sat 28/05/2022

DVD: Clochemerle | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Clochemerle

DVD: Clochemerle

Galton and Simpson's forgotten, lavish French farce

Clochemerle's great and not-so-good: the Mayor (Cyril Cusack), at front, second right

Clochemerle is the very odd one out in Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s scriptwriting career. It was their only adaptation, from Gabriel Chevallier’s 1934 comic novel set in the titular Beaujolais small town a decade before, and their only step away from the post-war, pre-Thatcher England they mined such socially rich, dark comedy from in Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

The latter had two more years to run when this relatively lavish BBC-West German co-production was filmed, on location with a fine cast in Beaujolais in 1972. The tale of the catastrophic consequences when an ambitious mayor (Cyril Cusack) has a urinal built beneath the balcony of Wendy Hiller’s prissy gossip had been a dream project since the pair saw a French cinema version in 1951. They had hoped to produce a musical, with Lennon-McCartney songs rashly promised by Lew Grade. Instead, they found themselves employed once again by the BBC, who did them proud.

As petty rivalries, affairs and fault-lines between the church and Communist party play out around a pissoir, all the way, eventually, up to the President of France, hypocrisy and gullibility seem to rot Clochemerle’s idyllic facade. The satirising of pomposity recalls the delusional grandeur of Hancock and ‘Arold. But the tone is in other ways gentler than we’re used to from these writers, the constant sun in Beaujolais burning away the gloom of Steptoe’s studio-bound scrapyard. With Peter Ustinov as narrator, Clochemerle is literary, acerbic and warmly nostalgic. From Cusack’s very Irish, seemingly diffident mayoral Machiavelli to Bernard Bresslaw’s blowhard Beadle, its characters are beautifully played but roughly drawn; the women are Seventies sexpots, washer-women and scolds, and the men mostly cuckolds and buffoons, in a cast much bigger than the Galton-Simpson norm. This ambitious curio is a richly realised footnote to their achievements.    

The tone is gentler than we’re used to from Galton and Simpson, the Beaujolais sun burning away the gloom of Steptoe’s scrapyard


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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