The Parole Officer

The Parole Officer


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There's nothing wrong with old-fashioned humour. Critics use Ealing as an adjective, meaning "In those days the Brits knew how to make us laugh". Steve Coogan will be hailed as the new Peter Sellers and The Parole Officer as a modern Ealing comedy, no doubt.

It is gentle, it is funny, it doesn't quite add up - does that matter? Its hero is a nerd, its heroine a copper, its gang of thieves a lovable bunch. As with The League Of Gentlemen - the 1960 movie with Jack Hawkins, not those idiots on TV - and The Lavender Hill Mob, you are on the side of the crooks. It's made easier here, because the bad guy is a policeman.

Copy picture

Simon Garden (Steve Coogan) works for the probation service, helping lags adapt to the outside world. His success rate is three in a thousand. He is not exactly stupid, rather intellectually sidetracked. He doesn't understand innuendo, for example, or women. He doesn't understand men, either.

Why WPC Emma (Lena Headey) fancies him is a bit of a mystery. Maybe she's fed up with the chat lines of smooth Detective Burton (Stephen Dillane) and finds Simon's honest hopelessness a refreshing alternative. This is Manchester, after all.

By chance, or rather a hunch, Simon finds himself behind a wall of crisps in the back room of a lap-dancing club, where he witnesses Burton murder an accountant. After a narrow escape from death and the threat of being framed for the killing, he vows to expose the villain, which means breaking into a bank and stealing a videotape from the vaults. For this he requires the help of the trio he persuaded to go straight, a bigamist (Om Puri), a computer hacker (Ben Miller) and a thug (Steven Waddington). Added to these is teenage joy rider, Kirsty (Emma Williams), providing energy and plain common sense.

Coogan and Henry Normal's script is full of invention. Occasionally, plot lines are cut off and left hanging, like when Burton's bent sergeant (Justin Burrows) swallows a wasp at an inopportune moment and... nothing. The love interest looks tagged on, which is a waste of Headey, who deserves better than dressing up as a prostitute in an unnecessary scene, just to show how sexy she can look out of uniform.

The gang seems sweeter than sherbet. It has to be to put up with Simon. Kirsty provides the zest. The character played by Omar Sharif - surprise guest - is too much of a get-out-of-jail-free card and the ending is weak.

Having said that, Coogan's arrival on the big screen is hugely appreciated. Also, it would be difficult not to enjoy this film, loose ends and all.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2001
Share this with others on...
The Parole Officer packshot
A nerdy parole officer witnesses a murder and, with three ex-crooks, attempts to expose the killer
Amazon link

Director: John Duigan

Writer: Steve Coogan, Henry Normal

Starring: Steve Coogan, Lena Headey, Om Puri, Steven Waddington, Ben Miller, Stephen Dillane, Emma Williams, Jenny Agutter, Omar Sharif

Year: 2001

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The League Of Gentlemen