Harold's Going Stiff Movie Review
Written by Charlotte Stear
Written and Directed by Keith Wright
2010, 90 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Stan Rowe as Harold Gimble
Sarah Spencer as Penny Rudge
Andy Pandini as Jon Grayson
Lee Thompson as Mike Jacksmith
Richard Harrison as Colin
Phil Gascoyne as Dr Norbert Shuttleworth
Hey you, over there... sniggering at the title of this film, stop it. Grow up please! No, this isn’t a film of an adult nature, so if that’s what you’re interested in you’re best moving on because you will only be disappointed. It’s one way to get people interested in your film, giving it such a quirky unforgettable title, but does the content live up to the mystery or is an amusing title all this film has to offer? Thankfully no, it has much more going for it. Forget the title, this British film is one everyone should have their eye on over the next few months. Let’s talk about why.
The film centres on an elderly man, Harold Gimble (Stan Rowe), who is the first person to suffer from a neurological disease that is very slowly turning him into a zombie. He is used to keeping himself to himself, but with his condition worsening everyday he is visited by the bubbly, loud home helper Penny (Sarah Spencer). The two soon bond and an unusual friendship begins to blossom between them. But there are people out to get sufferers of this disease, and a group of men are hunting the moors with a special price on Harold’s head. When a doctor specialising in the disease approaches him for tests, Harold’s future lies in the hands of people he does not fully trust, but with Penny beside him all the way they stick by each other to fight for a future together.
The first thing to comment on is the beautifully crafted tale of friendship that just wouldn’t work without a strong cast. As soon as Sarah Spencer appeared on screen I knew this would be a character I would like. Bubbly, caring and honest, Spencer’s portrayal of Penny is possibly the best performance in the film and it is only made stronger by the script, which makes her dialogue natural and effortless. The film starts out in a mockumentary style and when she is on screen it could very well all be adlibbed because it just seems to flow. Her relationship with Harold is what this film relies on, so getting this character right was integral to the story being a success, thankfully this is perfect casting and I’d hate to think of anyone else trying to better this. Harold too is perfect for the role, his slow demise is both humorous and sad in equal measure, and having the two actors fit so well is a real triumph. The emotion that comes from watching this film would not have come so easily if the two were not well suited.
Despite people turning into zombies I would not describe this as a horror film and use that term very loosely, the zombie aspects are just a face for a much more important message. There are obvious themes of ageism, the crippling disease that is turning the men into zombies is a clear reference to arthritis, but the whole film is a bigger reflection on society’s views on the elderly. The way in which the young hunters track down Harold without remorse, to who he is and who will be affected by him dying is very brutal and really emphasises a lack of regard we seem to have towards older people, how people can be so dismissive of an age they have no patience for. I also liked the themes of knowing when to let go once “death” takes over, it happens at a very poignant moment in the film and I was struck by the depth it went to without being preachy in the slightest.
This is a very complex film that raises lots of interesting thoughts, but very subtly. Well, the whole zombie thing is a pretty in-your-face observation on getting older, but the way in which the relationship between Penny and Harold develops and how that eventually pans out, is done very slowly and methodically making it have a bigger impact. We see both characters grow and develop as the story progresses and by the end you will be on the edge of your seat for a climactic finale.
Harold’s Going Stiff is very, very British. Set in the Yorkshire Dales, this is the perfect backdrop for this moody, odd film. It might prove a struggle for international fans as the broad accents do not hold back, but there is no doubt this only adds to its charm, making it uniquely British and proud. It uses its setting to its advantage, the wildness of the hills and the wildness of Harold’s state of mind match perfectly for that heart raising ending. I also found myself being reminded of the League of Gentlemen because of the fabulously creepy connotations it has given the surrounding areas, as soon as we we’re out chasing zombies across the dales, I was instantly back in Royston Vasey. No bad thing at all.
If you’re in this purely for zombies the heavily emotional undertones may mean this film isn’t going to be exactly your cup of tea, but I don’t think the zombies will disappoint when you do see them, they are some of the funniest you will see for a while. There is one particular zombie chase where I was reminded instantly of John Cleese in Monty Python and the Ministry of Silly Walks, whether this was an intentional opportunity for some light hearted relief I’m not sure, but I sure enjoyed it. It takes this whole “zombie cross over” notion to new levels and becomes much more than that, not being a horror film is no bad thing at all and I was surprised how much the film affected me which can only be a great thing.
The film is currently doing the rounds at film festivals and getting the attention it deserves, this is a superbly crafted film by director Keith Wright and is very promising. It’s definitely one that everyone needs to look out for and to support upon release, it’s a true British gem that you can’t help but fall in love with.
Video, Audio and Special features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.