Clockwise (1986, Christopher Morahan)

At some point during Clockwise, I realized it plays like a TV movie. The direction is fine–Morahan doesn’t have any sweeping vistas, but it’s not because he’s framing it like a TV movie. The script is very funny (though I guess the language is pretty clean–not sure if it’s TV clean). No, it’s John Cleese. It feels like a TV movie because of John Cleese. He’s not giving a performance, he’s doing a milder Basil Fawlty. He’s hilarious doing it, but as a narrative, he’s not playing a character. He’s “doing his thing.”

I suppose TV movie is a little harsh, thinking about it afterwards, I realized it’s a more like a Buster Keaton film, where the point of the film is Keaton and what the viewer expects from him. Same thing here. It’s clear Cleese is playing Basil from his first scene.

There’s also the ending–the film doesn’t really have one–it just stops. It has a continuous present action, taking place over approximately eight hours and when it stops… it’s a bit of a jolt. There’s still a lot more they could have done. There’s zero resolution, which is fine–the last scene sets one up for disappointment.

The supporting cast is excellent–Alison Steadman plays Cleese’s wife (getting that immediate sympathy), Sharon Maiden is good as his sidekick, Penelope Wilton is good as his ex-girlfriend who gets trapped in his antics. Only Stephen Moore falls flat.

It’s very entertaining, but distant and unsatisfying.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Morahan; written by Michael Frayn; director of photography, John Coquillon; edited by Peter Boyle; music by George Fenton; production designer, Roger Murray-Leach; produced by Michael Codron; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Cleese (Brian Stimpson), Alison Steadman (Gwenda Stimpson), Stephen Moore (Mr. Jolly), Sharon Maiden (Laura), Penelope Wilton (Pat Garden) and Joan Hickson (Mrs. Trellis).


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