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  Wilt Livid Doll
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Tuchner
Stars: Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith, Alison Steadman, Diana Quick, Jeremy Clyde, Roger Allam, David Ryall, Roger Lloyd Pack, Dermot Crowley, John Normington, Tony Mathews, Charles Lawson, Gabrielle Blunt, Edward Clayton, Jeffrey Chiswick, Barbara Hicks
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Life could be going better for Henry Wilt (Griff Rhys Jones), but he has no idea of how to improve it. He is a college lecturer in an English town, teaching day release students in Liberal Arts which they have no interest in whatsoever, and with a wife, Eva (Alison Steadman), who is socially aspirant but leaving him behind as she courts the upper classes he has nothing in common with. He daydreams of manning up and going as far as throwing her off the top of a multi-storey car park, but whether he would actually go through with it is another matter entirely. However, while walking his dog one night he has an encounter with a policeman, Inspector Flint (Mel Smith), he will soon regret...

Tom Sharpe was one of Britain's most successful comedy writers for a series of novelistic farces that took potshots at what he regarded as the more insufferable aspects of life in his home country, something that chimed with millions of readers. Looking back, his works look to be relegated to the level of Wicked Willie books, part of a past where smut was to be found only if you were really looking for it, and there are no universities teaching courses on Sharpe, but for the nineteen-eighties, he was riding high as his output sold countless copies and he was rewarded with two hugely successful television adaptations, Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue, increasing his fame.

After those two, a film seemed an obvious choice, and casting two of the highest profile television comedians of the decade to lead Wilt were equally blatant as perfect for their roles, especially since they did not trade on any recurring characters in their sketch series, aside from their "head to head" skits where they had absurd conversations, one trying to seem cleverer than he is (Smith), the other just daft (Jones). But in the main, they would adopt a selection of roles depending on the situation in the script. And perhaps there was a problem, for they were not being asked to sustain a persona for ninety minutes of screen time all at once, they had a chance to show more versatility on TV.

Yet in Wilt, the duo were playing characters who, while given humorous lines and set-ups to perform, also had to pass for real people in the framework of the screenplay, and it could have been they were not really up to that, the short form suiting their style better. Yes, Smith had a cult sitcom Colin's Sandwich where he played a character as here, but that was tailored to his technique, and this did not make for a neat fit, especially with Wilt and Flint pitted against one another as rivals throughout. The premise was the Inspector was convinced the academic had murdered his wife, while he denied it, despite the circumstantial evidence piled up against him - Wilt did, however, have a perfectly reasonable explanation for how he wound up leaving the posh party of Eva's friend (Diana Quick) alone.

The manner in which this unfolded was to have us suspicious of the titular lecturer, but not so much that we were certain one way or another as to whether Eva (and later, her friend and her friend's husband) were dead. Wilt's explanation was embarrassing enough to be plausible that he would be reluctant to share it, involving a sex doll he had been tied to while naked, and the body at the bottom of a building site's foundations is pretty patently not Eva, but the real target of Sharpe's fiction was the idiot Inspector, and his satirical bite was blunted in this telling. The point was, Flint had convinced himself in his own petty, small mind that Wilt was guilty of something, so despite evidence to the contrary he was not prepared to be proven wrong, his poor judgement nothing he would ever admit. It was one in the eye for anyone who is never happier than when they are believing the worst of people, which says more about them (nothing good) than the object of their derision. But this adaptation was just too soft, to content to rely on the basic farce, to get to grips with that. Diverting, but you expected bigger laughs from screenwriters Andrew Marshall and David Renwick. Music by Anne Dudley.

[Network release Wilt on Blu-ray and DVD with these features:

Archive interviews (and lots of them)
Location footage
Theatrical trailer
Image gallery.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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