DIRECTOR: THOM SOUTHERLAND | SCREENPLAY: THOM SOUTHERLAND, PAUL ALEXANDER | VIRGINIA MCKENNA, BILL TRAVERS, PETER SELLERS, MARGARET RUTHERFORD | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Set during the post-Second World War years, The Smallest Show on Earth sees real-life acting couple Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna play fictional husband and wife, Matt and Jean, who learn via a letter to their house that the former's uncle has died. Through their assigned solicitor Robin Carter (Leslie Phillips), they learn that they've inherited a rather dilapidated and decaying cinema called the Bijou in the town of Sloughborough.
The venue is clearly on its last legs and is suffering from the rivalry of the neighbouring Grand Cinema, owned by ruthless Mr Hardcastle (Francis DeWolff). Faced with conflicting dilemmas, Matt and Jean decide to re-open the venue, with help from the ageing resident staff, elderly cashier Mrs Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford), detoxing projectionist Mr Quill (Sellers), and past-his-prime doorman Old Tom (Bernard Miles). Through a bit of ingenuity, the punters soon start coming in (as is Hardcastle with a more substantial offer to buy the place) and business begins to pick up, but Hardcastle is determined to level the Bijou flat so he can build a car park for the Grand on its foundations...
Reflective of a time when Britain was regrouping and rediscovering its purpose in the world, The Smallest Show on Earth mixes comedy and poignancy within a fulfilling narrative taking us back to when celluloid projected in single screen venues was the norm (and seating was a little more simplistic than the luxury recliners finding their way into screens these days!). Older viewers will certainly cast their minds back to their own young experiences in those old long gone venues, and that is where its primary audience remains, while the younger generation will be more willing to go for the current blockbusters on show. However, future Indiana Jones cinematographer Douglas Slocombe in the credits may help gauge their curiosity.
Performances are rock solid throughout, especially Sellers (in amazing old age make-up), and veteran Rutherford, who defined elderly performances effortlessly - as colleagues and rivals in the Bijou. A playful music score by William Alwyn adds to the charm.