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Rickie’s return just misses the mark

Timothy Barber
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Film
CEMETERY JUNCTION
Cert: 15

HAVING proved he can make it in Hollywood, Ricky Gervais has brought a whole load of Tinseltown gloss back with him for this tale of small-town kids in the Seventies. Written and directed by Gervais and old mucker Stephen Merchant, the film is polished, conventional and formulaic to the degree that The Office was the opposite – which seems a shame, but it’s not without its charms.

Cemetery Junction is a fictional factory town near Reading, where life in 1973 is dull and the kids dream of better things. Gervais himself only takes a supporting role as the factory worker dad of Freddie (Christian Cooke), a square-jawed, doe-eyed sap with ambitions to break out of working class life. He goes to work selling insurance door to door for slimy bigwig Mr Kendrick – played by Ralph Fiennes, who seems extraordinarily to have metamorphosed into Leonard Rossiter – but will his friends hold him back? Best mate Bruce (Tom Hughes) is the local bad boy who seems increasingly bent on a cataclysmic run in with the law, while Snork (Jack Doolan) is the clownish fatty who always embarrasses them in front of girls. As Freddie questions whether the corporate life is really for him, he falls increasingly under the spell of Mr Kendrick’s free-spirited daughter (Felicity Jones), even though she’s engaged to his suave boss (Matthew Goode).

While there are some rib-tickling scenes around the fringes – most notably some fruity bickering between Gervais’s character and his elderly mother – as a drama things never gather pace. Rather than a town of blue-collar drudgery, Cemetery Junction seems an idyllic place, always bathed in beautiful sunlight – it looks like Trumpton. That may appeal to Gervais’s Hollywood chums and their chocolate-box visions of the UK, but tied to a humdrum, predictable story, it makes the film seem devoid of anything like real life. And wasn’t that always Gervais’s forte?

THE GHOST
Cert: 15

ROMAN Polanski has made a fairly faithful adaptation of Robert Harris’s enjoyable, quietly satirical conspiracy thriller about a ghostwriter of celebrity autobiographies who ends up working on the memoirs of a recently-unseated prime minister. Though his name is Adam Lang, the former PM is mischievously modelled on Tony Blair, from his having waged an unpopular war in the Middle East right down to pictures of him sporting a boater in his Cambridge days. Played by Pierce Brosnan, he leans back on a sofa when introduced to a character and says “hey man” instead of hello. How New Labour.

Ewan McGregor plays the writer (he never gets a name) who gets the gig after the previous “ghost” apparently commits suicide. He’s whisked off to a bleak, rain-lashed island in New England where Lang is using the house of a billionaire mate to hide from growing allegations that he sanctioned the torture of war prisoners. A grey fortress on a remote beach, the place has something of Elsinore about it, and things are distinctly rotten within. Lang’s frosty wife (Olivia Williams) is convinced he’s having an affair with his assistant (Kim Cattrall), protestors are gathering outside, and McGregor begins to uncover things in Lang’s backstory that really don’t add up.

There isn’t a lot of action in the film, though it does manage to demonstrate that sat nav can become the kind of gripping plot device Hitchcock would surely admire. At times, the relentless gloominess and some stilted dialogue threaten to overpower the taut plot. But Polanski, in Chinatown mode, keeps things lean and increasingly mean, and there’s an abundance of wry humour just beneath the surface – not least in the figure of Lang’s disillusioned former foreign minister, who with orange beard and impish manner is a dead ringer for Robin Cook.

Musical
HAIR
Gielgud Theatre

ONLY the grumpiest of curmudgeons could resist the charm of a show that climaxes with hundreds of jolly audience members swarming onto the stage and dancing along with the cast. The fourth wall is just one more convention to kick against in Hair, the hippy musical that brought rock music and free love into Broadway theatres in ’68, and it has been doing so there again for the past couple of years. The entire Broadway cast –?a formidably talented lot – has come over for the West End run, and you’ll find them clambering over seats, ruffling your hair and dancing down the aisles as they exhort us to let the sunshine in.

Structure, plot and understandable lyrics are all on the list of things that have no place in the age of Aquarius the hippies are trying to usher in. The story, such as it is, concerns Claude, a dude who’s been drafted for Vietnam. His tie-dye brethren burn their draft papers, but Claude seems destined to go. Will he? Contemporary political resonances are thankfully kept down to a powerful closing image.

Otherwise, the show is like a random, but gloriously energetic and brilliantly staged revue, as the cast and cracking onstage-band whip up a free-love frenzy. It does seem a strange, naive creation from another age, but it’s a joyful one at that.