Wilt

When I was a kid in the mid 80s, I adored things like Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones; the latter series coming from two alumni – Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones – of the former.

It was a rich time for UK comedy and video stores would have posters of all sorts of small, non-Hollywood movies being made over there. The poster for Morons from Outer Space (also featuring Smith and Rhys Jones), remains etched in my mind at the local store, as does their later film, Wilt.

What’s interesting, however, is I never actually saw Wilt. To this day I couldn’t tell you why. I knew the film existed. I adored the leads. I do recall the poster in the shop had an inflatable sex doll on it, but by the time I was 16 or so, I don’t think that would have stopped me renting it and taking it home.

So how or why I managed to not see Wilt eludes me, but as I was watching a Not the Nine O’Clock News documentary on YouTube recently, I suddenly remembered the film and decided to rectify this situation on the spot. I grabbed my phone, and ordered a copy on eBay while the doco played on.

Wilt is based on a novel by the satirical writer, Tom Sharpe. The basic premise is a community college lecturer is suspected of murdering his wife. He’s pursued by a local detective, who’s sure he committed the crime and, as the audience, we really don’t know any better ourselves. All of this is done, of course, in a highly comedic way. Mel Smith is wonderful as Inspector Flint; even within the relative confines of a small-budget 1980s comedy, he just shines. I love him and I miss him. Rhys Jones is equally impressive as Wilt, as you would expect, which is why they made such a solid TV team. He takes on more of a straight man role, although is slightly unhinged via his work at the college, and his wife’s behaviour in general. This adds nicely, of course, to the “did he, or didn’t he?” vibe of the film.

Initially I must confess that I found it hard to get into the film. The first five minutes, or so, I was sort of floundering as I tried to work out what was going on and whether all the initial introductions of the characters were giving me important information, or whether it was just some background noise before something actually happened. As time ticked on, it all started to fall into place, however, and I think if I went back and re-watched it, I would understand and get a lot more out of the opening scenes than I originally did. I also think there’s a definite ’80s vibe’ to the script, direction, and even the acting which your brain kind of has to recalibrate for, especially if you’ve just been watching TV or a film made recently, like I’d been doing (Jojo Rabbit, if you’re interested), which are so different.

Why would you watch this? Like many of the 80s episodes of The Comic Strip, I think it would have to primarily be because you already like the leads. If you like who’s in it, and you understand it’s a budget 80s film, and it’s not going to be like anything airing on TV tonight, you’re in a right enough mindset to get into it. If you’re going in cold – to the leads, to the vibe of the thing, etc – I think you could be switching off after 10 minutes. Or perhaps not. But some foreknowledge would help most people.

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