Beyond The Pole

Beyond The Pole


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Are you tired of documentaries preaching at you about global warming? So were the makers of this film, despite being concerned about global warming themselves. They wanted to do something different, so they set out to make a film about making a film about doing something to save the planet. The result is a gentle comedy that targets its jokes at environmentalists rather than the usual targets, with beautifully drawn characters you can't help but feel for.

Environmentalism is at the centre of Mark (Stephen Mangan)'s world, but he can see that facing off against SUVs on his pushbike is only getting him so far. He wants to do something sufficiently spectacular that the world will sit up and take notice, so he hits on the idea of undertaking the first unsupported, carbon-neutral, organic, vegetarian expedition to the North Pole. Going along with him is Brian (Rhys Thomas), a friend who is really more interested in the idea of getting into the Guinness Book of Records. Supporting them back home are radio ham friend Graham (Mark Benton) and Brian's adoring wife Sandra (the superb Rosie Cavaliero). There's just one problem with this setup - none of them has any expeditionary experience whatsoever.

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A real documentary of this type would have us firmly rooting for the underdogs, and there's still something of that spirit here, though if you ever needed a lesson on why untrained people should be more cautious, Beyond The Pole certainly delivers. From initial struggles to light the camping stove and Mark getting his hipflask frozen to his lip, to close encounters with polar bears and the unfortunate fate of their accompanying cameraman, things go from bad to worse. When our heroes encounter a couple of Norwegians also en route to the pole and it turns out they just happen to be vegetarian etc. too, Mark starts to lose it. Especially when they have the temerity to threaten the unsupported status of his expedition by offering Brian a biscuit.

Filmed in Greenland amid truly beautiful scenery, this is a film whose engaging comedy plays out against a tragic background - it's no longer possible to walk to the north pole in summer because all the ice melts away, and it's becoming increasingly difficult at any time of year. It's hard to see the beautiful Northern Lights as captured here and not want to be there, for all our heroes' troubles - hard to think that soon that option may disappear forever. But Beyond The Pole allows little time for melancholy. Whilst it might not seem as if two men in a big field of ice has much comic potential, the two leads, veterans of television comedy, create a quirky partnership that easily commands audience attention, even as Mark's determination turns into aggression and Brian starts to wonder if he will ever get off the ice alive. Eschewing easy slapstick, director David L Williams finds humour in unexpected places. The Arctic has never been so much fun.

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2010
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Beyond The Pole packshot
Two friends decide to save the planet by undertaking the first ever carbon-neutral, organic, vegetarian expedition to the North Pole.
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Director: David L Williams

Writer: Neil Warhurst, David L Williams

Starring: Rhys Thomas, Stephen Mangan, Mark Benton, Rosie Cavaliero, Alexander Skarsgård, Clive Russell, Helen Baxendale, Lars Arentz-Hansen

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2010

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