Say Your Prayers ***
Dir: Harry Michell. With: Harry Melling, Tom Brooke, Derek Jacobi, Anna Maxwell Martin. 84 mins. Cert: 15
The team behind 2016’s eyecatching indie Chubby Funny - producer Helen Simmons and director Harry Michell – return with another agreeably offbeam comedy, this one with a starrier cast and a goofy, Four Lions-ish premise. It’s the tale of sibling Christian hitmen who, envious of the column inches logged by rival fundamentalists, set out to off a Dawkins-like author at a literary festival in Ilkley. Tim (Harry Melling) is the childlike younger brother, ill-suited to grisly murder; the uptight Vic (Tom Brooke) an unrepentant sociopath. Their target (Roger Allam, master of glib dismissiveness) need not worry unduly: an astutely timed prologue shows our would-be ruthless killers stalking a rambler who looks just enough like Allam for the first of several terrible mistakes to be made.
The pacing of that opening instantly elevates Michell’s film over a half-dozen recent British crime-comedies that have wrung similar setups for limp farce. We’re heading towards a setpiece that’s the Yorkshire-set Britpic equivalent of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s opera-house assassination, but the gags carrying everyone there are rooted firmly in character, allowing supporting players to dig in and make an impression. Anna Maxwell Martin is formidably sarky as a detective aghast at having to enter the artsy-fartsy literary scene; Derek Jacobi has a classy cameo as a priest who justifies the hit with chilly mouthfuls of scripture; Matthew Steer’s brisk, funny sketch of the spineless festival chief will likely cue cringes of recognition in some quarters.Having the action observed by a roving male voice choir – representing the C-of-E’s safe centreground – looks like a cheeky crib from the Icelandic hit Woman at War, and perhaps it’s a couple of big, snort-cola-through-nose laughs short of essential, but it’s a solid evening’s entertainment, assembled with an assurance rare at this budgetary level. Norwegian-born cinematographer Sverre Sørdal provides attractive glimpses of the Moors (still underutilised as a Britfilm resource), while Xanna Ward Dixon and Dylan Holmes Williams’ sharp cutting serves both the comedy and thriller aspects. Simmons and Michell, blessed with good ideas and the craft to do them justice, are building a notable filmography on the margins: let’s hope the industry’s moneymen are watching.