Brian Stimpson, the meticulously organised headmaster of Thomas Tompion Comprehensive School, could be considered clockwise, ahead of his time with the timetables of every student and member of staff entered into his computer, supervising lunchtime from the window of his upper office through binoculars and issuing warnings to miscreants through the public address system.
Invited to stand as Chairman of the Headmasters’ Conference where he will deliver a speech he has been obsessively rehearsing in his head, he is to be driven to the train station by his wife Gwenda whereupon he will depart on the 10:25 to Norwich, arriving in plenty time to greet his peers as they arrive, an important distinction as it is rare for a comprehensive rather than a public school headmaster to be so honoured.
Through his own inability to pay the same heed to others as his own opinions, Mr Stimpson instead boards the wrong train on the opposite platform, so beginning a sequence of events that will see him effectively kidnap a pupil and force her to drive him cross-country where they will become the subject of police pursuit, vandalise property, steal from the rich and the poor, and leave a trail of chaos behind them.
Directed by Christopher Morahan and originally released in 1986 and now restored for Blu-ray by StudioCanal, Clockwise was written by Michael Frayn, best known as the playwright of Noises Off, who had not even considered John Cleese for the role of Brian Stimpson, yet when Cleese received a copy of the script he immediately contacted his agent to state his interest.
A departure from the surreal absurdity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or the exasperated misunderstandings of Fawlty Towers, Clockwise is rather a precursor to another strand of British comedy which became prevalent in the following decade, that of the anxiety of watching people fumble through uncomfortable situations while trying desperately to cling to what little dignity remains, fearlessly refusing to accept that they are in the wrong.
The accompanying features including an archive interview with John Cleese from 2001 where he contrasts the characters of Brian Stimpson and Basil Fawlty, Stimpson almost dismissive of his wife (A Private Function‘s Alison Steadman) rather than living in fear of her and actually very good at his job, though when things go wrong they react similarly badly.
Frustrated with supporting roles in Monty Python vehicles The Holy Grail and Life of Brian as well as Time Bandits, Cleese had been keen to find a role which would require him for the full length of the film, and he is supported by a wealth of British talent, Shaun of the Dead‘s Penelope Wilton effortlessly endearing, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Stephen Moore, Kinvig‘s Tony Haygarth and Miss Marple herself, Joan Hickson marvelously dotty in a blown-dry blue rinse.
Also on the disc is a newly recorded interview with Frayn who talks of the inspirations for the situations and characters, specifically his own inability for much of his life to arrive promptly, explaining that he does not see Clockwise as a traditional farce although it does have elements of such and recalling how Cleese ensured it was a happy set for all involved despite the star suffering from a damaged knee and torn hamstring during the shoot.
Clockwise is available on Blu-ray, DVD and download from StudioCanal from Monday 19th November