Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the tradition of the little man who wins through in a cruel world, Michael Sheen doesn't do pratfalls, or sing soppy ballads, like Norman Wisdom. He stands there, looking nervous and expectant, as if someone is about to throw a sausage roll in his face.

Damien O'Donnell's first outing since East Is East might be described as a road movie. There is a road and a man on a motor scooter and some rain and countryside and a pub full of chatty folk. The road leads to Blackpool. The man on the motor scooter is Colin (Sheen), who has never been anywhere. Now he's going to the Las Vegas of the North at 20mph to find his wife Sandra (Jane Robbins) who has run off with the local bobby (Jim Carter).

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It's also about darts and what it is to be English in the 21st century.

Colin, let's face it, is ineffectual. He has one talent. He can hit double-top three throws running. Why Sandra married him is a bit of a mystery, because she's demanding and difficult, flirting in the pub and sulky at home. Colin tries to do the right thing, but whatever he does is not going to be enough. He's one of those men who swallow their feelings for the sake of a quiet life and it makes them fat.

As these journeys so often are, it's not the getting there that matters, but the being there, the finding yourself, the realisation that people are people and there is goodness in them and your own troubles shrink by comparison and the world outside TV is a beautiful place and friendship don't cost nowt and, maybe, just a little bit, you can make a difference and help someone, even for a moment, in passing.

The concept is deeply sentimental and yet Midlands humour, which is working mens club humour, keeps it level. It is not so much Colin's story as the characters Colin meets along the way. There are prize cameo roles from Mark Addy, Ruth Jones and Paul Shane. Even the seedy splendour of Blackpool has an innocent vulgarity about it.

Sheen plays nice. Shane says of him, "He's as calm as cowshit on the lawn." The language is a natural progression from best bitter darts culture and the need to relieve the tedium of ordinary life. Scriptwriter Paul Fraser, a veteran of Shane Meadows movies, has the Midlands in his water.

You could call this a postcard from a lost world. So much of England has been left behind and yet it's there and sadness happens and girls make bad choices and guys follow them. O'Donnell adds achingly poignant folk songs to the soundtrack. The pace is slow.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2003
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Big-time loser turns his life around when he travels to Blackpool in an effort to win back his estranged wife.
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Gator MacReady ****

Director: Damien O’Donnell

Writer: Paul Fraser

Starring: Michael Sheen, Mark Addy, Jim Carter, Ruth Jones, Celia Imrie, Jane Robbins, Mark Strong, Paul Shane, Phillipa Peak, Jade Rhodes

Year: 2002

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK/US


EIFF 2002

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Once Upon A Time In The Midlands