The Tichborne Claimant

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Sir Roger Tichborne, the ninth wealthiest man in Britain, sailed around the world in 1866. Somewhere between South America and the Pacific islands, he disappeared. You would expect, for official purposes, that it would be assumed the unfortunate fellow went swimming with sharks, but Tichborne was too rich to write off. There was a little matter of stately homes, working estates and grasping relatives. Also, odd bods started popping up saying they were the missing baronet.

Andrew Bogle (John Kani), an African retainer, was sent to Australia to check out a number of claimants. None looked anything like him, except one, a fat, alcoholic butcher, called Castro (Robert Pugh), with an Irish wife and four urchin children. Bogle did a deal - fifty fifty split - and spent the next months teaching him how to dance, stand up straight, behave like a gentleman and remember incidents from his childhood.

David Yates (director) and Joe Fisher (writer) are rookies in the movie biz. They conduct themselves admirably. Fisher sees the aristocracy as blustering reactionaries - Charles Gray, as the Earl of Arundell, is a hilarious example - while allowing Bogle the patience of angels. Their film is well crafted and performed with style by an illustrious cast of Equity grandees. Pugh gives a particularly fine performance.

Although based on a true story, you have to care whether the butcher is the baronet, otherwise time passes slowly. There are few shocks until the court case, when rabbits are pulled from hats, or, to be precise, Stephen Fry, as the prosecuting council, comes up with a clutch of surprise witnesses. It's all terribly English and frightful fun. The only things missing are references to leather on willow and a dotty duchess.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Film based on the true story of an imposter who tried to claim the fortune of a missing aristocrat.
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Director: David Yates

Writer: Joe Fisher

Starring: John Kani, Robert Pugh, Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy, Rachel Dowling

Year: 1997

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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