Skeletons

Andrew Buckley and Will Adamsdale in Skeletons

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

24 July

 

Last Tsar of Bulgaria becomes prime minister, 2001

On this day in 2001, having been elected in a free and fair vote, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, Tsar Simeon II, aka Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, became prime minister of Bulgaria. The monarchy had been abolished by the Communists in 1946 and the nine-year-old Tsar – the word derives from Caesar (more obviously if spelt Csar) as does the German Kaiser – had gone into exile, first in Egypt, then in Madrid. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he applied for and was issued with a new Bulgarian passport. In 1996 he returned to his country, where he was feted by crowds hoping for a restoration of the monarchy. Simeon responded by forming a political party, pointedly avoided the use of the title Tsar, and went on to win the elections in 2001 with 42.74% of the vote, on a platform of reform and the rule of law. Simeon’s was a largely technocratic administration and he moved to ally his country with the west – it joined Nato, applied for membership of the EU. In the 2005 elections his party scored 21.83% of the popular vote. In the elections of 2009 just 3.0%. After which Simeon resigned as the leader of his party.

 

 

 

Skeletons (2010, dir: Nick Whitfield)

You might not have seen the tiny British film Skeletons, but if you’ve seen Insidious, you’ve seen a film that’s seen Skeletons. The characters of Specs and Turner, the two odd ghostbusters? They are directly… influenced, let’s say… by Nick Whitfield’s great film, so full of tiny sparks of originality that it’s no wonder other film-makers said “I want a bit of that.”
Here, the original Specs and Turner are called Simon (Will Adamsdale) and Bennett (Andrew Buckley) and they’re a pair of characters who might have been scripted by a downbeat British Tarantino – Mr Fat and Mr Small – a dry, loquacious Laurel and Hardy who discuss everything under the sun except the exact nature of what they’re doing here and now. We join these two on yet another job, at the house of a middle aged woman (Paprika Steen) whose pretty young daughter (Tuppence Middleton) has become mute. Simon and Bennett creak into action, first going through a long and baffling questionnaire – with questions such as “Have you ever assisted in an amputation?” – before getting down to work proper, finding skeletons literally in the cupboard and extracting secrets from hidden places.
Whitfield’s master stroke is to put all these characters, who seem fairly modern, into a setting that looks like the England of memory – as if the world of Brief Encounter had snapped back into life. The effect is to produce a forward-leaning “what the hell is going on” viewing experience. We work out the answer gradually: these two guys appear to be representatives of some sort of agency who travel about fixing disturbances in the psychic fabric of the world, sending things back to where they should be. This they do with little magic tokens. A scrap of paper with a photo on it. A few stones. A pen. With a film, Whitfield has worked out already, it’s the audience who supply the fantasy, the director just has to give us the invitation to imagine. He does, and we do.
Jason Isaacs turns up for a few minutes in a cameo – he loved the film so much he became an unofficial booster – in a flat cap and tweed suit as some kind of management figure come to give his lads a bluff pep talk. But otherwise it’s a sea of largely unknown faces (though the excellent Steen is well known in her native Denmark), doing mysterious things in a downbeat way. But its universe is complete and its logic works. So when either Bennett or Simon (sorry, can’t remember which) talks about one of the duo “going Bulgarian” we understand that this is not a good thing, and a quick blast of the eerie harmonies of the Bulgarian vocal troupe the Trio Bulgarka on the soundtrack nudge us, in case we’re a bit slow.
Variety didn’t like the film – “Skeletons fails to rattle any cupboards” they said – but in this case Variety are wrong. As an example of the British surreal – Harold Pinter meets the 1960s TV series The AvengersSkeletons is pretty much unbeatable. And it’s got some good jokes. And at one point someone in the special effects department has even sprung for a smoke bomb. Fantastic.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A great debut by Nick Whitfield
  • A lot of love on the festival circuit
  • The Buckley/Adamsdale double act
  • An early sighting of future star Tuppence Middleton

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Skeletons – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Skeletons”

  1. I hope as many people as possible are given the opportunity to see this gem of an independent movie from a first time director. This is further proof that you do not need a massive budget or international superstars to make a genuinely interesting film that challenges and entertains at the same time.

    Someone told me this week that it is easier to get a film made than to get a film distributed. I don't know if this is true or not but I am delighted that people cared enough to get this film made and screened.

    Nothing about this film is conventional and it is difficult to describe it without giving too much away but imagine "Men in Black" made by Charlie Kaufman. Or "Don't Look Now" made by Terry Gilliam. That might give you some idea.

    We all have skeletons in our cupboards and these are the "Skeletons" referenced in the film's title. Don't expect crucifix-wielding exorcisms but prepare for a refreshing, intelligent suggestion of how people could look at their lives.

    This film is not perfect but is certainly worth searching out.

  2. In an unspecified time and place, we follow the occupational hazards of Mr Davis and Mr Bennet (Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley), two psychic cleaners removing 'Skeletons' from their clients' cupboards via the use of antiquated ghost-busting equipment.

    Their work eventually leads them to the countryside doorstep of an eccentric middle class family who want to know the whereabouts of their missing father. Things start to go awry for the dynamic duo when they locks horns with mute, wayward daughter, Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton), and their bear-with-a-sore-flat-cap boss, the Colonel (Jason Isaacs), who grumpily intervenes on their assignment.

    Writer/director Nick Whitfield's feature debut is a real, genuine oddity, the like of which is all too rare in these dark days of CGI mush and 3-D bombastics. It's witty and engaging script contains enough twists, surreal flourishes and lovably offbeat characters to give the Terry Gilliams and David Lynchs of this world a slap about the creative chops, whilst asserting an individual freshness and authority that is indebted to no one.

    The long-running, real life stand-up-comic act of Gaughan and Buckley is a knockout coup for Whitfield, as the twosome's familiarity and natural chemistry with each other shines through no end giving their scenes a sincerity and depth that lesser films can only dream about. The uniformly excellent cast insures they're in fine company, with special mention going to Paprika Steen, whose off-centre turn in the role of mum Jane, is very affecting indeed.

    Zac Nicholson's sterling camera-work is every bit as inventive and ambitious as the story, injecting each and every frame with proper cinematic punch, mounting the film head and shoulders above the vast majority of British movies that too often settle for a visual style more suited to television than the big screen.

    On the downside, Simon Whitfield's unusual (sometimes inappropriately placed) score, is over used to grating effect, as are the moments featuring Gaughan's 'couch-trips' back to his childhood. This repetition of sound and images exposes the obvious budgetary restrictions, giving the piece some noticeable rough edges that it really doesn't deserve.

    That aside, this is one of the most charming and moving indie Brit-flicks since god knows when, and one that I urge everyone to see and support to insure a lengthy, and much deserved cinema run and DVD shelf-life.

    I had the pleasure & privilege of seeing 'Skeletons' with a Q&A session featuring the cast in London's west end recently, and along with the rest of the audience, was delighted to be candidly informed that the 'Skeletons' crew are about to regroup for a comedy set during WW1. Bring it on!

  3. Most films with high concept values require a Herculean level of suspension of disbelief to prevent the what-ifs becoming a ceaseless stream of yeah-rights.

    Quite often, a movie concept to which a viewer is asked to subscribe turns out to be poorly conceived and badly constructed. The movie then suffers from something I like to call China Syndrome: The concept is as far fetched as a bucket of chit from China.

    Skeletons, although possessed of one of the most original move concepts I've ever seen, right from the opening scene, presents its concept in such a matter of fact and unassuming manner that the viewer is instantly on board. Even if, initially, you won't have a clue what's going on you will know that whatever is happening is happening for a reason and the world will somehow be a better place because of it.

    Although many strange, unexplained and downright bizarre things happen in the film there wasn't, for me, any moment or event I felt required further questioning, it all seemed so natural and even the really odd things I couldn't immediately figure out were, in the context of the concept, sure to have an obvious and easily justifiable answer.

    Brilliantly cast with excellent directing and if you don't 'get' Skeletons you have to understand, it's not the film, it is most probably you. Maybe there's something blocking your ability to enjoy stuff. Perhaps you ought to call someone in ?

    9/10

  4. I had the pleasure of catching this great little gem of a film. I found it to be charming and engaging. The two main characters are physically the type you'd never see headlining an American film. They work as investigators for a company rooting out skeletons from their client's closets. The main characters banter back and forth between assignments, and only in reading other reviews here did I find out these two are a comedy duo. This helps their chemistry on screen and moves the film along.

    A standout is Tuppence Middleton, who plays her daughter role with luminosity. The screenplay doesn't give her much, but she's ready when it does. Expect more good things from her.

    Another standout character was the main character's boss. (He looks and sounds strikingly like Timothy Dalton.) While watching this film, I was reminded somewhat of Inception. Unlike that film's gun-blazing dream logic, here you get a well-explored charming British version. They are quick to establish it, flesh it out and for the bulk of the movie, dance for the sheer joy of dancing with it. The small cast each give great performances.

    I am rating this highly because I know I'd sit through this movie again. I'd sit through a series of movies based on the world that's created and explored here. I was left at the end hoping they already had a sequel in the can, or perhaps an entire British TV series of hour long episodes. This movie is based on a premise that hasn't *quite* been handled this way. The director shoots it well, and with the single exception of a slightly overused musical cue, it came across to me as perfect.

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