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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Happy New Year, Colin Burstead - Review

Ben Wheatley is a director who has rapidly become a must-see in terms of his new films. Fresh off the inventive and exciting High-Rise and Free Fire, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is another film that takes place mostly in one location, following one extended family as they reunite for the first time in years at a stately home in the country. It’s something that Colin Burstead enjoys as the centre of attention until the family’s wayward son David arrives without warning, and with his carefully planned activities already scuppered, Colin’s life begins to get so much worse when the past comes back once more to light.

Ben Wheatley is no stranger to building tension and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead does that really well. From the moment the family arrives, you get an idea as to who their characters are and you have an idea as to what’s likely going to set them off. It’s smart, witty and well-paced, with plenty of jokes that drew multiple laughs throughout the entire screening. It helps that the humour is often subtle too, playing off just how well-defined the characters are.

The cast assembled benefits from not having an A-List actor who would demand screentime. Charles Dance is arguably the biggest name, playing a cross-dressing Uncle named Bertie, but he just feels like another member of the family rather than someone who happens to be played by an actor. I, Daniel Blake’s Hayley Squires also brings nuance and depth to her role, and it’s interesting to watch just how well defined these personalities are as they clash back and forth across the setting of the manor, which is observed as looking like something out of Downton Abbey. Elsewhere in the cast, Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole adds to the depth of characters, and the titular Colin Burstead benefits from an excellent performance by Neil Maskell, who along with Dance, probably has the best material and delivers the best performance if it has to be picked.

The Manor itself also feels like an extra member of the family in its own right, bringing with it its own problems that affect the cast. Every room is clearly lit and clearly showcased so the audience is never lost and always feels like they are in the room with the characters, having the arguments with them. It’s a film with a lot of talking but the tense feeling never goes away, and it always feels like a powder-keg ready to explode at any time.

The film plays against type and often brings out hidden secrets in characters that we know nothing about. Its script is finely crafted and feels like the most British that Ben Wheatley has been yet, so it’s hard to tell just how well the humour will play with international audiences. But it’s smartly written and benefits from the cringe-humour that doesn't feel too over the top.

There’s a sense of warmth to Happy New Year, Colin Burstead that feels earned and rewarded. There are no cheap moments, every confrontation, every reward feels earned. Nothing feels forced for the sake of drama and the conflict that comes always comes from believable family encounters. No family is perfect and Colin Burstead’s is more screwed up than most.

With so many Hollywood films out there that play up the message that family is more important than anything, it’s interesting to see how Happy New Year, Colin Burstead goes about deconstructing this trope. It’s a darkly comic and instantly memorable film that does enough to stand out, benefiting from a terrific ensemble performance.

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