It’s perhaps testament to the distinct style of the director, Ben Wheatley, that throughout the film, despite its somewhat different genre style, there was a sniff, a scent, perhaps even a whiff of his previous film, Kill List about the piece. Where Martin Scorsese conjures up all-American imagery and Abbas Kiarostami concentrates exquisitely on his native Iran, Wheatley has this eerily similar ability to create films that, whilst exotic and risqué on the outside, remain unequivocally British in essence. This isn’t to compare him to these greats of cinema, but there’s something to be said about the way in which the fledgling stages of his career have begun, comparably taking the landscapes and intricacies of the country he was born and extrapolating the characteristics to a point where we fall in love not just with character, but with surrounding national beauty as well.
Nevertheless, the ethereal, misty pulchritude of the British countryside is sharply and calculatedly juxtaposed with the utterly black humour that emanates from the outset. A staple of the director’s style, seen in everything in his back catalogue from Down Terrace to the TV series Ideal, it’s baffling how this still felt completely fresh, the humour manifesting itself in an entirely unique manner and form. Part of this is down to the writing and scripting of the piece, which was created in its entirety by the two lead actors, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. They seem to have a knack for gracing occasionally icky imagery with such seemingly infeasible and deft, witty dialogue that there are scenes that appear at this moment in time to be truly inimitable in how they play out.
Thankfully, Lowe and Oram are also sublime in their respective roles. They play Tina and Chris, a newly formed couple in a relationship borne of the ever-changing dexterousness of some of cinema’s most exciting duos. Tina is the type of woman who is lead easily astray, living alone with her needy mother, whereas Chris seems much more capable, as long as he’s in control. As they embark on a caravan holiday, they seem relatively normal; Tina having been given some freedom is able to enjoy the freedom of life, geographically and sexually. They visit a number of mundane, but perfectly traditional abodes, including the Crich Tramway Museum and all appears to be going smoothly. Slowly and mundanely, but certainly smoothly. This, naturally, is usurped when Chris’ murderous tendencies emerge, stemming from the inconsiderate actions of members of the public. Thus, Tina, is left with the choice to continue onwards with the holiday despite her boyfriend’s inability to take an insult without resorting to murder, or return home to her petulant, miserly mother.
I’m sure we’d all love nothing more than to mentally beat down a posh git berating us for not carrying a paper bag to pick up dog poop. I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine that it’s something not too uncommon. Whereas we let it go however, Chris’ actions are based on the philosophy that he shouldn’t have to take unjust criticism lying down. It’s an admirable trait, until he starts to beat someone’s head in with an abnormally large stick. This isn’t a superficial tale of couple gone wrong though. This is, as seems customary with a Wheatley film, a thorough insight into the psyche of two utterly incompetent and broken humans. Chris has delusions of writing a book. Tina has delusions of this being a normal relationship. These two theatrically desperate and unconventional characters take solace in each other, the result being fiery, confrontational at times, but ultimately right. Not for the people that are mercilessly beaten, trodden and run over, but for the two of them, it’s equivalent to that lock and key enzyme diagram we all learnt (or pretended to learn) in biology lessons at school. i.e. they fit with each other and no-one else.
Perhaps at the heart of this surreal, dark, but also outlandishly hilarious film we have Britain’s own Bonnie and Clyde. Well, if Bonnie was a dog loving, giant pencil enthusiast and Clyde sported a boisterous ginger beard, with inclinations for mobile camper prototypes, but the underlying ideals of righteousness are most certainly there. It’s an absolutely bewildering combination but one that gifts the film with its brilliant centre for the rest of the elements to work and play off.
Citing Ben Wheatley as the heart and soul of contemporary British cinema is a grand statement, but it’s likely a just statement. He’s entirely untethered in his willingness to divulge his vision onto an audience and when the dialogue is as sharp and snappy as in Sightseers, blending together with an entirely original journey through an all British terrain, then you instinctively end up with a film that is able to captivate, challenge and entertain in equal measure. Wonderfully scripted, shot and directed, this is a feat of filmmaking doused with something altogether magical and an unprecedented success for British cinema.