A Bunch of Amateurs

A Bunch of Amateurs

Director: Andy Cadif
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi
Distributor: Rialto Films
Runtime: 86 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language

If anyone had told Burt Reynolds when he first appeared on television in 1959 that in half a century’s time, he would be starring in a British comedy as an actor portraying King Lear, that ‘anyone’ would have had an enormous gift of prophecy. However, numerous films and television shows later, here is Burt doing precisely that.

Down on his luck, his career and the affection of his daughter and being panned by audiences as too old to be a screen action hero (of a nice series called ironically Ultimate Finality), he wants to fire his agent (a very old-looking Charles Durning, 86 in February 2009). The agent persuades him that a Shakespearian turn in Stratford would be just the thing to revive him. He doesn’t mention that this Stratford is Stratford St John in Suffolk, an amateur group trying to save its theatre.

Reynolds has always been able to send himself up – and he does it here with knobs on. His manner is that of the spoilt Hollywood star who expects attention and luxury, which is not exactly available in Stratford St Johns. He boards with Imelda Staunton at a B & B, rehearses in a barn and looks down on all the locals who are eager to play Shakespeare. Things go from very bad to very worse and, though you know things will work out at the end, you are wondering for a long time just how they could.

This is quietly amusing British humour, the putting on a play English-village style.

Actually, the screenwriters also make the plot something of a parallel with King Lear itself. Burt is the grumpy Hollywood king who has been wayward with his career and lost his daughter. The villagers have quite a lot of lines straight out of the play to illustrate what is going on. And when Burt is finally driven away, he has a storm scene on a heath. While Burt is never going to be Olivier or anyone of that calibre, he has some good scenes which he puts heart and soul into as an American star having a go at playing King Lear. With Derek Jacobi in support, sending up his own orotund performances, there is some poking fun all round. It is up to Samantha Bond as the director to try to keep things on an even keel.

Brits putting on amateur theatricals has been a popular movie theme. There were Margaret Rutherford and Robert Morley in Curtain Up in the 1950s. In recent decades there have been Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins in A Chorus of Disapproval, 1988, and in the mid-90s, Kenneth Branagh, Joan Collins and cast in In a Bleak Midwinter. Here is another pleasant addition to the list.

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