Having used what would probably have been their preferred portmanteau idea for the 2000 Christmas Special, The League of Gentlemen needed something a little different for their feature film in 2005. The show had been a series of sketches pastiching horror tropes, loosely combining into vague narratives in the televised version, and for The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse the three comedians and Jeremy Dyson (played here by Michael Sheen) went metatextual, asking what the characters themselves might think of the writers abandoning them. Art reflecting life, reflecting art again.
The League’s more enduring creations probably wouldn’t sustain an ongoing narrative themselves, working better in a progressing sketch of the week scenario, so Papa Lazarou, Edward and Tubbs are dispensed with early on and the second string likes of the rough-talking Geoff and Hilary Briss the butcher, along with Herr Lipp are given centre stage. The upside is that this gives Messers Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith an opportunity to flesh out and humanise the creations they feel best capable of, the downside being that this no longer really feels like The League of Gentlemen at all. And the biggest issue is that you absolutely need an acquaintance with the programme to understand what’s happening, but because you’re not getting what you paid for you won’t care.
The story involves the writers’ abandonment of the project bringing an Apocalypse to Royston Vasey that Geoff, Bris and Lipp must prevent or perish, stumbling through a crack in reality in an attempt to track down Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith, and finding themselves in the Real World. Geoff writes himself into the plot of the League’s new fiction, allowing David Warner’s Dr Erasmus Pea to cross back over into Vasey, and Herr Lipp accidentally ends up living Steve Pemberton’s life with wife Emily Woof. The increased budget allows for a couple of Harryhausen-esque stop motion monsters, and there are cameos galore from the likes of Peter Kay, Victoria Wood and Simon Pegg.
While Reece Shearsmith as Geoff carries the protagonistic elements of the plot, in doing so proving a much better actor than the TV series gave him the opportunity to be, it is Steve Pemberton living Herr Lipp’s double life who gives the picture its heart. Pemberton is the most capable of the on-screen League members, and by the film’s end you do find yourself caring far more about “the worst pun in the world” than you’d ever imagine you could.
The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse finishes with a lovely reversal of fortune, and it is, as long as you know what you’re getting, a tremendously entertaining and mostly very funny film. But it’s also very dense and self-reflexive, and difficult to actually love.
Special Features: Audio commentary / The Making of The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse / The Real Royston Vasey / A Cast of Thousands / A Gentleman’s Diary by Steve Pemberton / Deleted scenes / Out-takes / Gallery / Trailers
THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN’S APOCALYPSE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: STEVE BENDELACK / SCREENPLAY: JEREMY DYSON, MARK GATISS, STEVE PEMBERTON, REECE SHEARSMITH / STARRING: MARK GATISS, STEVE PEMBERTON, REECE SHEARSMITH, DAVID WARNER / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 12TH