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  Beyond the Pole Cold Hands Warm Heart
Year: 2009
Director: David L. Williams
Stars: Stephen Mangan, Rhys Thomas, Mark Benton, Rosie Cavaliero, Alexander Skarsgård, Helen Baxendale, Lars Arentz-Hansen, Clive Russell, Zoe Telford, Patrick Baladi, Elizabeth Croft
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Global warming has become such a major issue over recent years that it's easy to feel as if one person cannot make a difference to improving the climate of planet Earth, but maybe two individuals might be able to inspire you. Step forward Mark Bark-Jones (Stephen Mangan) and Brian Tongue (Rhys Thomas), who have decided to walk to the North Pole in the world's first organic, carbon neutral and vegetarian expedition - they have contacted the Guinness Book of Records who say that they will register them as a record breaker should they complete their task. But seeing as how neither man has ever attempted something like this before...

...this will be ideal material for yet another mockumentary, where we follow around bumbling characters in a naturalistic-looking slice of comedy. The reason why this style of humour took off for film and television (and radio, as this was based on a Radio 4 series) would appear to be that both comedy and drama were feeling threatened by the encroaching power of reality television, where the laughs, if there were any (drama was equally applicable), appeared spontaneous and therefore far more vital than anything that had been more obviously scripted. But stuff like Beyond the Pole had been scripted, by Neil Warhurst and director David L. Williams.

This meant it was up to the cast to make it look as if they were thinking up their lines on the spot, as Williams relied on handheld camera to make this look as if it was a true documentary, and this was fairly effective if you didn't think about what you were watching too much. If you did, you would end up wondering how, for instance, we got a shot of someone aiming a gun at someone else when we could see the shot from the other person's point of view as well, and neither of them were holding cameras. Little slips like that were liable to take you out of the film, even if the director was not doing anything that countless television documentary makers had been doing for decades.

But you knew you were watching a fiction anyway, so best to sit back and wait for the laughs to come. Well, maybe not great, gasping guffaws, more indulgent chuckles, as there were a few nice lines in this which categorised Beyond the Pole as "gentle comedy", which doesn't always mean huge entertainment possibilities, but could prove diverting enough for ninety minutes. The whole joke here was that the intrepid duo were simply not up to their challenge, and that the main reason they were going was to overcompensate for the failings they had in their everday lives, with Mark particularly guilty of this and Brian liking the idea of exploring without it sinking in what he had to actually do.

The Arctic sequences of the film were shot in actual Arctic conditions, so if nothing else there is an authentic look to the images that the vast snowy wastes present. Mangan and Thomas made a decent enough double act, even if it was hard to see how they would ever have gotten along if they were real, which at least rendered the last half hour, where they have fallen out, more convincing. Complications are what this is all about, so Brian doesn't know he's rushing off to his possible demise when his girlfriend (Rosie Cavaliero) is pregnant, and Mark is all too aware that his wife (Zoe Telford) wants a divorce; as if that was not enough, when they finally get out onto the ice they find a Norwegian two-man expedition has had exactly the same idea as they have and are making better time (and have better biscuits). It does get oversincere by the end, as if by the latter stages they all thought, but seriously folks, save the planet, yet there's a message of blundering through to some kind of success that suits that theme. Music by Guy Michelmore.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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