The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse Review
To their eternal credit, The League of Gentlemen have never rested on their laurels. Their gallery of small town grotesques have been with them through live performance, radio and three television series, but the writers have continually experimented with different narrative structures, often at the risk of laughs and upsetting their fanbase. And so it is with Apocalypse. For their debut feature, the League have married endless allusions to horror film with a plot of multiple realities and a Pirandello-like meeting of characters and authors. It’s ambitious, leanly scripted and expertly balanced between three different worlds, less obviously calculated than say Adaptation and with far greater pathos than Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo. Unfortunately, it’s just not as consistently funny as the group’s best work.
A superb opening scene establishes the madness. In the supposed real world, the fourth, non-acting Gentleman, Jeremy Dyson (played by Michael Sheen), is terrified to be visited on a dark, stormy night by three of his most outlandish creations, the demonic Papa Lazarou and the inherently local Edward and Tubbs, with comically regrettable results. This will not be their story however, and the action switches to the town of Royston Vasey, where a biblical apocalypse is in progress because the three remaining writers, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton, are killing off their characters to write The King’s Evil, a 17th Century demonic drama. Through diabolical accident, a rescue party of murderous butcher Hilary Briss (Gatiss), German pederast Herr Lipp (Pemberton) and businessman Geoff Tipps (Shearsmith) are sent through a portal into the real world to try to reason with their creators, kidnapping Pemberton and writing themselves into the Hammer horror of the historical script along the way.
Given the opportunity for greater character development, the writers excel. Pemberton’s turn as the slimy Lipp, bizarrely pretending to be Pemberton himself, discovering self-awareness and finding redemption with the actor’s family, is brilliantly developed. Prior knowledge of the series is unnecessary and only a bonus, but sadly, The King’s Evil scenes feel a reality too far and never quite sparkle like the others.
A version of this review originally appeared in the List, May 26.
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