On 20-22 September, I attended the 6th Wells-next-the-Sea Film Festival. This event was put on by the community based ‘Screen next the Sea’ and took place at the recently rejuvenated Wells Maltings, which has now been open for a year. I purchased a festival pass so that I could watch five of the six films shown. I wanted to attend it as a sort of warm-up for attending the much bigger Norwich Film Festival, taking place in November 2019. The theme was ‘Keep Calm and Carry on Laughing’ but fortunately there were no ‘Carry on’ films! Although Sidney James did make a brief appearance in one of them.
I spent my teenage years living in Wells-next-the-Sea and used to frequently watch film and theatre performances at the old Granary Theatre, Wells Centre. I saw films such as Ghostbusters, Chariots of Fire and Pink Floyd’s The Wall for the first time there. The old theatre used to only seat around 70 people in several rows, but they could squeeze a few more on the retractable steps if needed. We used to put up actors and performers (Roddy Maude-Roxby, Simon McBurney of Théâtre de Complicité, Harvey & the Wallbangers) for free at our house. One of our tenants, was even the projectionist when the theatre showed ‘The Dark Crystal’. Unfortunately, he forget to turn the sound on and we sat with there with visuals only for around 20 minutes before he realised.
I have attended one previous Screen next the Sea event, which was a showing of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at Alderman Peel High school, which I attended for five years. The school that is, not the screening. SntS were away for two years and three months, as The Maltings underwent a massive, expensive redevelopment. It was apparently a testing period to be away from the Maltings’ according to one of the SntS committee, but they persevered and now find themselves back where they rightly belong. The new venue holds around 120 is a more pleasant, civilised experience than the old ramshackle seating arrangement.
The first film of the weekend was Fighting with My Family. It is a true story of a wrestling family from Norwich. It stars Florence Pugh as Paige (Saraya-Jade Knight), who attended the Hewett Academy, where I taught IELTS lessons earlier this year, and Jack Lowden as her brother, Zak ‘Zodiac’ Knight. Their parents are portrayed by Nick Frost (The Cornetto Trilogy) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones). It is directed by Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras).
I am not a wrestling fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It naturally has a few cliches but generally avoids stereotyping and Norwich does not get treated gets treated as too much of a ‘backwater’. Foreigners will always pronounced it as Nor-Wich. Naturally, it features some city locations, like the market and Mousehold Heath, which forms the backdrop counterpoint to events that take in the second half of the movie in Florida and for Zac to reflect and stew over not being selected by the tough American WWE scout and coach, Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn).
I was aware that the film’s producer, Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson played a significant inspirational role in this movie and his turn really lifts it from an ordinary tale to an extraordinary rise of an unlikely heroine, who battles against the odds and a lot of bullying to become the youngest ever female divas champion at WWE.
The only disappointment was the age-old problem of actors trying to do the Norfolk accent. I hoped it would not happen here, but alas, most accents were more South-West England than Norfolk, possibly influenced by the director, who has a very strong Bristolian accent and has a cameo role in the film. I’ve just bought the DVD, as think my brother will enjoy it. Although it was partially funded by FilmFour, so will probably make its debut on that terrestrial channel.
I approached the second film, Swimming with Men (director: Oliver Parker), without knowing anything about it, apart from a brief description in the programme that was about a male synchronised swimming team. It turned out to be a very recent British comedy, in the mould of The Full Monty (‘Pool’ Monty, anyone?) and starring a ragbag of assorted actors from across the generations. Jim Carter (Brassed Off, Downtown Abbey), Rob Brydon (A Cock and Bull Story, Gavin and Stacey) and Rupert Graves (The Madness of King George, Sherlock) led the way. But they were supported by a bumbling Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions, Murdered by My Father), Thomas Turgoose (Made In England) and Jane Horrocks (Little Voice, Chicken Run, Ab-Fab).
There was an echo of ‘should I stay of should I go’ in the main character, Eric’s running away from situations he can’t cope with. A bit predictably he has to go on a bit of steep learning curve and is the one dishing out advising to the one of the other men who doesn’t want to perform, somewhat bizarrely and with very short notice, at the World Championships in Milan. A bit of love interest, a bit of curiosity whether the actors were really doing all the ‘stunts’, but ultimately too wet. The camera angles intrigued me the most, especially the underwater action cameras, one attached to Turgoose’s character’s head
The scenes when main character Eric (Rob Bryson) gently manoeuvres away from his boring accountancy job and finds his synchronised behaviour being noticed were a nice touch, if a little obvious – The Full Monty again, which was a more satisfying movie.
It is a light-hearted, mildly amusing film. It touches lightly on the theme of male masculinity, but never does anything more than ‘tread water’. Like the team, it didn’t sink completely, and just about held itself together. Unchallenging and undemanding, but OK for a Saturday afternoon, and it pleased the festival crowd. But for something with more depth, I needed to wait for the later films.
On the subject of depth, being six feet under definitely goes beneath the surface. It can’t be that often that a funeral parlour sponsors something, but the third film, Death at a Funeral, was somewhat appropriately supported by S.T. Sutton of Wells. Again, I knew nothing about this film beforehand, but spotted actor, Peter Dinklage in the promotion poster. So after Lena Headey, this was the second Game of Thrones’ face, well third actually, as there is wheelchair-bound role for Grandmaester Peter Vaughan, who incidentally starred in a horror film partly shot in Wells-next-the-Sea in the early 1970s. It was also the second appearance of Rupert Graves, much younger looking and quite different from his ‘Swimming with Men’ character.
Death at a Funeral is fundamentally a quintessential British farce. Whatever can go wrong, goes wrong. There was a lot of underlying anxieties amongst the self-absorbed characters. An accidental intake of a hallucinogenic drug, which was supposed to be Valium, is the key ingredient to make a fairly sober affair into a nightmare. The appearance of Dinklage’s interloper becomes more than just a little problem when he tries to blackmail the family of the deceased. Everyone hams it up, from a stern Peter Egan (Chariots of Fire, Ever Decreasing Circles) to a flapping Kris Marshall (My Family, The Four Feathers) who arguably is more used to ‘Death in Paradise’.
With its bawdy, dark humour and themes, it was more enjoyable than Swimming With Men. I was a big fan of Six Feet Under and that brilliant TV show managed to find humour in arranging funerals. Some of the visual gags were a bit cliched, such as dealing with nudity on the roof, but it was another ensemble cast having fun, as the closing credits can testify. A sterotypical British audience will wince and recoil at some of the set pieces, but edgy themes which go close to or just over the edge, make for funnier films, in my opinion. Recommended!
After a jazz guitar filled break, most of the attendees left. It gave me a chance to speak to some of the SntS committee and ask why they thought Four Lions would be a good film to be included in the programme. Now, I love Chris Morris’ inspired 2010 comedy about incompetent Islamic terrorists. I think it is one of the best films of this century – although neither the Guardian nor the New European included it in their recent top 100 lists. Having seen it several times, I feel it’s impact has waned a little. But at the time, I thought it was a remarkable film. How so much comedy can be extracted from such a serious and deadly topic was testament to the writing of Morris and the superb actors, such as Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker, Cuban Fury) and Adeel Akhtar (Swimming with Men). I still chuckle at some of the best lines, a lot of them from Barry, the ‘most al-Qaeda one’. Some of the StnS committee love it too, but it is obviously not to everyone’s tastes – one person walked out, leaving about ten of us to watch it until the sad ending. Pathos.
On Sunday, some of the committee entertained the small crowd at The Maltings, with several tunes. David, the pianist (above), expertly ran through a few songs with a cinematic theme, such as ‘As Time Goes By’ from Casablanca. A drum session with Joolz followed*.
The Smallest Show on Earth is by far the oldest of the films that were shown over the weekend. The committee particularly like this 1957 film, starring Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Peter Sellers, Lesley Phillips and Margaret Rutherford, because they see parallels with their own venture in rejuvenating an old, run down cinema. The Bijou Kinematic, nicknamed “the flea pit”, stands in the shadows of a more modern (for 1957), grander cinema, which the Bijou’s new owners mistakenly think at first was their inheritance. There are echoes in how the old Regal in Clubbs Lane, in Wells, survived, whereas the one that thought that talkies would never take off, died. There are echoes of that in this film, too, with Margaret Rutherford recalling the days of silent films with her piano playing in one scene. It has an uninspiring start, but warmed up with some funny moments. Some of the films were shown upside down or with no sound. Being situated next to a busy train line, there were some unintended ‘special effects’, like a rollercoaster ride, while the deliberate heating up of the place, while showing a film set in the desert, provided a great business opportunity. The rival Grand’s owner tries to sabotage the new owners’ efforts by adding a bottle of whisky to a British News reel box delivery. Elderly projectionist Mr Quinn (Sellers) felt to me like an early template for Dad’s Army’s Cpl. Jones and at one point the words ‘Don’t Panic’ were even screamed by the owners as they took over from a drunken Quinn! Overall, a great choice by the SntS committee, and I can see why they chose it.
The final film at the festival, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is familiar to me and I didn’t need to watch this for a third time. It came out in 2013 when I was doing a trail of the Norwich city GoGoGorillas with my nephew, one of which was in the guise of North North Digital radio’s Alan, that comic creation of Steve Coogan. The premier was in Anglia Square. There are some funny scenes when he tries to stitch up his colleague, Pat. But compared to Fighting with my Family, it is not as funny or as thought-provoking. With many scenes filmed in London that purported to be Norwich, it doesn’t really do justice to the city. Charlie, one of the projectionists (below) for SntS, was in the Forum when they filmed the escape scene outside Norwich City Hall.
Projectionists, Charlie (left) and Net (right), dressed up before the screening of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
This article has been checked and given the thumbs-up by the committee and is published with their permission.
On 26 September, I attended a recruitment event at The Forum in Norwich and submitted an application to be part of the Norwich Film Festival.
Wells resident, Roger Law, who attended the Film Festival on Saturday, has just announced the return of TV’s Spitting Image.