Happy New Year, Colin Burstead., 2018.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Neil Maskell, Bill Paterson, Doon Mackichan, Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Joe Cole, Hayley Squires, Alexandra Maria Lara, Richard Glover, Asim Chaudhry, Sarah Baxendale, Mark Monero, Peter Ferdinando, Sinead Matthews, Sura Dohnke, Sudha Bhuchar and Vincent Ebrahim.
Colin hires a lavish country manor for his extended family to celebrate New Year. Unfortunately for Colin his position of power in the family is under serious threat from the arrival of his estranged brother David.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is, ostensibly, a film about a fractured family having a get-together at a rented manor house for New Year’s Eve, and spending the whole night bickering. So far, so normal. It possibly sounds a bit run-of-the-mill – but it’s Ben Wheatley! His reputation for excellent script writing and directing precedes him, and certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Wheatley’s respect-worthy work means assembling first-rate British casts is second-nature to him and his team.
The cause of most of the Bursteads’ angst is errant son of the family, David (Sam Riley), who everyone hates after he abandoned his family and moved to Germany five years ago. Colin (Neil Maskell) has organised the party and so takes on the bulk of the stress of the situation. Sister Gini (Hayley Squires) had thought it would be a nice surprise for their mum (Doon Mackichan) to have David there, awkwardly forgetting the upset it might cause others.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is a perfect example to show the importance of good dialogue in a screenplay, and how it can make the whole film. It’s all really well-crafted, written by Ben Wheatley and with additional material by the cast – he clearly guides them well in this, but the naturalness of lines also exudes the air of true collaboration.
The whole film takes place over the course of the evening, with family relationships and situations that are funny, engaging and relatable – the authenticity is palpable. There’s a good mix of sharp lines as well as slapstick, more obvious humour too.
The film revels in its very British context (and subtext), as everyone attempts to avoid confrontation with David, even though they’ve decided they don’t want him to stay. There’s also enduring (if not necessarily attractive) quirks like being unable to resist ‘Fatherland’ type jokes about Germany, and getting stressed about pretending to not be stressed about hosting.
The cast is, unsurprisingly, top-notch. They’re not all household names, but they are certainly perfect for their roles. There’s also a real sense of camaraderie and family as the dialogue is dealt out fairly, juggling multiple ongoing situations to cut between throughout the film. The balance of all of these scenes and how they feed in to each other is also impressive – it’s the sort of thing you don’t always notice when it happens, but you absolutely do when it doesn’t.
Stand out turns come from Asim Chaudhry, the loser son of family friends who wasn’t actually invited, and Charles Dance as the very dry Uncle Bertie, who is apparently facing some sort of terminal diagnosis and puts on his lipstick, earrings and best skirt for the occasion. It’s left open to interpretation as to whether or not Bertie has actually cross-dressed before in front of his family, or if they’re just stoically not mentioning it in order to avoid awkwardness. The funniest performance of the film, however, definitely belongs to Richard Glover though, as the impoverished lord renting out his property to host events – his muttered bumbling and mumbling is so very passive-aggressive and accurate.
Sam Riley is worth watching in anything, and here, although he is quite an obvious dick as David, it’s slightly (slightly) less of a tortured role for him than usual. He works very well as the family outcast, with his whole energy being darker and less flippant than the rest of his family. He also has the opportunity to act opposite his real-life wife, German actress Alexandra Maria Lara.
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is almost deliberately unassuming. It is also certainly one of the most nuanced, entertaining comedies of the year – and that’s quite something for a film that revolves around a house of Brits arguing with one another.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★