Big Screen Berkeley: Sightseers, a comedy of darkest hue

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Steve Oram and Alice Lowe in Sightseers, a dark British comedy that sees the couple engaged in a holiday killing spree

Middle-class Americans have the luxurious Winnebago. The English, of course, must make do with something a little smaller, but just as representative of their economic aspirations – the humble caravan. Hauled from campsite to campsite by a fleet of Austin Montegos and Vauxhall Vectras, these cramped homes away from home are as common a summer sight on Britain’s motorways and B roads as flattened badgers.

Behind the laced curtains, however, lurks something much more sinister than a quilted duvet or Union Jack tea cosy. “I’ve known a lot of people who’ve had very bad experiences in caravans,” presciently observes a character in Sightseers, a British comedy of darkest hue opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas today. And so it shall prove to be.

34-year old Tina (Alice Lowe, also cast as a Tina in Sightseers‘ producer Edgar Wright’s 2007 masterpiece Hot Fuzz) is a single lass still living at home with Mum (Eileen Davies). The two have what can be described charitably as a strained relationship: Mum hold’s Tina responsible for a tragic knitting accident that left the beloved family pet, an impossibly cute fox terrier named Poppy, thoroughly dead. Forgiveness and healing do not seem to be imminent.

Desperate to escape her mother’s withering looks and open contempt, Tina finds solace in the arms of balding ginger Chris (Steve Oram). He’s a man with a caravan and a plan: a week-long ‘erotic odyssey’ across the north of England, during which he and Tina will visit such notable tourist attractions as Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Cumberland Pencil Museum in between sexual diversions. What better way for a 34-year old woman to declare her independence?


It’s not long, however, before Tina learns Chris is distressingly high strung. An unfortunate encounter with a litter-dropping lout on an historic tram – followed by a careless bit of driving that leaves said lout squashed beneath the wheels of Chris’s caravan – marks the beginning of a holiday killing spree reminiscent of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, leaving the backroads of Britain littered with the corpses of churlish, rude, or overly ostentatious holidaymakers.

You will not be surprised to learn that – one or two genuine belly laughs aside — Sightseers is not a laugh out loud comedy. Indeed, Lowe and Oram’s screenplay is at times so dark that laughter would seem almost cruel. Instead, this deadpan, low-key film – in which much of the dialogue is muttered beneath the breath – is more likely to provoke uncomfortable smiles of recognition and cringes of sympathy.

Though most definitely not for everyone, Sightseers does feature some stunning vistas courtesy of director of photography Laurie Rose, while composer Jim Williams’ ominous but jaunty score hits all the right notes. Unlikely to replicate its modest British box office success in the States, the film could nonetheless develop a cult following similar to that of the classic Cheltenham Springbok.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more Big Screen Berkeley reviews here.

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