The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005) is the first and only movie in the League of Gentlemen franchise, a franchise that also includes a television show, a radio show, and live panto on DVD. It was created by the four men who call themselves the League of Gentlemen, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, and Jeremy Dyson.
Royston Vasey has never seen a storm like this. The moors are soaked in sudden downpour. Lightning breaks off the arm of the iconic statue that frames every title sequence of the League of Gentlemen TV show. Reverend Bernice Woodall’s secret cavern underneath the church warns her of an apocalypse, signaled by these exact signs (along with the violent ejaculation of a giraffe). The coming hell fire will be caused by Royston Vasey’s creators deciding not to do another season of The League of Gentlemen. The only thing left to do is put together an all-star team of characters to cross the bridge from the world of fiction into the world of TV executives and prissy film writers. Calling upon the brassiest and the most pure-hearted in all of Royston Vasey, Bernice summons Pauline Campbell-Jones and Dr. Matthew Chinnery. Too bad Hilary Briss, Herr Lipp, and Geoff Tipps steal the key and get there first.
Mark Gatiss is an actor and writer. He is one fourth of the League of Gentlemen, as well as a writer for Doctor Who and co-creator of Sherlock. He also plays Mycroft in Sherlock. He also acts for the stage, such as Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. @Markgatiss
By now, everybody is sick of the post-modern Six Characters in Search of an Author thing. You know the plot: the characters come to life and either meet the actors who play them or replace the actors who play them. There’s always a search for the creator, sometimes as metaphor for the search for God. Dramas like Supernatural have done it. Kids shows like Eerie Indiana have done it. Even Red Dwarf had a go in 2009 (though, I’d argue not very successfully). The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse is the League’s take on this story, and unlike the other shows mentioned above, the League’s creators are also the actors. How will this pan out?
Remarkably well, actually. I dare say, of all these meta-fiction endeavors, The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse is the most enjoyable. Although it is written for the uninitiated (you don’t have to have seen the TV show to follow what’s going on), it’s also written with the fans in mind. The opening scene, which has Jeremy Dyson haunted by his own creations–Edward, Tubbs, and Papa Lazarou–tells us that the film is going to give fans everything they want and more. Jeremy Dyson, incidentally, is played by Michael Sheen (who also plays the voice of the door knocker), as Dyson is the only one of the four creators who is not also an actor. (He does appear in the final scene of the film as a background actor, though.)
If there is one problem with the film, it’s that there is a subplot that goes on for eleven minutes before you figure out why the hell it’s in the film. It introduces brand new characters who are not a part of Royston Vasey or the real League, and while the story is entertaining, it’s crowbarred into the middle of the film when you’re all excited about Steve Pemberton having escaped after Hilary and Geoff tied him up in the hotel bathtub. Once the subplot connects back up to the plot, you forgive it, but it’s an agonizing wait. On the other hand, it gives a small part to the late Victoria Wood, a cameo from Simon Pegg and Peter Kaye, and a large role to David Warner as the big baddie. There’s actually a line in a deleted scene where Mark Gatiss asks Reece Shearsmith if that’s David Warner from the Omen playing Dr. Pea.
Reece Shearsmith is an actor and writer. He is one fourth of the League of Gentlemen. He co-writes and co-stars in Inside No. 9 with Steve Pemberton. He also acts for the stage, such as The Producers. @ReeceShearsmith
Something that puts this movie apart from other film adaptations of comedy television shows–aside from the fact that it’s the first time anyone’s used Ray Harryhousen-esque stop-motion in the last twenty years–is that there are really only three actors. Yes, there’s the aforementioned David Warner and a couple other bit parts, but no less than sixteen characters are played by just Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith. Like in the TV show, they write around it: when the Royston Vasey trio go to kidnap Steve Pemberton, Herr Lipp (played by Pemberton) is off pretending to be Steve with Steve’s family, for example. However, you can’t keep this up for a full 90-minute movie, so there is actually quite a lot of double work and digital post-production. It’s so seamless (and the acting and makeup are so good), you don’t even recognize that the shot is not simply filming six people in a room but a complicated series of shots and special effects to make three people appear as six. For example, there is a scene where Papa Lazarou, Edward (both Shearsmith), and Tubbs (Pemberton) are debriefing Jeff (Shearsmith), Herr Lipp (Pemberton), and Hilary (Gatiss) on their mission. It looks flawless.
Steve Pemberton is an actor and writer. He acts in TV, film, and the stage. He is one fourth of the League of Gentlemen. He co-writes and co-stars in Inside No. 9 with Reece Shearsmith.
Okay, so not all of your favorite characters may have made the cut. The Dentons and their toads are nowhere to be found. While Mickey gets a cameo, Ross is out of the picture. There’s no charity shop, Legz Akimbo, or Creme Brulee. There’s only one brief sighting of Barabara’s pink taxi. But I do think that what you’ll find in this film is the League’s unfailing ability to create character arcs over the top of their grotesque horror and bathroom humor plotlines. If you’re not moved by Geoff’s growing softness or Herr Lipp’s quest for freewill, you’ve missed the point. And if you have missed the point, at least you’ll enjoy the overly cinematic meteorites striking Royston Vasey, the Poseidon Adventure* scaling of the church, the stop-motion homunculus, and an ambiguous ending that will keep you guessing for hours.
*According to the DVD commentary, Shearsmith was offered a role in The 2005 version of The Poseidon Adventure but had to turn it down because it conflicted with this film.
Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd.com. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.