Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

Here is an interesting film. It came, not from LoveFilm, but form Amazon. In fact, on looking back over this blog I found they sent it in error. I had ordered Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

But I kept the DVD (having seen the film once before - on television in the 1970s) and finally got round to watching it the other day.

Viewed today, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is at once a period piece and strangely prophetic.

It is a period piece because so many familiar faces from earlier British films are in it - Ronald Fraser, Denis Price, Michael Trubshawe. It is also a period piece of the presence of Peter Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. It was shot as the sixties were drawing to a close and Monty Python was about to become the big thing in television comedy (rivalled only by Arthur Lowe, also in the film, and Dad's Army).

The film is prophetic because Rimmer, played by Peter Cook, uses the techniques of public relations and consumer research to become prime minister and then subvert the constitution. On its release the film was seen as fanciful, but it turns out to have anticipated Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson by 25 years.

A few years ago Peter Cook was chosen as the top British comedian by other British comedians. I once spoke about him to Adrian Slade, the former president of the Liberal Democrats, who is the man who auditioned him for the Cambridge Footlights.

Adrian said that Cook was the funniest conversationalist he has ever met - he would make you laugh all evening, though you could remember nothing of what he had said the following morning. However, said Adrian, to be good in revue it is enough to pull on a hat and do a funny voice. That does not make you an actor.

Peter Cook's career bears this observation out as his limitations with an actor are often on display. Michael Rimmer, however, is an outsider whose past is a mystery to us, so Cook's slightly wooden quality and the limited degree to which he engages with the other characters somehow suite the role.

For this reason the claim by William Cook, in a Guardian article a couple of years ago, that The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is a turkey is well wide of the mark. The film is slow to start, with an extra beat after each joke which suggests someone did not trust the script or the audience. But it soon warms up and the satire is relevant even today - or perhaps more today.

The DVD also has an amiable and informative commentary by the director Kevin Billington - almost 40 years on he too is surprised at the film's relevance today and its occasional spots of gratuitous sexism.

Finally, a glimpse of the film...

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

There are also foretastes of Francis Urquhart and Peter Mandelson (I believe one of these is fictional, but can't remember which) in the way he sets up the PM - played by George A Cooper, if I remember correctly - only to destroy him.