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  Sir Henry at Rawlinson End English As Tuppence
Year: 1980
Director: Steve Roberts
Stars: Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, Denise Coffey, J.G. Devlin, Harry Fowler, Sheila Reid, Vivian Stanshall, Suzanne Danielle, Daniel Gerroll, Ben Aris, Liz Smith, Jeremy Child, Susan Porrett, Gary Waldhorn, Simon Jones, Michael Crane, Ian McDiarmid
Genre: Comedy, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's another morning in Rawlinson End, the stately pile in which Sir Henry (Trevor Howard) resides with his wife Flossie (Sheila Reid) and their staff, but as usual he is having trouble getting out of bed. Nothing that shooting the ceiling with a shotgun won't help, and it also attracts the attention of the housekeeper Mrs E (Denise Coffey) who asks him what he wants for breakfast. What Sir Henry really enjoys more than anything is a stiff drink, but he decides to make an excursion into the surrounding countryside, dressed as a gentleman of foreign extraction on a unicycle - an act which attracts the attention of the unscrupulous Buller Bullethead (Harry Fowler)...

Vivian Stanshall remains a cult figure to this day, but after his most enduring legacy, that being the work he did with the Bonzo Dog Band, the projects that inspire the most devotion are his radio plays and monologues about Sir Henry Rawlinson. He toiled over them for the best part of two decades, and listeners to the John Peel show on Radio 1 were always pleased to hear another instalment of the irascible old gent's further adventures, with two albums' worth of stories also being released, the first one preferable to the second.

For some reason it was decided that these tales should be brought to the big screen, and the results were as ramshackle as they were offputting to those not inducted into the affectionately English but satirically barmy landscape of Stanshall's idiom. It has long been claimed that the film makes no sense, but if you're attuned to its deep eccentricities then it does follow its own loopy logic as Sir Henry has trouble with a ghost and two shady characters - Buller and the local reverend (Patrick Magee) - whose motives remain fuzzy. There is a curious mixture of the quaint and the abrasive here, but what this is really worth seeing for is the wordplay.

Stanshall had a true love for the English language, and it shows through in every line of dialogue and narration, which he provided himself. But luckily, the entire cast seem to understand what is required of them, and no one more than Howard who invests Sir Henry with vigour and wit. He is a man who has spent a long time in Africa as his anecdotes from there indicate, but now he likes nothing better than blasting off pistols and rifles and imbibing enthusiastically. He is quite the monster born of the British Empire, but the film has respect for him for sticking to his, er, guns and refusing to relent to the modern world.

Indeed, there is very little of the modern world in evidence here, as if Rawlinson End were the last bastion of the upper classes against the encroaching masses, stranded out in the middle of nowhere because it is the only place which will put up with their behaviour. Everywhere there are examples of Stanshall's crazed imagination: the ghost of Sir Henry's brother who must be made to wear trousers so that he can be laid to rest, or the two German prisoners of war who reside in a small camp on the grounds. Most viewers will be left baffled, but if you're sympathetic and can adjust to the extreme idiosyncrasies then there are some decent-sized laughs to be had, mainly down to Sir Henry's barked asides. Does this successfully encapsulate the Stanshall style? Sort of, but you're probably better off with his albums to gain a better idea of what he had in mind, and this film will always be a footnote - ever contrary, Stanshall for one made no secret of hating it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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