Entertaining Antidote to Christmas Cheer
, 20 Aug 2009
The key to this installment of the popular dark comedy The League of Gentlemen is that it is their homage to portmateau horror movies like 'Dr Terror's House Of Horrors' (see the very entertaining extras), and that their main intension was to create a Christmas horror which worked on the level of those popular Christmas plays like 'The Signalman' and 'Whistle And I'll Come To You' which the BBC used to do so well (not to mention Gatiss' chilling offering last year, the three-part 'Crooked House'). Yes, they are a comedy troupe, but their humour has always leaned towards the dark side and here the emphasis is definitely more on horror than humour. Of course, that's not to say it isn't funny, but you do have to have a slightly skewed sense of humour to really enjoy it. Set on Christmas Eve and framed around the character of Bernice, the cynical and cold-hearted vicar of Royston Vasey, this stand-alone episode explores three tales - haridan Stella's revenge on her line-dancing husband Charlie, the Duisberg-set tale of Herr Lipp's obsession with an English exchange student, and a Victorian tale which explores the origins of Dr Chinnery's cursed treatment of animals. And then its back to the framing device, which ultimately reveals why Bernice is so Christmas-phobic and offers a welcome, if disturbing, appearance from one of the League's most popular characters. Along the way, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will spot brief cameos from Pauline, Mickey and the Dentons, as well as a host of cinematic references and guest appearances from a suitably dressed down Liza Tarbuck and horror icon (now Emmerdale actor) Freddie Jones. The acting, especially of course from Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith, is superb, with their grotesque characters finely tuned but given chance to breathe thanks to the more detailed focus on individual stories. The production values are equally impressive, and this episode has a much more cinematic feel as the whole piece is filmed on location. Being a real League fan (as you might have gathered), I'd rate it as one of my favourite installments, slicker and more tightly scripted than the TV series, and it was very unfairly buried when transmitted during the Christmas schedules by the BBC. Give it a go - you won't be disappointed. But you may want to keep the lights on, the windows closed and, whatever you do, don't answer the door to anyone dressed as Father Christmas.
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