-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
cast: John Sessions, Phil Cornwell, and Ronni Ancona
director: Peter Richardson
80 minutes (12) 2003
Columbia Tristar DVD Region 2 rental or retail
Also available to rent or buy on video
reviewed by Thomas Cropper
It's the 1960s and, in black and white newsreel footage, we're about to see the start
of a phenomenon. In a small street in Surbiton, a car draws up and out stumbles Richard
Burton, played with rumbustious glee by John Sessions. "Wait here all night,"
he barks at the driver before storming up to the door. At the door, the matronly Mrs
Huggett meets him. Richard Burton is at her front door and, in the back; we can hear
the Beatles tinkering away. But she's not fazed - not in the least - because this is
just another day in the life of Stella Street.
For those who haven't seen it Stella Street began as a series
on the BBC in which an unassuming street became the home for an eccentric collection of
celebrities, rockers and movie stars portrayed - to varying degrees of success - by John
Sessions and Phil Cornwell. As a simple concept it was mildly diverting, but would the
same idea last the course of a 90-minute feature?
Earlier this year the BBC put that to the test as they showed the
long-awaited Stella Street movie. However somebody somewhere decided to bury it at
around midnight on a weekday. Conspiracy theorists might think that they were deliberately
trying to keep viewers away. See it on the TV and you wouldn't need to buy the DVD when
it came out - we wouldn't want that now would we?
The DVD is now here, along with a planned cinematic release in the US,
and it is Americans at whom this is primarily aimed. Constant references throughout the
movie of stereotypes - both ours of Americans, and theirs of us - soak the film in themes
of transatlantic miscommunication. Furthermore the commentary contains the occasional
reference for the Americans. We're introduced to the concept of Dean the builder "I
don't know what it's like in America," says Sessions, "but he's pretty much
typical of English builders."
But what of the film? It almost feels incidental to the whole package.
You anticipate a longer version of the series, but happily you'll be in for a nice surprise.
Tying the film together is a loose plot regarding a plan to steel the fortunes of Stella
Street's famous inhabitants. Michael Caine serves as the narrator and the closest thing we
get to a hero as he leads a flood of famous faces such as Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, David
Bowie, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards into the neighbourhood. Some of the impressions are
better than others - prompting a few 'hey aren't you Al Pacino' moments, just so we know
who we're watching to, but that's not really the point. It's the overall effect that matters
and even when the voices miss, the portrayals strike home.
However, it's the street's non-famous inhabitants who steal the show:
Dean, the incompetent builder, Len, who likes to burn things, and the redoubtable Mrs
Huggett. It is she who makes Stella Street what it is, as she serves as cleaner
and surrogate mother to her impetuous neighbours.
All in all, it's a much better film than you expect. There are some
genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and the characters are so vivid that they manage to sustain
the pace for whole 90 minutes. Sessions describes it as a celebration: "a celebration
of some stars we love and bringing them together with some normal - or perhaps not so normal
- people and showing some of the problems and pitfalls that fame can bring." If it is
a celebration then it's of our own conflicting desires to both elevate and humble, the rich
and famous - eager to exult them as demigods, but delighting when they come crashing back
to Earth. If they are the delusional, spoilt or immature, it is us who have made them so,
but that's beside the point. What we have here is a fun, almost exquisite, pantomime in the
best traditions of British comedy. We're always being told that Americans don't get the
British sense of humour but, if this does get a cinematic release over there, then I guess
we'll find out.
DVD extras: as well as the commentary, there are a whole load of bells
and whistles which give this the feel of a big release - the obligatory making-of featurette
and some spoof shows the pick of which is Michael Caine's lost classic Bongo In The Congo.