In fact, the story is mostly about his younger son Vince (Michael Legge ) and hardly about Harold Smith (Tom Courtenay) at all. And it's only at the end that we can even understand why screen time is given to episodes in the father's life.
In addition to Courtenay's endearing performance, veterans Stephen Fry and David Thewlis contribute the best of the comedic acting, in what is otherwise an aimless, meandering tale that did not need to be told.
It's actually young Vince's story, and a wispy one at that: Boy meets girl, boy fails to impress girl, boy finally overcomes himself and wins her at last. This meager theme is padded with several subplots whose only function seems to be providing more situations for the bedevilment and humiliation of Vince and Harold.
Early scenes establish and succeeding scenes repeat various comic (?) humiliations and embarrassments of both father and son. Though not of the grisly sort, these episodes are mean-spirited enough (on the part of the characters) to make an empathetic viewer vicariously uncomfortable. This is offset somewhat by the sweetness of Harold and of Vince's affection for him.
*Possible spoiler in next paragraph* For most of the film I wondered why we are being told both men's stories. What is the connection? Near the end we finally find out. At a time of crisis, the mild-mannered dad, using his paranormal powers, intervenes to support his son in standing up for himself and his happiness.
The story seems to be a parable, with the moral that one should stand up for one's individuality and not be pushed around by various kinds of bullies, including inadvertent ones. An admirable theme, but better scripted in other works, and an under-use of good talent here, in my opinion.
Noticing this title on a used-video sales list, I first checked some IMDb viewer comments. On the strength of their praise I bought the video and was looking forward to being amused, bemused, charmed, and more. This shouldn't have been difficult, since I'm easily entertained and enjoy many kinds of humor (except those that seek to disgust, demean, damage or hurt). And I generally love British humor, not to mention offbeat fantasies and sci-fi.
But (apart from Courtenay) nothing stellar to report here. Humorwise, I can't understand other reviewers' classing it in the same league as The Full Monty. No comparison, in my opinion! Monty had me in guffaws throughout; Harold only one short "ha!" of surprise and a few smiles.
At the other end of the spectrum is that British specialty combination of droll absurdity and sweetness. As to this, Courtenay delivers, but it's overwhelmed by a greater amount of noisy straining at stale youth and romance bits.
Some of Stephen Fry's odd minor character's pronouncements were insightfully absurd -- that is, excellent at capturing the absurdity of a certain type of individual -- but added up to a person I would much rather not be around - or even watch on a screen.
This is the first time I've posted a negative review. Normally I'm the less critical sort who gives the benefit of the doubt and extra points for good intentions. Sad to say, that was just too big a stretch for me this time. For me this was a very rare 6 out of 10.