Some things definitely improve with age. The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer, panned by contemporary reviewers as a latecomer to the swinging sixties’ satirical ball, now appears, decades later, to be one of the most incisive, witty, and unnerving political/social satires ever captured on film. It’s the finest celluloid outing of the great Peter Cook, managing to portray a character even more cutting and ruthless than his wily tempter Spiggott in 1967’s Bedazzled. As the titular Rimmer, Cook marches unannounced into the offices of the Fairburn advertising agency one morning, clad in a smart suit and carrying an officious-looking clipboard under his arm – so loud, brash, and confident that no-one dare question his right to be there – and proceeds to use the company as the first rung on his ladder to hasty success. By the end of the movie, this all too plausible creation has declared himself the first President of Great Britain, and his manipulative, whirlwind rise to power has left all enemies discredited, deceased, or simply reeling at the force of his overwhelming charisma.
Despite appearing as a series of comic sketches (featuring the usual array of top-notch Brit talent) and having been part-scripted by ‘Monty Python’ duo Cleese & Chapman and partly by Cook and director Kevin Billington, the movie dovetails superbly, every routine achieving the requisite laughs while keeping the sinister Machiavellian plot forging ahead. One early Rimmer success is an ad campaign re-inventing a staid brand of inedible humbugs, packaging them into a rather suggestive length of silver tubing, re-naming the product ‘Scorpio’, and filming an extremely risqué TV commercial which will have fans of those old ‘King Cone’ advertisements salivating! After this, there’s no stopping the devious fraudster - his machinations result in flustered pollster Ronnie Corbett uncovering the Rimmer-contrived ‘fact’ that 42% of Nuneaton’s populace are practising Buddhists; political ambitions lead him to court and then abandon both the socialist Prime Minister and the ailing Tory leader, but not before spin-doctoring a Conservative election victory and securing himself a safe seat (becoming Member of Parliament for the constituency of ‘Budleigh Moor’, in-joke fans!), while nabbing a trophy wife (the fabulously sexy Vanessa Howard) in the process. The U.K.’s ailing gold reserves are replenished by the simple act of declaring war on Switzerland and attacking their treasury fortress using cans of ‘Union Jacilli’, i.e. the common cold in handy aerosol spray form, prior to dishing out a press release announcing that gold has been discovered in the North Sea; this in turn brings about a convenient photo opportunity during which Rimmer is able to push the new PM to his watery death from atop an unstable rig platform.
Once installed as leader of the country, Rimmer goes into overdrive, pulling off his greatest coup so far. Pray that no prospective ministerial candidate ever sees this movie, as the plan proposed is so fiendish that it might just work for real. It sounds, at face value, to be the ultimate in democracy - allowing everyone in the country the opportunity to vote in a referendum on every single issue. The genius of this ploy is revealed when the great British public, saturated with form-filling and ballot-marking, give up all interest in politics - leaving a clear path for Rimmer to announce his job upgrade to presidential status. Surviving two assassination attempts (one perpetrator being disgruntled ex-Fairburn boss Arthur Lowe, his performance as usual quite the best aspect of a fine picture) during the Kennedy-in-Dallas style closing scenes, Cook’s concluding, chilling freeze-frame stare into camera leaves no doubt as to his future dictatorial intentions.
If you’re considering voting at a future election - whether for New Labour, Tory, Lib Dem or Monster Raving Loony – see this film first. And think.