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A Bunch Of Amateurs
cast: Burt Reynolds, Samantha Bond, Imelda Staunton, Derek Jacobi, and Camilla Arfwedson

director: Andy Cadiff

96 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
This is a pleasant if inconsequential little British comedy with the presence of a big-name star to draw attention to itself. Sir Derek Jacobi breezes through his role as a pompous amateur thespian and isn't at all upstaged by sharing billing with Burt Reynolds. Only joking...

The redemptive power of Shakespeare's King Lear has been explored before in Roland Harwood's The Dresser. Here a has-been action hero Jefferson Steel (Reynolds, Deliverance) clutches at the straw of an offer to play Lear at Stratford to save a theatre. This isn't Stratford-upon-Avon, however, but Stratford, St John, and it isn't the RSC but a ramshackle bunch of part-time players seeking to save the theatre that holds their community together.

Used to five-star living and Beverly Hills, Steel is put up at the local B&B under the care of the besotted Mary (Imelda Staunton), who waits quivering for the manifestation of Steel's alleged sex addiction. Grumpy about the lack of facilities and the production, unfamiliar with the text and hopelessly enamoured of his own image, Steel alienates all around him but eventually seems to be making progress, until rumours of an affair with the young wife of the play's sponsor threaten to destroy everything. Alongside the main story runs the portrayal of Steel's disastrous relationship with his actress daughter Amanda (Camilla Arfwedson), healed by the play and Steel's apparent rehabilitation.

The film is carried by the perky playing of Samantha Bond as Dorothy the director, and Imelda Staunton's Mary. All the cast perform well and, fittingly, many of them are comparatively new to film acting. Reynolds' lack of facial movement either betrays the effects of cosmetic surgery or too heavy make-up. He shuffles through a role which clearly is designed to send up his pretensions and those of his ilk. He is alright for the part and commands the attention, which tends to verify the notion of star-status, but something is clearly missing from the performance. Veteran actor Charles Durning as Steel's agent shows what can be done to flesh out a cameo but Reynolds gives us little beyond a superficial reading of the text. The comedy draws little smiles rather than guffaws and is the kind of inoffensive entertainment for a Royal command performance, which indeed it was.

The DVD extras comprise a set of interviews with cast and crew. On a technical note, these interviews are provided under separate headings which have to be individually chosen, however they are so very short that it would have been easier to edit them together saving the viewer the necessity of clicking between screens every few seconds.

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