Alan Bleasdale Presents: Self Catering

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A plane crash leaves five survivors stranded on a desert island. It’s a paradise – or would be if it wasn’t for the absence of food. As the deeply mismatched quintet consider their options, they decide to adopt the names of their favourite film stars ….

Another entry in the short-lived 1994 C4 anthology series Alan Bleasdale Presents, Self Catering chugs along very agreeably thanks to the number of excellent lines contained within Andrew Cullen’s script. The ninety minute screenplay is packed with quotable moments, such as this reaction from the narcissistically self-obsessed Marilyn (Jane Horrocks) to the prospect of having to become a forager. “We’re not hunter/gatherers anymore, we’re shoppers. My idea of a marathon is walking from Boots to C&A, realising I’ve forgotten the deodorant and having to walk back to Boots”.

In addition to Marilyn (who has adopted the name of Marilyn Monroe), we also have a movie buff who has decided he’d like to be Henry Fonda (John Gordon Sinclair), the womanising Clint Eastwood (Andrew Schofield), the acerbic Joan Crawford (Noreen Kershaw) and the unconscious (although she wakes up eventually) Meryl Streep (Jennifer Ehle).

If Cullen’s script is good – creating a group of hopelessly incompatible people (Marilyn detests heavy lifting or indeed any sort of work, Clint can’t keep his eyes off all the females, Joan loathes Marilyn, Henry is a film obsessed bore, etc) – then the actors take the material they’ve been given and run with it.

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Jane Horrocks is a total treat as Marilyn as is Noreen Kershaw as the foul-mouthed Joan. All three females find themselves caught up in an unlikely love-quadrangle with Clint (Joan at one point telling him that he’s “got a great body. But you’ve got a sick mind. But you’ve got a great body”).

It’s hard to imagine any better than John Gordon Sinclair in the role of the deeply pernickety Henry. “Does no-one like Henry Fonda these days? Rocky, Rambo, Robocop. They are nothing compared to Henry Fonda”.

I also love Henry’s doom-laden pronouncement from the opening few minutes. After considering the unconscious Meryl, who appears to be dead, he declares that they shouldn’t bury her too deep. With the only food available being the limited supplies on the plane, pretty soon they’re going to have to tuck into human flesh. It gives a new spin to the title Self Catering.

Robin Lefevre would later direct Alan Bleasdale’s Jake’s Progress (he had also acted in Requiem Apache) whilst Andrew Schofield had earlier prominently featured in G.B.H as well as Requiem Apache, suggesting that Bleasdale liked to work with a core group of creatives on a regular basis.

Jennifer Ehle (who would also appear in another Alan Bleasdale Presents, Pleasure) has the hardest role, since Meryl (who wasn’t even granted the ability to re-christen herself – Henry chose the name Meryl Streep since he liked the actress) is insensible for the first half of the story. After Meryl wanders off and then wanders back, it does allow John Gordon Sinclair the chance to riff in an amusing manner (wondering if the approaching figure might be an android!)

But once Meryl does regain consciousness, she makes up for lost time by indulging in flings with first Clint, then Joan (who promises to teach her about the birds and the birds) before moving on to the voluble, if deeply sexually repressed, Henry. As she slowly unzips his trousers, she asks him if he minds. He responds that he has “the gravest doubts on the subject, by I intend to crush them”. This, like many of his other utterances, derives from one of his favourite films.

Although Self Catering is played as a comedy, it’s sometimes a rather dark one. Both Clint and Marilyn venture, at different times, into the wrecked cockpit. Moving their way through the dead bodies, Marilyn (to the strains of Elvis Costello’s I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down) amuses herself by taking a selfie, whilst Clint is more interested in the contents of a ladies blouse.

Clint’s later madness (he elects to wall himself off from the others) and Henry’s bizarre dreams are some of the later highlights. Lacking a straightforward narrative, Self Catering is more of a collection of character set-pieces with an open-ended conclusion. This isn’t really a problem though – since the cast are firing on all comic cylinders it’s another DVD from the series which is well worth your time.

Alan Bleasdale Presents: Self Catering is released by Simply Media on the 4th of June 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Alan Bleasdale Presents Requiem Apache

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Hamish (Alfred Molina) has left his former life as a getaway driver far behind. Now ensconced in a bucolic English village and living a contented existence with his wife and baby daughter, everything seems perfect. Which it is until his old friends come calling and ask him to join them in one final job. But with his wife away he’s been left holding the baby – so even if he wanted to, juggling the twin demands of a life of crime and baby care might turn out to be a little tricky ….

Alan Bleasdale Presents was a short series of C4 television films broadcast during 1994. With Bleasdale acting as producer and mentor, the series gave a handful of young writers valuble exposure and the opportunity to hone their talents. And there’s no doubt that his name on the project helped to attract the cream of the acting profession (Requiem Apache, for example, featured brief appearances from the likes of Julie Walters).

This appears to be Raymond Murtagh’s only script for either film or television, which is a slightly surprising since it’s a quirky and entertaining piece (Murtagth’s other credits were all on the acting front – he appeared in various series including Crown Court, Juliet Bravo and Doctor Who).

Once Hamish’s wife swiftly departs aboard for a foreign trip, he throws himself into the task of looking after his daughter Laura (Aimee and Lynsay Bullard) with gusto. There’s a definite “aww” factor to these scenes, helped no end by the baby actor. The scene where Hamish engages Laura in conversation and she turns to stare at him could clearly never be scripted, but is a lovely moment nonetheless!

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Elsewhere though, storm clouds are brewing. A mysterious individual, credited only as the Juice Man (Robin Lefevre) is putting the squeeze on Hamish’s old boss, Tony (Kenneth Cranham), who in turn decides to put the squeeze on Hamish. The Juice Man certainly makes an impact with his handful of scenes. He gets his name from the way he intimidates a hapless barman (Christopher Ryan – another well known face appearing in a fairly small role) into giving him an immaculately poured glass of orange juice. The Juice Man also has a unique way of disposing of people who displease him ….

As good as Alfred Molina is, Requiem Apache really springs to life whenever Kenneth Cranham is on the screen. Effortlessly stealing every scene he appears in, he gives a beautifully judged performance which adds an extra level of quality to the production. Andrew Schofield and Ralph Brown (as Tony’s fixers, Rocky and Mick) are also good value – they’re mainly cast as comic foils, but are also responsible for the occasional darker moment (these brief bursts of violence are especially jolting given that the majority of the story is played almost like an Ealing Comedy).

The climatic bank robbery, with Hamish as the driver and Tony, Rocky and Mick cast in the unlikely roles of three blind men (all the better for confusing the bank staff) then leads into a final payoff which I doubt many would have seen coming. But whilst it might be unexpected it’s also a satisfying conclusion which ties up all the loose ends.

As touched upon before, there’s plenty of quality in this cast. Along with Julie Walters’ cameo (which doesn’t advance the plot at all, but passes a few minutes very agreeably) it’s also nice to see Sam Kelly, Chris Ryan, Peter Benson and Jon Laurimore passing through and at just 77 minutes the story doesn’t outstay its welcome.

An amusing comedy romp which isn’t afraid to go dark at times, Requiem Apache is a brisk treat, powered along by the excellent cast. Recommended.

Requiem Apache is released by Simply Media on the 28th of May 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).