“Actually I love these sort of documentaries, which you might find late on a Saturday night – like, say, The Alma Cogan Story. But they are ripe for spoofing, because the presenters are always so serious and anxious to make themselves look like rather attractive and interesting people,” says Peter Capaldi, who most people will recognise as the expletive-happy spin-doctor from The Thick Of It.
Cricklewood Greats, a mockumentary which Capaldi wrote, directed and presented, is a strange beast and unlike most comedies, gets stronger as it goes on. But then this is nothing like most comedies. Understated, subtle and right in the pocket that the Scottish actor describes, the defining thing about this spoof is it’s stealthy yet exceptionally potent sense of humour.
It takes a couple of scenes to get the pace of this mockumentary, which charts the rise and fall of the now defunct (and completely make-believe) Cricklewood Film Studios (apparently it’s now a DIY store) but once you get in step with the host and his throng of faux film stars then this is a quiet wonderland. There are some golden lines to enjoy as well, most of which would lose their magic if I wrote them here.
As much as Capaldi enjoys sending-up the sentimental nostalgia-munchers, you can’t help but feel that he enjoyed dreaming up the old-school films clips even more and it’s a testament to his enthusiasm that he and co-writer Tony Roche absolutely nail so many genres. Florrie Fontaine – star of ‘Florrie Drives A Lorry’ among other faux 1930s classics – had a sparkling career until it was ended when she began fraternising with the Nazi High Command during WWII (“I speak as I find and they were grand company..”). Hustle’s Kelly Thomas also channels a young Barbara Windsor and Raquel Welch in ‘Woman-asauras Rex’ superbly.
As the programme enters a superb final act, Terry Gilliam steals show as a version of himself who ran the studio into the ground with a series of rubbish films, one of which starred Marlon Brando (“We had to stop filming whenever an ice cream van went past”). Excellent stuff.