Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth

ICA Films
Simon DaVison/United Kingdom 2008

The British TV comedy Green Wing, which – like this film – starred Tamsin Greig and Mark Heap, was pure anarchic comedy genius. Greig was unable to choose between her boyfriends due to drunkenness, sexual tension and the crippling need to be polite. Meanwhile, Heap had to go on the run in a stolen caravan after beating a dwarf to death with a stuffed heron. No other show has ever reduced me to tears of laughter, curled into the fetal position on the floor, unable to breathe. The chance to see them be funny on film together was too good to pass up. But the fact that Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth is an unbearably awful waste of time is really not their faults.

Simon DaVison has taken the same concept as The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” video to feature length, with nowhere near the budget, directorial ability or technical skill. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored or annoyed in a cinema. The plot’s a laughable joke: Instead of the clever retro sci-fi parody it desperately wants to be, the attempts to poke fun at the tiny budget only reveal a feeble lack of imagination. Greig, Heap and James Vaughan (a Bruce Campbell wannabe) do their damnedest, but the comedy fell so flat there wasn’t a single laugh-out-loud moment.

So how was something this cheap able to receive distribution? British film should be supported; but rather than invest in the new Edgar Wright or Richard Curtis, British companies seem to prefer to support “local” films. Has anyone outside the United Kingdom heard of the recent comedies Sex Lives of the Potato Men, Mrs. Ratcliffe’s Revolution, Sixty Six, St. Trinian’s or The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse? No surprise; these films aren’t saleable internationally because they aren’t very good. When I mentioned I was reviewing a British comedy to friends, their immediate and universal reaction was, “Poor you.” I hate saying they were right.

Anthony Minghella, whose death is a huge loss, was a driving force in trying to get British cinema to think bigger and better. However, his attempts to do so revealed an alarming thought process in a significant sector of the industry: since we can’t compete with Hollywood budgets or star power, let’s not bother competing with quality scripts or concepts either. Let’s just do something small and since we have the government subsidies, who cares if it’s any good?

Is this why British comedy television genius collapses utterly on a bigger screen? The mindset of smallness Minghella railed against is definitely more suited to television. And it seems the smaller stakes make everyone relax and create absolutely brilliant work: Just this year we’re enjoying Pulling, Gavin and Stacey, Saxondale, and Moving Wallpaper, never mind the slightly older Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show, Phoenix Nights or The Office. These shows aren’t designed to compete with global smash hits like Desperate Housewives or Ugly Betty, but they are taking their specific niche and enjoying exploring it to the hilt.

I cannot wait for the small British comedy that pulls this off on film. Sad to say, I am still waiting.

© 2008 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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