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  It Couldn't Happen Here Left To Their Own Devices
Year: 1987
Director: Jack Bond
Stars: Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe, Joss Ackland, Dominique Barnes, Neil Dickson, Carmen du Sautoy, Gareth Hunt, Barbara Windsor
Genre: Musical, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Neil Tennant (as himself), in full evening dress, is cycling by the beach at Clacton-on-Sea when he decides that he would like a postcard or two to send to his mother, so goes over to a shop selling some. The owner is an aggravated chap (Gareth Hunt) who takes the opportunity of the company to rant about the seedy type of person he sees arriving at the resort, saving particular bile for the politicians who take their mistresses there. Meanwhile, Chris Lowe (also playing himself) is in a boarding house being served a huge breakfast by the landlady (Barbara Windsor), but he cannot stand it anymore, tips the food over her and sets out to escape...

It Couldn't Happen Here was the first and only film to star The Pet Shop Boys, one of the best British pop bands to emerge from the eighties, and certainly one of the best singles bands of their era. What they were not, as apparent from their famously deadpan demeanour in their videos, was especially good at acting, so it seemed curious to build a film around their thespian talents when their true skills lay with making music. Evidently director Jack Bond, scripting with erstwhile T.V. production designer James Dillon, saw something in their screen presence that very few others did.

To make up for the duo's lack of personality, Bond cast some actors to make up for it, often in two roles, including Joss Ackland as a blind priest and Gareth Hunt as a practical joker ("Only a laugh, no harm done!") and ventriloquist. But perhaps the most significant star was Barbara Windsor, a minor icon in U.K. cinema for her Carry On films, who summed up the appropriation of recognisable British imagery which filled up the time and illustrated the songs. This was a kind of musical, for Neil and Chris are seen performing their material and there are dancers to accompany them, but it's the reflection of British clich├ęs that made the most impact.

In fact, with a change of music It Couldn't Happen Here could just as easily have starred Morrissey, such is its love of these cultural representations of its native land. After a while it grows into self-parody, whether unwitting or deliberate, as the parade of seaside postcards, World War footage, or skinheads smashing up a telephone box looks as if Bond had assembled a list of whatever summed up the country and translated it onto film. Through all this the Pet Shop Boys travel in a kind of road movie, although their destination is never all that clear, even at the end (were they heading for one of their own concerts?).

There are hints of comedy in this, but not much that will have you rolling on the floor, as Hunt goes way over the top in an oddly apt manner, leaning towards a nightmare of society's conventions that presumably feels stifling to our two stars. There's a diversity of approach in the film that regards all these accoutrements as either quaint and something to be celebrated, or something oppressive and even sinister, with Ackland showing up later as a serial killer Neil and Chris pick up on the road one night, although mainly he tells terrible jokes (along with one lifted from a Steven Wright routine) even if he is wielding a collection of bladed instruments. Still, as pretentious as all this is, there's always the music to compensate, with the title song one of the band's most poignant and some of their hits such as It's a Sin and What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Windsor mimes the Dusty Springfield part) appearing. It's an oddity, but belongs to the long tradition of British acts making films. Not very good films, largely.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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