Birthday Girl

9 out of 10


Charming British Comedy Thriller

On November 2nd 1982, Channel 4 began broadcasting across the UK. With no satellite nor cable stations, the British public had grown bored with watching the meagre ration of 3 terrestrial stations and the endless video releases of 1930 movies. To solve this, the then Tory Government of Mrs Thatcher had licensed this fourth channel. What they intended was supposed to be a sop to the minority groups, what they gotwas a powerhouse of creativity and imagination. So groundbreaking has C4 been, that its production company, Film Four, established to churn out TV flicks, has achieved the opposite of normal Hollywood drift, with TV movies like "Birthday Girl" being of such quality as to end up on the big screens of US cinemas. Sadly, as with anything imaginative and original, the movie has laboured under laughably inappropriate marketing, doled out by American studio chief unable to understand it's freshness, for whom "comedy" only goes with "romance" not "thriller" as is the case here. Indeed, in many ways, Birthday Girl is a hark back to the golden era of Ealing thriller comedies, like the "Oh Mr Porter."

In what is arguably her finest ever performance, the hyper-versatile Nicole Kidman plays Sophia, a poor country girl from Russia (making Kidman look dowdy being an achievement in itself!) who comes over as a mail order bride to St Albans, England where the film is set. A sleepy commuter town that would make Aylmer look like the twin town of the Bronx, St Albans was founded as Verulaneum nearly 2000 years ago by the invading Roman army, since when, frankly nothing much else of note has happened there. And her groom? John, a boring 9 to 5 bank clerk in a deadend career.

With truly charming and touching comedy, the film steadily draws its audience from the first simple problems, such as the fact that neither can speak the other's language, through ever worsening problems, such as the arrival of her noxious cousins until finally John finds himself having drifted, not only onto the wrong side of the law, but on the run from the Russian Mafia and in love with the girl he at first so despised.

Having lived in a satellite town near London myself for much of my life, as well as having had a Russian girlfriend in Moscow for several years, I can testify as to the stunning realism and believeability of the script, finding much that paralleled my own experiences, for it really is how both would behave, with the thought processes of the Russians being spot on.

More stunning is the acting with the Russians actually played all by French actors and the Australian Kidman, for the dialogue is not just almost flawless in pronounciation and performance, but also so utterly typical. Likewise, playing the quintessential Englishman, John, Ben Chaplin shows all that is finest of the average Brit, trying to remain calm and reasonable in the face of ignorance and mounting difficulty, yet possessing such a profoundness of resourcefulness of the "Dunkirk Spirit" in the midst of seeming hopelessness. Indeed, the surprise ending that he pulls off is not only funny and a thorough treat, but also deeply touching and leaves you wanting to cheer. A fine end to what is undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of one of the most original production companies in the world, Film Four.

Ya panamaiyo!

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett