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  Clockwise Time Is Of The Essence
Year: 1986
Director: Christopher Morahan
Stars: John Cleese, Penelope Wilton, Sharon Maiden, Alison Steadman, Stephen Moore, Joan Hickson, Constance Chapman, Ann Way, Pat Keen, Geoffrey Hutchings, Tony Haygarth, Sheila Keith, Michael Aldridge, Benjamin Whitrow, Geoffrey Palmer, Nicholas Le Prevost
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 5 votes)
Review: Mr Brian Stimpson (John Cleese) is a headmaster of a comprehensive school who is particularly concerned with punctuality and promptness, and has arranged his school to run on time, with everything perfectly organised. Today he is very pleased with himself as he has been chosen to deliver a speech to the association of headmasters on the event of his acceptance, an honour usually reserved for the headmasters of private schools. He is memorising his speech that morning, and has to catch the train to Norwich; his wife has driven him to the station, but a misunderstanding with the ticket collector leads to Stimpson boarding the wrong train, which is the beginning of his troubles...

Written by Michael Frayn, Clockwise is a comedy that lies in the shadow of television. Not that it resembles an extended sitcom episode, more that it has a lot to live up to because of one of its leading man's previous roles. Cleese had made his name in the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch show, but Fawlty Towers saw him branch out into sitcoms with enormous success, and it's Basil Fawlty who you'll be reminded of watching this film. Which is not necessarily a good thing, because where Cleese's perennially frustrated character could easily fill a whole half hour, Clockwise spins a yarn of escalating misunderstandings that gets less and less believable as it draws on and smacks of desperation in a way other than that which was intended.

When Mr Stimpson quickly realises that he's seated in the wrong train, he leaps off the one he's on and fails to catch the correct one. Then the wrong train pulls out complete with his speech lying on the seat he vacated. He just misses his wife (Alison Steadman) as she drives away and has to take a taxi back home to find she's just left to go to work at the hospital. Then, as luck would have it - bad luck, as it turns out - he runs into one of his sixth form pupils, Laura (Sharon Maiden) who is driving to school. It's simple, they will drive to the hospital where Stimpson will meet his wife and get their car. But it's not simple, naturally, nothing ever is and they miss her by seconds as she takes a trio of geriatric patients out for a drive in the country.

Far from running like clockwork, Clockwise comes across as more mechanical than anything else. By compensation, Cleese takes to the role like a duck to water, perfectly embodying the man of ordered routine going to pieces due to one tiny mistake - a running gag sees the characters continually mixing up their right with their left. The cast do a good job of unwittingly foiling Stimpson's plans, as Laura's parents think that she has been kidnapped and their car stolen, and Mrs Stimpson comes to the conclusion that her husband has run off with one of his pupils rather than take his wife to Norwich with him. It's not long before the police are involved and a manhunt is underway, although Stimpson manages to give the police the slip even after bumping into a patrol car.

As Stimpson grows ever more exasperated, so Clockwise grows exasperating to watch, especially as it's obvious nothing will go right for him, but not in a hugely funny way. He meets an old school friend, Pat (Penelope Wilton), who he manages to persuade to drive to Norwich with him, and they end up on a chase with the police which ends up with the car they are travelling in stuck in a field. There are funny moments, as when Stimpson vindictively vandalises a telephone box, or when Pat complains she's missing lunch due to her driving them to the conference and he curtly replies, "Get a move on, then." However, the plot becomes too farfetched: I could accept the monastery scenes but not that Stimpson would be complicit in theft, and instead of building to a climax, the action fades away at the conference. It's a nice idea, but the lunacy never takes off, and a philosophical interruption is out of place. Music by George Fenton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Christopher Morahan  (1929 - 2017)

British director who has largely worked in TV over a 30 year career, including the 1965 version of Orwell's 1984 and The Jewel In the Crown. On the big screen directed the likes of Diamonds for Breakfast, All Neat in Black Stockings, the John Cleese farce Clockwise, and Paper Mask.

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