Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Show (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
‘Escapism – it’s better than a tree full of spiders’ says a large end-of-terrace mural near the guest house where Fletcher (Tom Burke) takes lodgings, and you know you're watching an Alan Moore production.
We’ll call this character Fletcher. In fact he is a man of many names and it’s difficult to know which, if any, really belong to him. He bears a notable resemblance to the Beano’s Dennis the Menace. A professional hitman, or ‘exit technician’, as he prefers to call himself, he has arrived in Northampton to look for a man named James Mitchum and, more importantly, an elaborate Rosicrucian gold cross which that man is believed to have on his person. A tragic tale of seduction, violent betrayal and theft surrounds this item, but as Fletcher digs deeper he comes to suspect that this, too, may be a fabrication – and trying to get to the truth is a dangerous business.
The legendary Moore, himself a son of Northampton, is know for his reluctance to engage with the outside world, yet here he not only writes (the script and part of the music) but takes on a role. It’s a small yet pivotal one, hinging on his presence as much as his acting skills, and it fits in neatly because, like so much of his work, this story is structured around iconic individuals. Here they are freshly fictional (unless one starts reading things into Ellie Bamber’s Becky Cornelius), yet his interest in cults of personality remains prominent, and the city is also given a new mythology which combines some of the darkness of the remapped London in From Hell with the overwrought praise of Eighties-style pop.
Developing a story this full of uncertainties and still getting viewers to relate to its characters and invest in trying to follow it is difficult stuff. By focusing closely on Fletcher (and gradually revealing him to be a more moral character that he at first appears), Moore just about manages to pull it off. He also packs the film with a blend of absurdist humour and neat little observational touches. Fletcher watches a soap opera called Wittgenstein Terrace before setting off to visit a detective agency staffed by children who speak in the language of Forties films noirs, droll asides to camera and all.
Bringing all this together and attempting to keep it on an even course, director Mitch Jenkins adds a few flourishes of his own. Watching Fletcher through CCTV cameras helps to establish character even before we realise that a masked vigilante is doing likewise (positioning us, once again, as watchers of the watchmen). He slips easily between the visual styles associated with different eras of spy films, interweaving them with theatrical fantasy landscapes which fuse occultist imagery with that of sleazy mid-20th Century working men’s clubs. There’s no shortage of bizarrerie on display – this is a show, as promised – but it’s the polite bemusement of the everyday characters that makes it gel.
In the lead, Burke delivers a pragmatic everyman performance, but as he’s often required to be the straight man he doesn’t have much room to go beyond that. There’s able support from Siobhan Hewlett in a role which seems designed to tackle some of the problems with female characters in Moore’s previous work, whilst simultaneously providing us with a character who feels real and is easy for viewers to anchor themselves to.
In the end, The Show bites off more than it can chew, but it makes a good effort and there’s plenty there to please the fans, as responses to its Frightfest screening demonstrate. It’s decidedly more colourful than the average cinematic outing and definitely better than a tree full of spiders (unless you really like spiders).Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2021