By Will Barber Taylor
The outlandish 75-minute comic fantasy tells the story of Rebekah (Maxine Peake), an innocent and beguiling Northern girl who accidentally becomes Chief Executive of News International and gets caught up in a 1970s Watergate-style scandal.
The film brings together a roll call of universally treasured British comedy greats, alongside exciting new comic talent. Maxine Peake plays the title role alongside Nigel Planer as Rupert Murdoch and Russell Tovey as Andy Coulson. Johnny Vegas, Alexei Sayle, Harry Enfield, James Buckley and John Sessions also star in the film alongside Eleanor Matsuura.
The Comic Strip Presents is one of Britain’s most beloved comedy series. While the initial glory days of the series happened in the 80s, in recent years it has undergone something of a revival. After the success of 2011’s The Trial of Tony Blair, a sequel was sure to follow. Red Top is that sequel. While TTOTB took a satirical look at Blair’s time in office, Red Top satirises the hacking scandal that beset News International during the time that Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson initially worked in the organisation.
While it could be argued that the plots of The Comic Strip Presents films aren’t always as watertight as they could be, there is no denying the satirical brilliance of Peter Richardson. Richardson has a keen eye for detail and in transferring the real events to the 70s analogue world, he makes no mistakes in imbuing his landscape with small but none the less funny visual gags (such as the “Fake Sheikh” and Deepthroat’s voice coming through a mini megaphone) alongside the more obvious gags. Though they don’t always hit the mark, more often than not Richardson brings the laughter effortlessly falling from his audience’s lips.
To realize his unique vision, Richardson brings together a cast that wonderfully represent his characters. The best of the lot is the star herself, Maxine Peake. Peake brings a hilarious dichotomy of apparent “innocence” mixed with Machiavellian deceit. Her Brooks is a delight to witness; she plays both sides of the character to perfection and makes it her own. Rather than attempt to imitate Brooks, Peake delivers a performance and as such stops the special from being spoiled because of too much focus on whether or not the impression is accurate or not; the focus is on the satire.
Equally fantastic is Stephen Mangan as Tony Blair. Mangan’s previous appearance as Blair was effortless in its accuracy but here he furthers the performance by imbuing Blair with Jason King like qualities. Blair becomes camper and his dapper attire mixed with the traditional Blairisms makes every scene that he is in doubly hilarious.
With all these elements, Richardson produces one of the best satires of the past decade. His concoction of truth and caricature make Red Top engaging, witty and above all an insight into the culture of the British media that no one else has yet dared to make.