Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

The latest trick from Essex-born writer and director Ben Wheatley is a darkly funny, deeply English character piece drawn, ever so slightly, from no less than Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.

Shot somewhat on the cheap in two weeks with a little improvisation from a hand-picked cast, it lacks the elaborate (and expensive) violence of Wheatley’s High-Rise or the chaotic action of his Free Fire, but it’s no less punishing at times because, guv, it’s all about family.

Neil Maskell (star of Ben’s Kill List) is Colin Burstead, a geezer with anger problems who still wants to bond with his extended family, and therefore rents a luxury Dorset manor so they can all celebrate New Year’s together. However, the first shot of Colin vaping grimly in slo-mo, as if the hero of a Western waiting for the baddies to arrive, warns us that this is going to be a difficult evening. And it certainly is.

Some 18 family members and several hangers-on arrive, and they’re quite a bunch, with Colin’s Dad Gordon (Bill Paterson, late of TV’s Fleabag) dashing around when Mum Sandy (Doon Mackichan) half-intentionally takes a tumble on the front doorstep, sister Gini (Hayley Squires) spoiling for a foul-mouthed fight and poor old Bertie (Charles Dance) trying to get a word in edgeways. There are naturally subplots aplenty, but the most serious involves Colin’s estranged brother David (Sam Riley), who Gini unwisely invited and whom the unforgiving Colin hasn’t seen in five years. No wonder Clint Mansell’s score sounds like it belongs in a Kenneth Branagh costume epic.

The performances are all strong, with Wheatley’s proxy Maskell unafraid to get nasty and particularly fine work from Dance, who seems to get better as he grows older. However, given the tense and uneasy build-up, it doesn’t quite click as you’d hope, and with the eventual pseudo-Shakespearean confrontations lacking something, in the end.

Nevertheless, there’s much here to enjoy for anyone who has a family, and it again demonstrates that director Wheatley (glimpsed at the very end) is a name to watch. And, perhaps, be wary of.

Reviewer Rating

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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