Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

The rarest of rarities in the world of period dramas is coming the way of those with access to Britain's Channel 4 this Friday at 10.30 pm - a period comedy. Riding high on the massive success of the big-screen spin-off from their cult comedy The Inbetweeners, Joe Thomas and Simon Bird will be seen in a comedy pilot entitled Chickens. Together with their fellow comedy performer and old pal from their Cambridge Footlights days, Jonny Sweet, they have written and star in a comedy that follows the misadventures of a trio of young men that have stayed at home in Kent while their contemporaries are fighting it out on Flanders field. A sitcom set during World War One is a very bold prospect but this tale of lovable losers who are irredeemably hopeless with the female of the species is not entirely new ground for Thomas and Bird who played Simon and Will in The Inbetweeners to great acclaim. In that particular show, their social awkwardness let them down whilst in Chickens, their perceived cowardice inspires the scorn of the womenfolk in their home town of Rittle-on-Sea.

Jonny Sweet's Bert seems to be the most lilly-livered of the trio whereas Joe Thomas's George is a conscientious objector and Simon Bird's Cecil is a willing recruit whom the army has rejected on account of his flat feet! This could be absolutely brilliant if the programme-makers can pull off the tricky balancing act of delicately handling the material so as not to offend whilst simultaneously ensuring it's irreverent enough to be properly funny. Joe Thomas says that it's about time that this particular approach was taken with a period piece: "Most period drama is so earnest. A lot of it is about making yourself take seriously things you wouldn't normally. You would not usually care about the various romances of some landed gentleman. Well, we are trying to make something that actually is serious less so." Curiously, a period film with a very similar theme is about to start shooting in Britain.

Private Peaceful is based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, he of War Horse fame, and tells the story of the Peaceful brothers from rural Devon who enlist to fight in World War One. Charlie and Tommo are plunged into a nightmare that tests their steadfast loyalty to each other when one of them is accused of cowardice and subsequently court marshalled. Skins alumnus Jack O' Connell and George MacKay, who played Kit in 2007's The Old Curiosity Shop, will star as the Peaceful brothers and Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths and Alexandra Roach will feature in supporting roles. Irish director Pat O' Connor, no stranger to period dramas having made Circle of Friends and Dancing at Lughnasa, will take the helm. The British army's practice of shooting perceived cowards during the Great War is not often examined and Morpurgo was praised for his sensitive handling of the subject when the novel was first released in 1982. His works are currently being re-appraised now that the stage adaptation of War Horse has been such a massive success in the West End and on Broadway. Steven Speilberg's film version of War Horse is to be released before the end of the year, no doubt as Oscar fodder!

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