Cinema Review: Sightseers

DIR: Ben Wheatley • WRI: Amy Jump, Alice Lowe,  Steve Oram •PRO: Claire Jones, Nira Park Andrew Starke • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Robin Hill, Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley • DES: Jane Levick • CAST: Sara Stewart, Tony Way, Alice Lowe, Lucy Russell

Tina and Chris travel across the English countryside, visiting such sites as the Crich Tramway Museum, Fountains Abbey, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the Ribblehead Viaduct.  Their week-long holiday provides the basis for a darkly comic thriller, the pleasures of which far exceed those that such an itinerary might promise.


Actors and co-writers Alice Lowe (Tina) and Steve Oram (Chris) play with cinematic convention.  Shot with handheld cameras and with actors speaking in English regional accents, Sightseers appears as an exercise in British social realism before events take things in unexpected directions.


Three months into her relationship with Chris, Tina needs a break from her meddlesome mother Carol, who blames Tina for the death of her beloved dog Poppy, her ‘only friend’.  (Tina’s not a friend; she’s just a relative.)  Tina takes the trip to escape from the guilt Carol makes her feel.


A fellow sightseer at the tram museum discards an ice-cream wrapper, much to Chris’ chagrin. A fatal accident and a distressed phone call from Carol make for an inauspicious beginning, but Chris and Tina decide to continue anyway.  They meet other pleasure seekers along the way, and a typical caravan trip in genteel England becomes something quite different.


Chris and Tina seem comfortable in their relationship, and at odds with the rest of the world. Chris tells Tina that he’s taking a sabbatical from work and intends to write a book, inspired by their travels and seeing her as his muse. Events take a surprising course and test the couple’s relationship and how they see one another.


Ben Wheatley, directing his third feature, successfully balances the sympathetic aspects of Chris and Tina before their actions become reprehensible in kind, then by degree.  He does not shirk from showing the horrific effects of their decisions.  Taking apparently ordinary folk through a provincial setting, exploring their darker natures, providing unexpected (and many) laughs along the way, Wheatley matches the Coen brothers’ best work, certainly in terms of conception, if not in production values.

John Moran

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
88 mins
Sightseers is released on 30th November 2012

Sightseers – Official Website


Issue 134 – The Best Medicine


Everyone enjoys a good laugh. It’s one of life’s simplest pleasures, and yet complex and unique in its manifestation. Laughter is, unquestionably, good for the soul and, as the man once said, a cure for every sorrow. On a quest to enlighten the masses, the great and the good of comedy writing gathered for the second instalment of BSÉ/IFB’s Give Me Direction. Shane Kennedy reports from this year’s Give Me Direction comedy screenwriting conference.

Curated by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage), Sharon Horgan (Pulling, Angelo’s) and Pat McCabe (Breakfast on Pluto, The Butcher Boy), the convention attracted a stellar line up of comedy writers, featuring, amongst others, Bobby Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) and Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show, Four Lions). Little wonder, then, that hordes of comedy lovers and aspiring comedy scriptwriters descended on The Merrion and Cineworld for a two-day, comedy love-in.

Farrelly funny

So, let us get down to business. How does one write good comedy? First up was Bobby Farrelly. The Farrelly brothers’ success story has a distinctly American ring to it. With Dumb & Dumber, the brothers’ debut feature, the acquisition of the soon-to-be very, very hot property Jim Carrey proved to be pivotal in their success story. Dumb luck, indeed. When pressed on the brothers’ source of inspiration, observation and life experience are very much to the fore. ‘When my brother and I were growing up, we were always drawn to the unusual characters. We embraced those guys. We thought, “there is comedy here”. The black sheep is always funnier than one hundred white sheep.’

In terms of the comedy that Farrelly has produced, his writing partnership with Peter is very much key. Writing five pages every day, the brothers have a methodical approach to this part of the process. ‘Don’t force it’ is the message. Their writing process has a quirky idiosyncrasy – the brothers themselves do not know where the narrative is going. ‘We don’t know in advance what the story will be. It can’t be too linear, the audience can’t be able to second-guess what is going to happen.’ The ability to balance narrative against laughs is central to any comedy success, and the Farrellys have their own technique for cramming in mini laughing orgies without interrupting the flow of the storyline: the montage. ‘It allows us to take a break from the story. Take the audience on a little trip. It provides a release from the narrative, and the crowd go with it. It works,’ adds Farrelly.
A further tip in terms of technique is the element of surprise. Citing the introduction of the black father of Cameron Diaz’ WASP princess in There’s Something About Mary as an example, it underlines the fact that good comedy need not be complicated. Just find that funny bone and tickle it. Interestingly, Farrelly is the first to admit that the brothers’ gags can only go so far. Without an experienced and skilful crew, their vision won’t ever make it onto the big screen. ‘I mean, we’re not camera guys. We just make sure we can get the best DOP we can find.’ Even the best need help, it seems.

Fooling around

Next up is the Los Angeles-based Nicole Holofcener, best known for talky, urban comedies such as Walking and Talking and, screened during the convention, Please Give. Holofcener’s is a gentler and more nuanced comedy, something of a departure from the Farrellys’ slapstick romps. Her stories are very much character-based, with the narrative driving the comedy, never vice versa. ‘I try to derive comedy out of characters. Catherine Keener’s (the female lead in Please Give) character is comedic because she is a fool.’ Holofcener is not afraid to engage in a spot of navel-gazing in her quest for inspiration. ‘And I love writing fools – I am the first fool I am writing about. And if you can laugh at yourself, I think you should.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.