Jackboots on Whitehall, 2010.
Written and Directed by Edward McHenry and Rory McHenry.
Featuring the voice talents of Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths, Rosamund Pike, Timothy Spall, Dominic West, Tom Wilkinson, Richard O’Brien, Stephen Merchant, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Pam Ferris and Brian Conley.
When Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seize London it’s left to a young farmworker and his countryside cohorts to come to the rescue and repel the invaders.
I have to admit that, despite enjoying a successful premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last year and boasting an extensive voice cast that reads like a who’s who of British talent, the satirical stop-motion animation Jackboots on Whitehall had completely slipped under my radar. The creation of first time writer-directors Edward and Rory McHenry, the film is essentially a reworking of World War II in which Hitler and his Nazi henchmen attack London and force Churchill to retreat north to Hadrian’s Wall in order to mount a counter-attack, only recreated with miniature action figures. Think Robot Chicken meets Commando Comics and you’re probably half way there.
Presented in ‘Panzervision’, Jackboots opens during the Battle of Britain – or rather, an Airfix model enthusiast’s version of the Battle of Britain - as a handful of Spitfire pilots desperately look to defend England before succumbing to the might of the Luftwaffe. As London braces itself for invasion Churchill (Timothy Spall) calls in the Punjabi guard to help defend Downing Street, only for the Nazis to execute their plans and tunnel their way into the centre of London, easily defeating the British forces. Meanwhile it’s business as usual for the rural community of Kent, with the likes of farm boy Chris (Ewan McGregor), country girl Daisy (Rosamund Pike) and her evil father, the vicar (Richard E. Grant) attending the village fete.
Coming under attack from a Nazi zeppelin, the townsfolk quickly despatch their enemy and Chris - who has been rejected from the military due to his unfathomably large hands – rallies his community to head into London and rescue the Prime Minister. Soon they unite with Churchill and the last remaining handful of survivors – including Punjabi leader Rupee (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and gung-ho American Billy Fisk (Dominic West) – before setting off to summon assistance from the “blood drinking savages” that inhabit ‘Scot Land’.
If you’ve read any other reviews (or seen the promotional blurbs on the DVD cover) you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jackboots was a British version of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Thunderbirds-esque puppet comedy Team America: World Police. This really puts high expectations on the film and sadly it fails to fully live up to them, being let down by a script that simply fails to deliver enough gags to justify the comparison. That’s not to say Jackboots on Whitehall doesn’t include moments of genuine hilarity; Richard E. Grant’s foul-mouthed vicar steals almost every scene he’s in, while the overly camp Hitler (Alan Cumming) and his interactions with Goebbels (Tom Wilkinson), Goering (Richard Griffiths) and Himmler (Richard O’Brien) had me reminiscing of the classic satirical puppet show Spitting Image at its very best.
There are also a number of funny references to other films and TV shows ranging from Braveheart to Dad’s Army and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, while the overt stereotyping of just about every character on display generally hits the mark. But as I’ve said, the laughs just don’t come fast enough and at times I was wondering why the filmmakers hadn’t opted to play it straight, especially given the exhaustive attention to detail and masterfully-crafted models and costumes on display. The technical side of Jackboots really is superb, especially given its low-budget, and should they have opted for this route I genuinely believe the brothers McHenry could have delivered something memorable and completely and utterly original. Still, it’s certainly worth checking out and for a debut feature it’s a credit to the filmmakers, who really could be ones to watch out for over the coming years.
Jackboots on Whitehall is released on DVD on January 24th.
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