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cast: Nick Ball, Ewen Bremner, Calum Chalmers, Kevin Eldon, and Tim Healy

director: Vito Rocco

88 minutes (PG) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Faintheart is something of an innovation in that it claims to be the first 'user-generated feature', being cast, co-scripted and produced by the members of a social networking website. The aspect of novelty ends right there though, as the film is as cosy and traditional in tone as any Ealing comedy from yesteryear. It's an example of that characteristic British home-grown cinema where ordinary people fight through adversity to find true love and the inevitable reassurances of their own social grouping, a comfy ride filmed on a small scale. That's not to say that the journey isn't enjoyable (and in fact I had a smile on my face during most of it) but those who shy away from the cinematic world of, say Gregory's Girl or Brassed Off, and any of those UK movies which show aspirations born of national and personal idiosyncrasies, had better turn elsewhere.

For the rest of us director Vito Rocco provides a steady pair of hands in what is a charming tale set amidst the oddballs and associates of the 'Bloody Broadswords', a battle re-enactment society. At the centre of Faintheart are three relationships. Firstly, that of Richard (Eddie Marsan) and his determination to regain the love of his wife; she's understandably estranged after what proved to be the last straw: his belated appearance at her father's funeral, dressed in battle gear of the Norsemen. Richard's passion for re-enactment - part of an attempt, we suspect, to escape his mundane existence as a browbeaten worker in a DIY store - exasperates his wife (Jessica Hynes) almost as much as it embarrasses his young son. Meanwhile, Richard's friend Julien (Ewen Bremmer), a committed Trekkie, has a quest of his own: to find and retain a woman of his own and finally move out of his mother's place. Finally there's the growing friendship of Richard's son with a girl from his school, someone who recognises that to be different from the crowd is not necessarily a bad thing. In this she suggests an antidote to the disillusionment of Richard's wife as well as the unstinting fan-hood of Julien.

Shot around Worcester and Ludlow Castle, Rocco's film begins especially well with some mock heroic images of putative resistance to the Norman conquest, scenes incidentally anticipating the impact of the more serious 1066, expected next year. His confidence in his material and actors extends though the film, which uses its (surprising for a budget) 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio effectively in a familiar working class landscape of bars, homes and playing fields. Delivered deadpan, and in typically understated fashion, the acting by all concerned is right on the mark. Especially noteworthy is Paul Nicholls as Richard, diehard of the small re-enactment fraternity, whose private life is a much as a struggle as are the heroic events he recreates in costume. The film makes plainly effective, if obvious, parallels between the two worlds he inhabits. They best comes together perhaps with the mock Arthurian moment as he retrieves his recently discarded swords from the rubbish tip.

It's fair to say that the main crisis in Richard's life is when, ultimately he has to decide between real life and pretence, a moment signified by him shaving off his trademark moustache and cutting back his hair. This is also an important moment too as it marks the point where the viewer stops seeing Richard's world, as it were, from the viewpoint of his historical fantasies looking in, and instead sees the real world as now acting upon the fantasies. To a certain extent the film suffers a little after this sea change. Richard's new, sensible look and manner makes the rest of it slightly more serious in a way which is not always to its advantage.

As with a lot of films of this sort a good deal of the pleasure lays in the incidental details fleshing out the relationships and motivations between the principal characters. Julien's goofy sex talk in Klingon for instance, Richard's painstaking, inept recreation of his first date with his wife or, in one Pythonesque moment, the off-hand admission of one of the burly bewhiskered members of the Bloody Broadswords that he "was a woman once." There's nothing in Faintheart which will get them rolling in the aisles, but there's nothing that is intended to. Rocco's movie is an amiable slice of life told with affection, more broadsword than the broad humour expected by some critics. There's enough to embody some truths about the national identity which one can recognise. Like Brassed Off, or the imminent Derek Jacobi movie Morris: A Life With Bells On, Faintheart paints its portrait of a society of social eccentrics facing the world on their own terms, an echo of the national epic, writ small. Eventual success of course is understood from the start, but whether such apolitical 'doing your own thing' is more than wishful thinking, particularly in today's downturn, such films leave others to decide. In the meantime Rocco manages a good deal of empathy with his cast which communicates well, and his movie can be judged a success.

The DVD includes the director's original 'MySpace' pitch but oddly enough no proper trailer for his film. There are also casting videos, on-set diaries, information about the re-enactors behind the story as well as Katie Melua recording her song for the movie.

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