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The Cricklewood Greats (2012), Peter Capaldi’s Love Letter to British B-Movies

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Still from The Cricklewood Greats (BBC, 2012).

Still from The Cricklewood Greats (BBC, 2012).

To round out my recent film history kick, we have perhaps the greatest documentary ever made on the history of British B-movies: The Cricklewood Greats, directed and hosted by Peter Capaldi, and written by Capaldi and Tony Roche of The Thick of It, Veep, and Holy Flying Circus.  A masterpiece.  A veritable masterpiece, sending up both British classic film and television documentary at the same time.  No, I’ll go further: a veritable masterpiece whose truthiness is capped off with a frothy Terry Gilliam confection, made up of documentary footage, all-too-painfully-true satire, digs at Thatcher, and the best worst only joke made at the expense of continuity girls in the history of comedy.

I’d like to pretend there’s some valuable reflection on content in this post, like “blah blah independent filmmakers blah blah small movies filled with their personal voice blah blah content risks on TV”, but screw it: it has an irradiated scientist from the British Centre for Cosmic Research, and that is all it needs.  As someone who made a double feature of X the Unknown and The Damned, I can say with a degree of authority that Hammer Films’ early 1960s nuclear angst sci-fi is sublime, and if it takes a fake documentary to acknowledge this great truth, so be it.

The Cricklewood Greats is both very dry and really rather sweet, with great love for 50 years of British movies and documentary.  (Watch out for Capaldi’s parody of Leslie Howard, and quickly, before Tumblr starts petitioning for the ginger wig and coat as his Doctor Who costume.)


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