Directors: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Almost every character in Cemetery Junction complains about the titular railway village, yet it is continuously bathed in such a sunny glow that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to leave this lovely English idyll. Yet, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s depiction of youth on the cusp of adulthood in 1970s England is driven by this desire to escape. However, it struggles to keep afloat under the weight of simplistic expectations, despite the best efforts of cast and crew.
Who exactly lives in this oversized hamlet? For one, there’s Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke), a keen twenty-something just starting his first job as a salesman for an insurance company owned by Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), and working alongside slick shyster Mike (Matthew Goode), whilst pining for childhood friend Julie (Felicity Jones), Kendrick’s daughter and Mike’s fiancée. Think that’s clichéd? Try Freddie’s friend Bruce (Tom Hughes), always talking of leaving Cemetery Junction but stuck working in a local factory and getting into boozy fights on the weekends. Tagging on to these two is Snork (Jack Doolan), an ignorant doofus with a penchant for smutty humour. The only thing that stops these characters from being cardboard cutouts is the energy the actors bring to them. They blow off enough of the cobwebs from these clichés to make these characters identifiable and fun. An insurance dinner dance sees Bruce and Snork tag along with Freddie, with cringeworthy results.
The rest of the cast make the most of their roles (Fiennes and Emily Watson are particularly good as Julie’s parents) but, like the three leads, they are saddled with predictability. Gervais and Merchant’s script is surprisingly limp, offering no challenges or little character development or plot detours that you didn’t see coming in the first five minutes of the film. It’s a pity, because a lot of focus has been put into the look of Cemetery Junction. The 70s setting is beautifully realised, bathing the whole production in a balmy sense of nostalgia (David Bowie, Elton John and Roxy Music are standouts on the soundtrack). The cast do a lot with a little, and DP Remi Adefarasin paints an English countryside resplendent in golden sun. However, considering the edginess of Gervais’ comedy it’s surprising to find that, for all the f-bombs and see-you-next-Tuesdays littered about the script, Cemetery Junction is a relatively tame and undemanding affair.