BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Sightseers’ review


Director Ben Wheatley completes a critically acclaimed trilogy of quietly sinister, darkly comic, deeply British features with Sightseers (2012), an hilarious, caravan-based road movie which brings this recently unearthed talent back closer to his comedy roots. Built almost entirely around a museum-loving, homicidal Midlands couple developed on the stand-up circuit by leads Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, Wheatley’s latest oddity is a far more linear work than last year’s perplexing cult horror Kill List, and should help the 40-year-old maverick win over a new set of admirers whilst pleasing his existing fanbase.

The film follows fledgling couple Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), as they embark on an “erotic odyssey” of the British Isles in Chris’ beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Rescuing the introverted Tina from her controlling, demanding mother, her seemingly innocuous lover whisks her away on a whistle-stop tour of such exotic sights as the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling pastures of the English countryside. However, plagued by litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, the pair begin to exact their revenge upon a whole host of offending wrong-doers and ne’er-do-wells.

Well-received upon its Cannes premiere back in April, Wheatley’s Sightseers has all the necessary ingredients needed to become a cult British hit. Lowe and Oram are entrancing as the Brummie Bonnie and Clyde, offing slovenly litters and jumped-up eco-liberals without the slightest batter of an eyelid. Lowe in particular is instantly believable as Tina, a lonely mummy’s girl finally brought out of her anorak-clad shell (for better or for worse) by her impulsive, ginger knight in bloodied armour. Such dedication to characterisation (several years worth, in fact) has clearly not been in vein, and serves as vital proof that even comic creations need the same level of development and depth as dramatic constructions.

Known for blending gritty social realism with fantastical flights of fancy, Wheatley has also consistently shown himself as a dab-hand at gallows humour, with Sightseers and its incomparable central duo the perfect platform to show his light(ish) side. Yet remarkably, there are several moments in the film that feel genuinely touching (in-between the blood-letting, naturally). Again, the pathos here once again falls on the shoulders of Lowe, so completely besotted by her bearded beau that any encroachments into their solitudinous bubble is met with either tears or violence. It also doesn’t hurt to have this year’s Palme Dog recipient thrown into the fray, although the conflicting emotions that Banjo (or is it Poppy) evokes in our protagonists results in at least one fatality.

In a year sorely lacking in intelligent laughs, Sightseers hits just the right chords nearly every step of the way. A heady blend of murders, melancholy, pagan rituals (once again) and giant pencils, this may well be the blackest – and best – British comedy since Chris Morris’ Four Lions (2010).

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green