You may not have heard of Johnny Daukes, but enough of the right people have heard of him to ensure that his first feature film, Acts of Godfrey, has a marvellous cast of British acting and comic talent. Overall his film is as British as bangers and mash, Birds of a Feather (I spotted it anyway) and Bill Shakespeare
The Bard’s influence is most obvious in that Acts of Godfrey is written by Daukes entirely in rhyming verse. Yes, the whole script rhymes. Unfortunately this might put some people off going to see it, but it shouldn’t because the film has a broad appeal. It has plenty of laughs, great characters and a good plot.
Godfrey, in case you were wondering, is the narrator of the story, the director of the characters’ fates and is usually known as… God. The Almighty has been played by everyone from Morgan Freeman to Alanis Morrisette, but this movie has a deity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the rest: Simon Callow. Having played the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley, in Chemical Wedding back in 2008, perhaps it was a natural step for Callow to change cosmic sides. In The Acts of Godfrey he livens up the screen whenever he’s seen and puts in a calmer and less histrionic performance than sometimes.
The tale that Godfrey tells revolves around Victor (known simply as Vic) Timms (VicTims geddit) played by Scot, Iain Robertson, who goes away on a motivational sales training weekend where the focus is “win, only win”. Motivational events are already ludicrous and perfect for satirising, and this conference is also held at a rather marvellous location – a Victorian pile that combines gothic menace with bland corporate spookiness.
Also attending the conference are a bunch of selfish ne’er-do-wells who all want to polish their wonga grasping skills. There’s Jacqui (Doon Mackichan of Smack the Pony) a bleached blonde who sells Spanish villas to gangsters, Terry and Phil (Ian Burfield and Jay Simpson) two East End hard men who are promoting a very unusual product as medical reps, and meek Gita (Shobu Kapoor) who works in a funeral home. The most unobtrusive conference attendee is Malcolm played with evil, weedy relish by Harry Enfield. Let’s not forget the lovely Mary (Myfanwy Waring) who thinks Vic is arrogant for taking the high moral ground when it comes to ripping people off, while he reckons she’s selfish and cruel. Yes, these two are the thwarted lovers in the best Shakespearean tradition.
So, Godfrey weaves his story using all these wildly over-the-top characters stuck in their grey corporate wasteland. As he puts it, “”That’s right, you’re all pawns in a vast game of chess. You think out your actions but might as well guess.” Periodically time stops and Callow pops up to give insights into the plot and the characters with fruity aplomb.
You might think that verse would slow Acts of Godfrey down, but it still whips along at a decent pace. Daukes spices things up with bloody flashbacks and Busby Berkeley influenced fantasy sequences. Rhymes require concentration and so suck you further into the film. Also, having to find a rhyme for every sentence also pulls the script in some unforeseen directions. When talking about Gita (who was brought up by a lefty dad), someone makes the comment that “she could do with being less left wing“, this rhymes with an ‘ing’ in the previous line, a comment that might not have been said in a ‘normal’ film. It’s funny and unexpected.
It’s a shame that people might be put off by the thought of going to see a film in verse, because I’m certain that most of them would really enjoy it. Acts of Godfrey is hilariously funny and deserves a wide audience.
We saw Acts of Godfrey at a private preview, and it’s currently seeking a distribution partner. So, get on it distribution companies.