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Sir Henry At Rawlinson End (1980)
Director: Steve Roberts

review by J.C. Hartley

This is an extraordinary British oddity based upon musician, writer and raconteur Viv Stanshall's anarchic creation. In its first DVD incarnation, in sepia tinged black and white and with monaural sound, this film comes across as a frenzied home movie; Futtocks End meets Under Milk Wood on mescaline.

Sir Henry Rawlinson (Trevor Howard) is an alcoholic misanthropic, former army officer whose happiest moments are spent thwarting the escape plans of the German POWs he has imprisoned in the grounds of his estate, despite the war having been over for some considerable time. Attended by Old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer (J.G. Devlin), and Mrs E (Denise Coffey), and surrounded by an extended family of English eccentrics, the only blight on Rawlinson's day is the ghost of his brother Humbert, who Sir Henry shot to death through a 'reasonable mistake'. The local minister Reverend Slodden (Patrick Magee at his Beckettish Pinteresque) is hired to perform an exorcism, and reveals that as Humbert met his end in flight from a jealous husband, his spirit can only find rest when he is reunited with his missing trousers.

Apparently, Trevor Howard greatly enjoyed making this film, which is hardly surprising as, despite his stiff upper lip portrayals of England's officer class, he was a bit of an iconoclast. Dominating the film, and with a host of brilliant lines, Howard treats the material in deadly seriousness which is the only way it could have worked. This film is lyrically scatological, with Stanshall's beautifully modulated tones narrating parts of the action, and recounting Rawlinson family history, in a stream of puns and wordplay like Mallarme only with better jokes. This is an England more familiar to many of us than Ye Olde Touriste Trappe confections whipped up by Richard Curtis; it is deplorably recidivistic, hideously frightening, boozily sexy and occasionally hilarious, and at just over an hour viewing it will not make too big a hole in your leisure-time.

No review can prepare you for this, ignore the lapses of good taste, and enjoy the absurdist delight in the felicity of the English language for the construction of temples of nonsense.

An idiosyncratic extras package on the Digital Classics DVD includes a commentary by director Steve Roberts, with actors Sheila Reid and Jeremy Child, a trailer narrated by Stanshall, the movie poster and the Rawlinson family crest (motto: Omnes Blotto), actor biographies and, in a literary touch, the script for two unused scenes, and Stanshall's synopsis, best enjoyed by reading aloud in an impression of his own suave tones. These latter additions are probably best suited for perusal via a PC. Sadly there are no other examples of Stanshall's genius included, but maybe the BBC will release some of the examples they have; the series Do Not Adjust Your Set which featured the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band is available on DVD.
Sir Henry At Rawlinson End

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