by Allan Fish
(UK 2005 358m) DVD1/2
Looking for Ambrose Chapel
p Sanne Wohlenberg d Dearbhla Walsh, Susan Tully, Brian Kirk w Simon Ashdown, Jeremy Dyson ph Lukas Strebel ed Emer Reynolds, Tony Cranstoun
Kris Marshall (Dudley Sutton), Ian Puleston Davies (Shirley Woolf), Daniel Mays (Carter Krantz), Roy Barraclough (Onan Van Kneck), Judy Parfitt (Mercy Woolf), Frances Barber (Connie), Sarah Smart (Lola Sutton), Emily Aston (Ruby Woolf), Philip Jackson (Leo Finch), Beth Cordingly (Vienna), Mark Gatiss (Ambrose Chapfel), Ron Cook,
It all begins with a man in a gorilla suit climbing up Blackpool Tower. We see him fall. We don’t see why or who he is. Could be a she for all we know. We are then told it’s several days earlier. Each episode will begin the same way with the same gorilla-suited man plummeting to the pavement on the Golden Mile, and each time the clock ticks down. This in essence is Funland‘s Laura Palmer. I evoke the comparison with David Lynch’s ubercult quite deliberately, for there’s more than a touch of Lynch about this sleeper hit for the then fledgling BBC3.
One wouldn’t necessarily have expected too much. Dyson was one of the creators of the grotesque comedy series The League of Gentlemen, which had long since lost its original brilliance. Ashdown was one of the main staff writers on EastEnders for many years. It would not have been too hard to guess we could expect a darkly comic soap opera pastiche. It came along just one year after an another excellent fantasy set in the old Northern entertainment capital, and the spirit of David Tennant’s copper from my home town and David Morrissey’s Ripley Holden can be felt everywhere. It’s the same place as was seen in Blackpool, yet it’s like it’s being viewed not through the nostalgic lens of that series, but through a distorted lens, like the hall of mirrors at the old Pleasure Beach House of Horrors.
Essentially, it concerns the arrival of three people in Blackpool. There’s Carter (a nod to Get Carter perhaps?), a young man who’s come to Blackpool after his dying mother pointed him in the direction of the town about which she knew a secret. Then there’s Dudley and Lola Sutton, a rather dull married couple who’ve come for a dirty weekend to try and inject some passion into their passionless marriage. Cogs in their story will prove to be nightclub owner Shirley Woolf, his domineering mother, Mercy, who owns much of Blackpool and wants it all, the town mayor who has foot long nipples (!!), a seedy B & B proprietor, a missing vicar, a stuttering reporter, a lap dancer, a couple of hitmen and a psychotic, perverted Finnish gangster who comes to a hilarious end.
It’s outrageous stuff, and at times it does threaten to derail itself from its tracks like an out of control Big Dipper. Occasionally, and quite unnervingly, it veers into extremely unsettling territory, from incest to torture to various murders, and sex, lots of sex. The performances are all on the money; Jackson, Barber (blowsy as can be), Cook and Mays are all excellent, Cordingly has a whale of a time as the ultimate cold-hearted whore in thongs, six inch heels and micro-skirts. Most terrifying of all there’s Parfitt, playing not simply one of her usual stern matriarchs but quite simply the gorgon incarnate, a vision of absolute selfish, degenerate evil, a distaff version of Noah Cross, playing the whole world as a joke and seeing love as simply “fucking with a kiss thrown in.” If one had to single anyone out, let me take two. Firstly Aston as the thick as proverbial excrement easy lay Ruby, who we first see sucking someone off in an alley – a cop no less, having had practice from giving them for kit-kats when younger – and later see munching like no-one’s business, whether frankfurters after an explosion or Pringles in a wedding dress. Best of all, there’s Smart (who’d shown promise as the neo-Cathy in Brontë reworking Sparkhouse), rising from frigid to resourceful and damned sexy as she realises that she finds stripping quite liberating and even enjoys being screwed doggy-style in front of her husband. And the song she strips to so erotically? Marilyn Manson’s ‘I Put a Spell on You’; you see, I wasn’t kidding about the David Lynch connection…