sun 11/04/2021

Beyond the Pole | reviews, news & interviews

Beyond the Pole

Beyond the Pole

Polar ice cap is the star of British eco-comedy

Do the words “British film comedy” cause your heart to sink as deeply as they do mine? Thought so. I wish I could say Beyond the Pole, which is perhaps the first eco-comedy and was made with the intention of raising awareness about polar melting while making us laugh, was worth the effort. Sadly, it wasn’t. It may throw up the odd chuckle, but mostly it’s predictable and unoriginal. The scenery, however, is stunning.
Beyond the Pole was originally a Radio 4 series and its co-writer Neil Warhurst wrote the screenplay. The film's co-writer and director David L Williams, who filmed it on the Greenland ice cap, has created a mockumentary in which we follow Stephen Mangan and Rhys Thomas as Mark and Brian, endearing innocents who want to save the planet and decide to walk unaided to the North Pole to do their bit.

They have no experience (although Mark feels qualified because his great-grandfather was a polar explorer and Brian... well, he loves watching extreme sports on the telly), no funding and no realisation of the dangers they face. The trip will be “the first carbon-neutral, organic and vegetarian” and they hope to get into the record books.

Of course it goes horribly wrong. Their cameraman Steve (Clive Russell) has to be airlifted off the ice after a polar-bear attack and two ultra-professional Norwegians, equally carbon-neutral, organic and vegetarian, are close on Mark and Brian’s tail. But the intrepid Brits continue, amid much foul-mouthed bickering as they capture the rest of their journey on camcorders, Ellen MacArthur/Vendée Globe-style. (Actually I can never think of the brave yachtswoman’s pieces to camera without Jan Raven’s hilariously tear-stained versions on Dead Ringers hoving into view.)

The characterisations are weak, lazy even, and rely on the audience’s foreknowledge of the actors’ television careers. Mangan (from Green Wing) as a deluded social misfit? Check. Thomas (Bellamy’s People) as a likeable dunderhead? Check. Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet) as a haughty documentary maker? Mark Benton (Nationwide ads on TV) as their useless communications man, a CB radio geek who of course lives in a caravan? Check, check, check, check, check. And as for the film’s fly-on-the-wall documentary style - that has been done to death on British television and, besides, no one will ever improve on The Office.

If Beyond the Pole starts out as a comedy, about an hour in Williams suddenly changes gear and goes a bit Blair Witch Project on us as Mark descends into madness, Brian loses the will to live and the pair lose contact with the outside world. But it happens so quickly we don’t believe it and, frustratingly, the idea is not developed.

To be fair there are some funny moments, such as Brian continually falling behind and sinking into the snow in the distance and the sweary shouting between the two men, and there’s a very neat story twist to bring the action back to Blighty. The location is the film’s real star, but I’m not sure it justifies the end product - as the green lobby is wont to ask, was the journey really necessary?

On general release from Friday. Visit the film website here

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