Damien on… “The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer” (1970)
Satirical comedy. A PR puke rises through Britain’s political system to become its virtual dictator.
Much has been written and said about this film; it was devised (and ultimately funded) by David Frost – initially scripted by John Cleese and Graham Chapman (who wrote much of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”) – and starred Peter Cook, who added much to the writing.
It has also been said – both then and since – that Rimmer is a thinly disguised satire on Frost himself, created by Cook.
However, this writer disputes that. Certainly Cook later claimed it to be true. And it is also true that the two men had something of a love-hate relationship, with Frost loving Cook and Cook hating Frost (Frost always wanted to be a performer – but lacked the ability).
Nonetheless, while Cook may have intended his performance to ape Frost, it seems to have only succeeded in Cook’s own head.
The fact is, his acting was much as it always was, in films. The late comedy actor/director Mel Smith has described it as, “a sort of non-acting acting style – which isn’t really a style at all – he was always just slightly removed from it – detached.”
But this is not to belittle Cook’s performance. In those days, the man was gorgeous – and when he is onscreen, it is impossible to take your eyes off him.
No, the thing that did for this film was the very thing it was about – the British political system.
In those days, film and television companies were forced to lay off political satire during the run-up to a general election, for fear of Undue Influence. Ironically, this had killed Frost’s “That Was The Week That Was” in 1964, which had seen the beginning of Harold Wilson’s career.
And it killed “…Rimmer” at the end of that career.
This writer was a young man living in London, when the film was being made. He looked forward to it eagerly.
But in the event, it did not emerge until after the 1970 election, by which time it was irrelevant.
Imagine a film today (late June, 2016) starring John Goodman as a blustering showman – a property tycoon and reality show host, with designs on the US presidency… you get the idea.
Now imagine that same film released next March.
In the event, Wilson lost the election due to a “pirate” radio station called Radio Northsea International, which broadcast propaganda to SE England, despite the best efforts of a corrupt government minister called John Stonehouse (Wiki him).
However, it is unlikely that “…Rimmer” would have made a lot of difference to the result; Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” exposed the ineptitude and corruption of Bush, but failed to prevent his re-election, in 2004.
All the delay meant was that one of the best films of the late Sixties ended up being buried. And given the pace of that decade, when the film was finally released, it was little more than a curio.
Which is what it remains today – although now it is also something of a time-capsule.
But there is still much to enjoy here, including the aforementioned enigmatic performance of Peter Cook – and fine turns by a roster of Sixties comedy acting talent, including Ronnie Fraser, Denholm Elliot and Arthur Lowe.
Plus a cameo by playwright Harold Pinter who bizarrely, actually does play a character much like that of David Frost…