2018

BFI COMEDY GENIUS: Sightseers (2012)

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Kenneth Hadley

Written by Tom Sheffield

“I’m not coming home. Yorkshire is lovely. Not like you said at all. They can smile and they do sell my pasta sauce.”

The second strand of Showroom Cinema’s BFI Comedy Genius season is Contemporary British Comedy – an exploration of quintessentially British wit, expect a bitter twist and a sprinkling of social realism delivered by the British stars of today (and tomorrow). Kicking off this strand was Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, a film that took me by complete surprise when I first watched a couple of years ago, and one I was very interested in watching with an audience just to hear their reactions to the bat-shit craziness that ensues. So on Saturday afternoon, I was joined by fellow Yorkshire folk in the comfort of Screen 4 at Showroom, pint in hand (of course) for 85 minutes of ‘WHAT THE FUCK!?’

Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) have been dating for 3 months and decide to do a little tour of Yorkshire with Chris’ caravan in tow. Chris is an aspiring writer and is hoping some time in the British countryside with his girlfriend will help him with ideas. The couple’s relationship appears like any other, and in truth, they come off like a match made in heaven, with similar personalities and they both appear to love every moment they’re together. Tina’s mother is much against her daughter going away with Chris, even going as far as telling Chris she doesn’t like him as he’s about to drive off with her daughter in the passenger seat.

During their first stop at the National Tramway Musuem, Chris’ blood begins to boil as he calls a man out for littering and he refuses to pick it up. The ordeal starts to completely ruin the day for Chris and as he and Tina are about to leave the museum he accidentally reverses his caravan over the man, leaving him with a huge gash spurting gash in his neck. His wife and son look on in horror and Chris tries to cover Tina’s eyes from the horror – but neither of them can take their eyes odd the dying man. After they leave the police station the pair continue their holiday. The event at that museum sparks a bloody and relentless killing spree, but whilst Chris tries to justify his murders – one being “he’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader”  – but Tina’s erratic and unpredictable nature begins to make Chris question their relationship.

Lowe and Oram are fantastic as the loved-up serial killers and what makes this dark comedy so good is that you actually buy them as real people. Tina and Chris look and act (in public) like an average couple you might see wandering around the beautiful sights of Yorkshire. This film needed strong leads to make its audience believe this relationship was real because everything they do they think they’re doing for each other – and luckily it has them. The film also features some familiar British talent, including Eileen Davies, Tony Way, and Richard Lumsden.

Murder sprees aside, Wheatley beautifully captures the British countryside and some of the characters you’ll find wandering through it. We get a look round some of the museums, my favourite being the Pencil Museum which includes a scene of Tina trying to write a heartfelt letter with a pencil as big as her. There’s also some genuinely hilarious exchanges of dialogue between some of the characters, but they’re best heard in context,

Watching this film with an audience was just as interesting as I hoping it would be. Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re supposed to laugh or be shocked at some of the couple’s antics, but it’s reassuring when everyone else is belly laughing at scenes that made you question how dark your sense of humour is. The audible gasps and wincing from some of the audience also made managed to add bring a few more laughs to the screening.

A special mention must also go out to the make-up and visual effects department for some absolutely brilliant and grotesque work on Tina and Chris’ victims. There’s one in particular where someone’s face, uhm, meets a rock and the camera shyly hovers over the shoulders of the couple to give us a quick look at the aftermath. If blood makes you a little queasy, be sure to have a sick bag to hand if you plan to watch this (which you totally should).

The film’s runtime clocks out at around the right time, the killing does become a little much and you can’t help but find yourself questioning how this film will bow out. Thankfully, and without spoiling it, the film comes does close in a fitting manner and perhaps not how you imagined it would.

Those with a dark sense of humour ought to crack out the Yorkshire tea, put your feet up, and stick Sightseers on one night you need a good laugh.

For more information, and details of the various workshops and Q+A sessions ongoing throughout the comedy season, click here.

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