On Screens: Basil’s snobbery, David Brent’s delusions, and England’s Brexit

If England were a screen character, it would have been a movie matinee idol for most of the last millennium: a strong, silent type like Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights. But as the 20th century wore on, its star billing faded. And today, it’s the main character in a sitcom.

Every sitcom character has a comic flaw that will trip them up time and time again. We laugh as viewers because we know what’s coming, whether it’s Basil Fawlty’s snobbery or David Brent’s delusion that he is witty and cool.

England’s comic flaw used to be its failure to comprehend that its empire no longer exists. Today it is Brexit – a decision that baffled everyone bar Donald Trump. It is quickly reshaping international opinion of a country that once ruled over a quarter of the world.

It’s no wonder Benny Hill and Mr Bean remain England’s most successful comic exports, as the appetite for British buffoonery has never been greater – good news for the actor who plays most of them, Rowan Atkinson.

Clue is in his name
Atkinson is one of those rare British comedians (John Cleese and Ricky Gervais also spring to mind) who is so naturally funny you would listen to them reading the telephone directory, and Johnny English was initially likeable when he first emerged in a series of amusing TV ads for Barclaycard in 1992, some eleven years before the first film came out.

Atkinson’s character may have been called Richard Latham, but there’s no doubting they are the same creation, as some of the gags and even character names made it into the films. For Atkinson’s character, though, the joke needed to be spelt out in his name: he is incompetent, he is ‘English’.

The result has been a series of deeply unfunny films of which Johnny English Strikes Again (Not Released Worldwide; out Sep 27) is the third instalment. It’s not reached the nadir of the Pink Panther series, but it will. With Brexit on the way, the Brits will be cashing in on everything.

Building a Hornby set
Nobody likes British eccentrics better than Nick Hornby. Mostly obsessive but aimless, his protagonists capture our hearts with their appetite for putting things in lists and blokeish logic – whether it’s the football nut in Fever Pitch, the music nut in High Fidelity, or the responsibility avoidance nut in About a Boy.

In Juliet, Naked (66 on Metacritic; Sep 20), the protagonist is a woman (Rose Byrne) married to a music nut (Chris Dowd), who ends up falling for the obscure singer (Ethan Hawke) her hubby is obsessed with. Although Hornby has two Oscar nominations for best adapted screenplay (Brooklyn and An Education), he wasn’t involved in writing this one.

Saoirse Ronan, the star of Brooklyn, is a permanent fixture on Danish billboards. Last issue saw her face launch On Chesil Beach, and this time it is The Seagull (59; Sep 12), yet another period drama for the actress – an adaptation of an Anton Chekhov play.

Critics praised the performances of Ronan, Annette Bening and Elisabeth Moss, but questioned what the film was trying to achieve other than addressing the lack of strong female roles as part of the #TimesUp movement.

Glenn Close gets one in The Wife (76; Sep 27), a drama about the partner of a Nobel Prize-winning author (Jonathan Pryce) who might have done a little more writing than wording the invites to their soirees.

Close has been tipped for an Oscar – long overdue recognition given this would be her lucky seventh nomination. Failure would take her one clear of Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter as the actress with the most noms and no wins.

Denzil is his Dad
This issue’s most recommended film is Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (83; Sep 20), the true story of a black cop’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s. In the lead role, John David Washington, 34, demonstrates he has inherited the charisma of father Denzil, who likewise didn’t take up acting seriously until he reached his mid-30s.

The Predator franchise doesn’t get better with age, even though the films have been pretty distinct from one another. Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) takes the helm for The Predator (56; Sep 13) with wonderkid Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) among the cast.

The action continues with Peppermint (31; Sep 27), a spiritual sequel to the early 2000s series Alias. Jennifer Garner has been fitted for her first holster since those heady days to play the mother of a child cruelly snatched away by the Mexican cartel. So Ozark isn’t the only one taking delight in blowing their heads off.

Heads also explode in Hell Fest (NRW; Sep 27) when an arcade get the Saw treatment; your brain will explode when you realise that humans and puppet co-exist in the setting of the awful The Happytime Murders (27; Sep 13); and is that the sound of Anna Kendrick’s career imploding in A Simple Favour (NRW; Sep 27), another dubious choice following the three Pitch Perfect films.

Maniac, Manifest, Mayans MC
Film stars rarely regret crossing over to TV, and Emma Stone and Jonah Hill would appear to have chosen wisely with Maniac (Netflix on Sep 21), a remake of a Norwegian series about two people taking part in a mysterious pharmaceutical trial.

The Good Cop (Netflix on Sep 21), meanwhile, is based on an Israeli series. With Andy Breckman (Monk) in charge, expectation is also high.

Sanaa Lathan, the headteacher in S4 of The Affair, has the lead in Nappily Ever After (Netflix on Sep 21), a series that can’t be as crappy as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Manifest (HBO Nordic on Sep 25) looks too similar to Lost; Mayans MC (59; HBO Nordic on Sep 5) is not a patch on its sister show Sons of Anarchy; and there are new seasons of Outlander (S3; HBO Nordic on Sep 11), Mr Mercedes (S2; Canal Digital on Sep 20) and American Vandal (S2; Netflix on Sep 15).

Fond of our Jane
Over in documentary land, there aren’t many people who rival the impact of the subject of Jane Fonda in Five Acts (HBO Nordic on Sep 25).

Sandwiched in between winning two Oscars in the 1970s she became Hollywood’s most famous anti-Vietnam War activist, before sparking a different kind of revolution in people’s homes a decade later with her keep-fit videos. It’s testament to her integrity that it’s been a long time since the media called her ‘Hanoi Jane’.

Meanwhile, the makers of Matangi/Maya/MIA (65; Oct 1) were torn between three titles, but it hasn’t harmed the reception of this rapper’s biodoc. And Swiped: Hooking up in the Digital Age (HBO Nordic on Sep 11) and Lessons from a School Shooting: Notes from Dunblane (Netflix on Sep 28) both sound like they will hold our attention for the duration.

Sadly when ‘Lessons from Brexit: Notes about Trusting the British Public’ comes out, it will also be too late to prevent the carnage.

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