Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If ever a film cried out for the spectral hand of Alexander Mackendrick, this is it. A village, torn apart by bureaucratic blunder, in which everyone is a character and every character has a voice, needs the man who made Whisky Galore! and The Maggie to stifle whimsy and control comic business.

The spirit of Spike Milligan, author of the original novel, is voraciously alive in the body of the production. Terence Ryan, who directs from his own script, has been loyal to a fault. There are too many priceless lines from the ex-Goon to leave out and so Richard Attenborough is employed as narrator/director to deliver them, like Richard Burton in Dylan Thomas's radio play, Under Milk Wood.

He appears, or rather doesn't, as a God-like presence, to whom the characters address from time to time, talking to camera, as if to an audience. This is difficult to pull off on film, being a theatrical technique, and it doesn't work here.

In 1924, the Boundary Commission, a product of the Westminster government, had to decide a new border between Ulster and the Irish Republic and the line went straight through the village of Puckoon, with obvious comic repercussions.

There is a feeling throughout that everyone is playing to their stereotypes. This doesn't happen in a film like Waking Ned. Here, the star of the ensemble cast, Sean Hughes, is trapped in a blarney boyo role of the inveterate lazybones, with a harridan of a wife ("She's a danger to shipping"), leaving him bereft of possibilities.

Elliot Gould, as the doctor, is a surprising choice, not that it's a big part. Native-born stalwarts, such as John Lynch, Milo O'Shea and John Kavanagh, are on hand to fill in the cracks. Griff Rhys Jones appears briefly as an English army officer and is genuinely funny. Also, in a blink-and-he's- gone role, Freddie Jones does wonders with false teeth.

There is too much of Spike to dismiss Puckoon as a colour-by-numbers laughalong. It wants so much to win you over with its eccentricity and style that, instinctively, you feel nervous of commitment. Mackendrick would have dispensed with Attenborough, taken from Milligan the germ of his idea and built the characters from their roots.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2003
Share this with others on...
Puckoon packshot
The Irish boundary commission divides a village with comic consequences.
Amazon link

Director: Terence Ryan

Writer: Terence Ryan, based on the novel by Spike Milligan

Starring: Sean Hughes, Elliot Gould, Richard Attenborough, Daragh O'Malley, John Lynch, David Kelly, Griff Rhys Jones, Milo O'Shea

Year: 2002

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Ireland


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Rocket Post
Whisky Galore!