A Gun For George is a new 17-minute short film produced by Sheffield’s Warp Films, written and directed by Matthew Holness, star of British comedy shows Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man To Man With Dean Lerner.
This is good news for fans of cult UK comedy and Garth Merenghi in particular. A very niche show, riffing on late 70s and early 80s horror and exploitation cinema—with a large dose of Lars Von Trier/Stephen King’s The Kingdom thrown in for good measure—it has nevertheless managed to amass a sizable cult following, helping launch the careers of Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry and Alice Lowe (who last year starred in the delicious black comedy Sightseers, one of my film highlights of 2012).
But what of its elusive star, Matthew Holness? The titular hero of Darkplace has been noticeably absent from our TV screens in the intervening (almost) decade since the show first aired.
Well, he’s back. And this time he plays a failed pulp fiction writer given to flights of wild self-aggrandizement and outbursts of futile anger, who lives mostly in a fantasy world of his own creation, and whose talent simply doesn’t match up to his self-belief.
Sound familiar? Isn’t that pretty much the exact same character he played in Darkplace? Well, yes and no.
The mood of A Gun For George is more sombre than the trashy, spoofy fun of Darkplace, and while some of the same comedic motifs are in place (pretence triumphing over talent (or not), confusion over fantasy and reality and intimate knowledge of genre conventions) the overall experience is rather different. In A Gun For George, Holness plays Terry Finch, a down-on-his-luck, not-very-popular author of pulp crime novels, most of which revolve around a lone avenger-character called The Reprisalizer. The switch in setting from exploitation/horror pastiche to crime fiction drama mirrors a change in tone towards something more doleful, and the cultural references seem rooted more in the mid 70s than the early 80s.
I’m also not sure if it’s a comedy, despite the innate humor of Holness’ performance. There’s an undercurrent of brooding darkness at play that sucks you in. Here the audience is asked to empathize with the characters and their story, rather than just a tick list of genre tropes. A couple of minutes in and I was a bit astounded that Holness has come back with a slight variant on his first show, but by the end I was convinced that it had the strength to stand firmly on its own merits.
A Gun For George views like a pilot, and I for one would be very happy to see this turn into a full-length TV series. Here’s the trailer.