The Revengers' Comedies (1998)
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In this film, Karen (Helena Bonham Carter) and Henry (Sam Neill) meet one night on a bridge where they both went to commit suicide. Henry is interrupted from jumping by the cries of Karen who has botched her attempt. After he saves her, they commiserate and decide that getting revenge would be better than committing suicide. They make a pact where each of them agrees to even the score for the other with their respective objects of contempt.
Karen becomes a secretary to Henry's old boss (Steve Coogan) and proceeds to make his life a living hell, convincing his wife he is having an affair. Henry's target is Imogen (Kristen Scott Thomas), whom Karen hates because she stole her husband back from Karen, with whom he was having an affair. The film is replete with highbrow humor that you would only see in an English film. There is plenty of class-warfare comedy poking fun at the aristocracy.
Helena Bonham Cater is brilliantly droll as the diabolical Karen. She is deliciously evil as she cunningly plots Bruce's demise. Long known as a terrific dramatic actor, Bonham Carter shows here that she can convert that energy into an intensely offbeat and funny character with equal impact. Sam Neill is also entertaining as Henry, a bumbling victim of fate who allows himself to be swept along by circumstances. Kristin Scott Thomas does a superb job of portraying Imogen, a woman steeped in affectation and arrogance, who ultimately becomes a casualty of love.
This highly entertaining film requires a certain refined sense of humor to enjoy. I rated it an 8/10. It will lack punch for the average viewer, but for the viewer who enjoys subtlety and irony it will be amusing and enjoyable.
The three leads are superb, but watch for the secondary leads, such as the boss who gets the axe by his wife due to his being set up, or the husband who gets shot by accident and everyone is ecstatic or, best of all, the head housekeeper who is taking two or three years to break in her replacement.
Get it, rent it, do whatever you need to do to see it and laugh. Then sit around as I am with impatience waiting for the sequel.
I think this was intended to be another quirky English comedy. Unfortunately, the supposed humor generally feels mean-spirited. I kept expecting the plot was all about a scam or practical joke, and that the dead folks would pop up and start laughing. No such luck. The ending seems arbitrary and abrupt. The narration is pointless (was it intended to "fix" a major re-editing?).
The other comments talk about this being a wonderful example of droll English humor. Yes, I realize the English tend to have a different sense of humor, but I wouldn't have considered this an example.
Do not encourage bad films like this...they'll only make more!
It is understated and unpredictable with very solid performances all around. I even liked Helena Bonham Carter, who fit her role to a tee, since she was as annoying as usual, which was exactly what was called for.
Although I expect that many people may find this film a bit slow and maybe even too cerebral compared with more modern fare (which doesn't really say much for our society, I think), I personally loved it and consider it another hidden gem.
Taking its starting point as the Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train, this comedy goes down a fairly predictable route without doing a great deal to make it stick in my mind. The script splits the film down the middle on one hand we have the scheming Karen destroying Tick, while on the other we have Henry battling with Anthony for the love of his wife. The former is amusing if simple, while the latter is rather plodding mainly because it has to carry a narrative thread that will give the film something to end on. While it just about does enough to keep moving forward and be watchable, it never does anything that well. At no point did I laugh more than one chuckle perhaps, neither was I engaged by the plot beyond watching it unfold along the lines I knew it would. Failure to excel in any area whatsoever means that the end result is rather bland if not actually "bad".
The cast match this tone and none of them have much that they can do a great deal with. Neill is therefore a bit wooden because he has the lesser role; Carter on the other hand enjoys herself and hams it up, providing at least a bit of colour to the role. Scott Thomas is rather bland and doesn't add a great deal, although Clunes is his enjoyable annoying self. Coogan is amusing but not annoying enough to make us wish for his fate instead I felt rather sorry for him. Graves is "wacky" but Smith is funny, Wood is OK, Dobson plays the same screaming old tart that she always does although Coleman is cute.
Overall, a fairly bland film that doesn't do anything that well. The plot is predictable but of some value in at least moving the film forward, but it moves it without providing any drama or laughs to engage the audience. It may provide enough to distract you if you are really undemanding but it is probably not worth the effort.
"The Revengers' Comedies" is the other British exception to the general cinematic disregard of Ayckbourn's work, although I must say that it was a strange choice to adapt for the screen. The original play was not a success when it was put on in the West End in 1991, largely because it runs for five hours and was presented in two parts over two successive evenings. Malcolm Mowbray's film makes no attempt to match the play in length; indeed, at only 86 minutes it is shorter than most films these days. This means that, inevitably, much of Ayckbourn's original material has to be jettisoned. Mowbray, however, keeps the plural noun "comedies" in the title, which Ayckbourn used to signify that this was a two-part play.
The title is a play on "The Revenger's Tragedy", the Jacobean tragedy which has been attributed to both Cyril Tourneur and Thomas Middleton. The plot owes something to Alfred Hitchcock's film "Strangers on a Train". It starts with the two principal characters meeting when they attempt to commit suicide by jumping from Tower Bridge. (The Albert Bridge in the play). Henry Bell, a middle-aged business executive, has recently been sacked from his job. Karen Knightly, the eccentric daughter of a wealthy country family, has been involved in an unhappy love affair with a married man. When both fail in their suicide bids, they compare stories and agree that each will exact revenge for their misfortunes on behalf of the other. Karen will seek revenge on Henry's unpleasant former boss Bruce Tick while Henry will seek revenge, not against Karen's former lover Anthony Staxton-Billing, with whom she is still in love, but against his wife Imogen whom Karen blames for her misfortunes. A complication arises, however, when Henry meets Imogen and starts to fall in love with her.
The film features a number of well-known names from the British acting profession, most of whom play their parts very well. I felt that Sam Neill perhaps made Henry too staid and conservative compared to Griff Rhys Jones' interpretation when he played the part on stage; I felt that Henry must have had a darker side to his character to have gone along with Karen's mad scheme in the first place. Helena Bonham Carter, however, was brilliant as Karen, a spoilt, wilful upper-class brat, wildly eccentric to the point of insanity. I felt that Steve Coogan's Tick was insufficiently arrogant and bullying, but Martin Clunes' Anthony was suitably obnoxious, essentially a crude thug in the clothing of an English country gentleman. Kristin Scott Thomas seems to play upper-class horsey types at regular ten-year intervals; her Brenda Last from 1988's "A Handful of Dust" and her Veronica Whittaker from 2008's "Easy Virtue" are, socially speaking, very similar characters to the one she plays here. Imogen, however, is more sympathetic than either Brenda or Veronica; although she initially comes across as a hard-bitten snob, we soon realise that underneath she is a vulnerable figure, the victim of a selfish, womanising husband.
There is a lot of humour in the film; the funniest scenes, I felt, were those where Karen disguises herself as a frumpy office temp in order to infiltrate Tick's company and that strange duel between Henry and Anthony. And yet the film as a whole did not work for me quite as well as the play. (I seem to be not only one of the few people who actually saw the 1991 production but also one of the even smaller group of people who liked it).
Ayckbourn's success as a dramatist is due not merely to the quality of his plots and dialogue but also on matters which transfer less easily to the cinema screen, such as complexity of structure and his knowledge of stagecraft. (Besides being a playwright, he is also the artistic director of a theatre). By condensing the five hours of his "Revengers Comedies" into less than an hour and a half, much of the dramatic material in the plays has had to be sacrificed, and the result is something less complex and less well-structured than the original play. (The ending in particular is rather disappointing). The film version also loses something of the dark quality of Ayckbourn's black comedy. It is a valiant attempt to adapt Ayckbourn for the screen, but it perhaps also indicates why such an attempt is fraught with difficulty and why so few films have been based on his plays. 7/10