31 December 2004 | dazed2d
Accomplished but with something missing
The problem with biopics, particularly of those in living memory, is that they rely so heavily upon impression (rather than interpretation) that you can end up spending most of your two hours or so asking: "Who's that supposed to be?" No such problem with Rhys Ifans and Aidan McArdle's Peter Cook and Dudley Moore respectively - particularly when playing them on the point of disintegration in the 70s. Ifans has Pete's cold, almost trance-like, stare and fey way with a cigarette to perfection while McArdle (like Moore) grows in stature throughout the proceedings: which is quite a feat given his size.
As a re-imaginer of popular culture and the relationships within it, writer/director Terry Johnson is a past master. His central conceit of having the monochrome Dagenham philosophers Pete 'n' Dud watch a colour film about Cook and Moore's lives is inspired, particularly as Pete points out the post-modern methods being used to his chip-gobbling midget mate.
(By the way, if you think I'm hung up about Dud/McArdle's height, you wait 'til you hear what Pete/Ifans has to say about it.)
All the essential moments, particularly of the 60s, are highlighted here - Beyond The Fringe, David Frost, Eleanor Bron, Not Only But Also, etc. - and checked off. Yet still there's a sense of something missing, and it's not just the fact that the script highlights Cook over Moore.
At heart, rather like the middle of a doughnut, there is nothing of substance here. Certainly nothing that you couldn't have learnt from the brilliant documentary "At A Slight Angle To The Universe". Instead, what you have is Cook as a reptilian philanderer blessed with genius and Moore as a hectoring fishwife (the old "comedy duo as marriage" cliché is well and truly overplayed here) who also happens to be a trouper.
Where is the joie de vivre and charm that Cook and Moore both possessed as well as the self-pity and alcoholism that this film would have us wallow in? Despite some clever lines (and curiously rewritten classic sketches), Johnson seems to be more interested in what tore the two men apart rather than what brought, and kept, them together in the first place.
That said, the church choir singing "Goodbye-ee" will live with me forever.