Stephen Cookson (director)
15 June 2018 (released)
15 June 2018
Stanley, A Man of Variety, is a collaboration between actor Timothy Spall, who takes the title role and, Director, Stephen Cookson.
The story follows long-serving inmate, Stanley, who appears to be the lone resident of a psychiatric prison unit in its final days before closure.
Quiet and ineffectual, the protagonist is shown performing cleaning duties around the deserted facility.
His only respite from his chores are the privileges he accrues in the form of TV tokens, which he hungrily feeds into a meter in his cell, to binge-watch vintage British comedy.
When the tokens stop unexpectedly, he suffers a physical and mental collapse after which his screen idols come to life and visit him in hallucinations.
The multiple personalities and characters, from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, all portrayed by Spall, take Stanley on a journey of truth, to lay bare the facts surrounding his incarceration.
Running parallel to the mystery of his criminal past, is Stanley’s own quest, which is to visit his daughter’s grave and mark the fifteenth anniversary of her death.
Will the ghosts of TV past resolve the riddle of what really happened to Stanley and his daughter, and, what will happen to him when the prison closes?
Director, Cookson, is adept at showing his Stanley's stream of consciousness, real or illusory, and delivers a number of gratifying twists. The apparitions are pleasingly unpredictable and well-drawn.
Co-written by Spall and Cookson, the script is quick-fire tight, and reminiscent of a sharp stand-up routine. Every word has earnt its place and Spall puts in a faultless delivery. Littered with jokes, era references and nods to comic greats such as Peter Sellers, there is much to enjoy and savour.
Timothy Spall, commands centre stage, not only because he plays every role, but he does so with gusto and precision. This is Spall’s re-imagining of the actors he grew up with, and include, Alistair Sim, Max Wall and a mesmerising, Margaret Rutherford.
Production design is stylised, and the film makers use washed-out colour schemes and flickering news-reel effects, for the ghostly visitations, which work well at signposting character switches.
Despite an impressive performance from Spall and a concise, entertaining script, the closing sequence, which includes an on-screen update of Stanley’s backstory, feels abrupt and lacking in the energy of earlier scenes.
The film has already won a slew of awards on the festival circuit, an acknowledgement perhaps, that Stanley, A Man of Variety, vividly illuminates the thin line between comedy and tragedy.