undetailed backstory (Wodehouse tales are generally pretty much the same, it’s the conjugation that makes them sing), Heavy Weather(1933) is a direct sequel to Summer Lightning (1929, also known as Fish Preferred), and as such most of the principal plot strands are direct continuances. With the exception of Monty Bodkin’s involvement (a perfectly cast Samuel West), for whom this is his first Plum role, the line-up consists mostly of returnees. Even Lord Tilbury (Richard Johnson), though not appearing in Summer Lightning, is involved via Pilbeam (David Bamber).


In both then, the plots hatched and machinations manoeuvred revolve around the quest to publish, or prevent the publishing of, the Hon. Galahad Threepwood’s (Richard Briers) memoirs – full of scurrilous gossip that will cause great embarrassment to those implicated and no doubt lead to the family losing “every friend we have” – and the potential nobbling of his brother Clarence’s, Lord Emsworth’s (Peter O’Toole), prize pig the Empress (by  Ronald Fraser’s Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe). There are also the prerequisite romantic entanglements and miscommunications; both nephew Ronnie Fish (Benjamin Soames) and Sue Brown (Rebecca Lacey), the chorus girl he’s engaged to and who meets with the disapproval of Lady Constance Keeble (Judy Parfitt), sister of Galahad and Clarence, appeared in Summer Lightning.


The key to a good Wodehouse adaptation, given that they can’t possibly translate the author’s fundamental genius – his musical prose – is to cast a director and actors able to assemble something of his sprightliness and tempest-in-a-teacup scenarios. And, where necessary, the knockabout farce (the recent Blandings seemed to think the latter was the sum total of Wodehouse, along with additional manure-centric jokes).


The director of this Verity Lambert-produced piece was Jack Gold, a TV stalwart (The Naked Civil Servant) who also forayed onto the big screen (Aces High, directing O’Toole in Man Friday 20 years before this gig) and he mostly provides a limber showing. Perhaps P Frobisher Pilbeam is a touch overdone as a creeping louse, lurking behind plant pots and suits of armour and announced by a sinister musical cue; Bamber certainly overplays him. And Soames’ Ronnie is possibly just a bit too wet; you need someone who can bring a flavour of character to even the most custom-fit and empty-headed romantic lead, and Soames is very much on the vanilla side.


Generally, though, this is spot-on, confidently inhabiting the deceptively difficult space between the slightly staider atmosphere of the aging Blandings residents and the ever-boiling imbroglios of activity that blight Bertie Wooster. O’Toole is magnificent as the not-wholly-there Clarence, fussing over his pigs and continually rebuked by his sister (when characters repeatedly assert they are scared of her, Parfitt makes certain we can see why). Briers absolutely runs with Sir Galahad too, already a past-master playing Wooster for BBC Radio in the early 1970s and clearly delighted to get his teeth into another classic Wodehouse creation.


Notable memorable moments include Sir Galahad’s anecdote regarding brothers Freddie and Eustace, the former habitually so pickled, he suffers no ill-effects when served up the roadkill hedgehog that lays low his abstemious brother (“What a curse meals are! If people would only stick to drinking, doctors would soon be out of business”). There’s Monty’s gaffe writing the “Uncle Woggly” newspaper column (advising the wee tots on an easy way to make a spot of money; “Get some mug, lure him into betting a quart whisky bottle holds more than a quart of whisky”), thus incurring the wrath of his employer Lord Tilbury.


Who is continually affronted by Galahad referring to him as “Stinker, I mean Pike, I mean Tilbury” (“Don’t, call me Stinker”; there’s something of the Spode to Johnson’s performance), and desperate for Galahad’s manuscript (“I beg you, on behalf on the English language”). Emsworth’s reaction to Pilbeam getting soaked when they are fortifying the Empress’ miniature castle during a downpour is much deserved (“Who cares about you? Can I enter you for champion pig?”), and Pilbeam is also singled out by way of the enduring unpopularity of facial hair in Wodehouse (“We should never have trusted him when we saw that moustache”).


Everything turns out fine, of course, except for Galahad’s manuscript (pig food). Presumably Ronnie and Sue tied the not, as this was his third and final Plum appearance (I don’t know offhand if he’s referred to again). Monty Bodkin, of course, even goes on to get his very own titles. Heavy Weather was broadcast on Christmas Eve 1995 and, if it wasn’t for the Radio 4 version with Richard Vernon’s Emsworth (for some reason the BBC hasn’t seen fit to make them available; they do at least exist, unlike the 1967 series with Ralph Richardson as Emsworth and Stanley Holloway as Beach, of which only one episode survives), and a full series had been given the go ahead, it would be easy to imagine this taking its place as the definitive take on Blandings. Heavy Weather isn’t available on DVD, but it can be found (currently) on YouTube.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

A machine planet, sending a machine to Earth, looking for its creator. It’s absolutely incredible.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
(SPOILERS) Most of the criticisms levelled at Star Trek: The Motion Picture are legitimate. It puts spectacle above plot, one that’s so derivative it might be classed as the clichéd Star Trek plot. It’s bloated and slow moving. For every superior redesign of the original series’ visuals and concepts, there’s an inferior example. But… it’s also endlessly fascinating. It stands alone among the big screen chapters of series as an attempted reimagining of the TV show as a grand adult, serious-minded “experience”, taking its cues more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the success of which got The Motion Picture (TMP) a green light, execs sufficiently convinced that Lucas’ hit wasn’t a one-off). It’s a film (a motion picture, not a mere movie) that recognises the passage of time (albeit clumsily at points) and gives a firm sense of space and place to its characters universe. It’s hugely flawed, but it bot…