The lead performances by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe
At the centre of Sightseers are two brilliantly askew performances. It’s no surprise as Steve Oram, who plays Chris and Alice Lowe, who takes the role of Tina, created the characters and wrote the script after extensive work-shopping around their own family holiday experiences and research camping trips. Both are veterans of the British comedy circuit and have a resume littered with cool Brit comedy including The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Their characters are on a camping trip, travelling north to visit the Ribblehead Viaduct, hoping to stop at various Lake District tourist hotspots along the way including the Cumberland Pencil Museum. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, especially when the man is a serial killer and the timid mouse soon turns out to be even more psychotic than he is.
It is directed by Ben Wheatley
Sightseers is Ben Wheatley’s third feature after the low-budget crime thriller Down Terrace and the sick and twisted Kill List, a film that fused The Wicker Man and the satanic Seventies road movie Race With The Devil via Alan Clarke’s bleak kitchen-sink aesthetic. Since Sightseers, he has given us the drug-induced historical horrors of A Field In England, adapted J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise starring Tom Hiddleston, and went Hollywood with Free Fire with Brie Larson and Armie Hammer. Fiercely independent and eclectic in his project choice, Wheatley, who cites Stanley Kubrick as a major influence on his career, is proving himself to be one of the UK’s most dynamic directorial talents and Sightseers stands as one of his most entertaining achievements.
It’s an ultra-violent homage to Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May
Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May, first broadcast in the early 1970s as part of the BBC’s Play For Today, is a brilliant and hilarious dissection of British society as a self-righteous couple head out on a camping trip from hell. It’s obvious from the opening minutes of Sightseers that this hilariously quaint comedy was a major influence on Wheatley’s film, even if the director claims he never saw Nuts In May before shooting the film. Roger Sloman stars as Keith, a delightfully pompous creation who, along with his put upon wife Candice Marie (Alison Steadman), head out on an ill-fated camping trip. The pair are determined to enjoy the wonders of nature at any cost, pedantically following the country code and annoying all who they meet with their staunch views of vegetarianism and their self-composed banjo folk songs. Keith finally loses his cool an incident with a by-law contravening sausage sizzle. It’s easy to see why writers Oram and Lowe wanted to subvert this beautifully judged slice of British quirk.
When we first meet Tina she is living with her mother in what can be best called a chintz nightmare. Their relationship is forced at best, especially after Tina accidentally killed the family pet Poppy. Their house, and the film, is covered in knitted items. Patchwork rugs, knitted mug covers for keeping that cuppa warm and weird knitted dolls. When we flash back to the fateful day when Poppy meets her mortal coil, it’s at the end of a pair of knitting needles. And then there is the underwear. Tina’s bra and knitted split-crotch knickers to be exact! Lowe wasn’t keen on the crocheted shenanigans when she read the script but she conceded that they are hilarious. Even if she did had to wear them in a very strange seduction scene.
Best known for their controversial worldwide smash “Relax”, Liverpudlian pop band Frankie Goes To Hollywood owe British DJ Mike Smith their career. The track had risen to number 6 in the charts when DJ Mike Reid heard the track and realised the true nature of the saucy lyrics. He caused a stink. The radio station banned it and it sped to the top of the charts. Their next two releases “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love” also topped the charts ensuring the band a place in the record books. The band first appeared on the silver screen in Brian De Palma’s erotic thriller Body Double singing “Relax”, while the film’s conflicted peeping tom turned hero makes his porn film debut. It’s just their music that appears in Sightseers in a beautifully poignant moment that rapidly turns pitch black when Chris and Tina arrive at their final destination Ribblehead Viaduct. As they climb the structure “The Power of Love” swells onto the soundtrack and the dulcet tones of Holly Johnson fill our ears. The murderous pair reaches the summit and hold hands, gazing into each other’s eyes as they prepare to step into the great unknown. This is the end and Frankie Goes To Hollywood provide the perfect soundtrack.
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