CEMETERY JUNCTION is a really lovely heart-warming coming-of-age drama set in 1970s provincial England. It tells the story of three school-friends on the cusp of adulthood, when you're still trying to figure out how to talk to the opposite sex, which sort of a job you want to do, and basically what sort of a life you want to lead. The engine of the plot is that one of the friends, ambitious Freddie (Christian Cooke) gets a white-collar job as an insurance salesman. This sparks off two different problems, reflecting the social upheaval that was going on in the UK at the time. First, by trying to move away from blue collar work, Freddie alienates his father and his friends, who think he is implying that he thinks he's better than them. Second, through his job, Freddie comes across an old flame, Julia, who happens to be the boss' daughter. Julia's life has already been mapped out for her by her dad, Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes). In encouraging her to get engaged to his similarly chauvinistic side-kick, Mike (Matthew Goode), he's condemning her to the same life her mother (Emily Watson) has - invisible mother and helper. Freddie wants Julia to leave Mike not just to because he wants her for himself, but because he wants her to have the life and career that she really wants.
The resulting relationship drama is sensitively handled, often laugh-out-loud funny, but ultimately far more concerned to hit the right emotional notes. I really bought into the idea that Freddie, Bruce and Snook were old friends - the banter and body language was spot on. I also really loved Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode as the older and younger versions of the male chauvinism. But the actress who really impressed me was Emily Watson - who is able to make herself appear so small and oppressed despite her star power - and with the slightest change in expression and a relatively small amount of screen-time, communicate so much.
Most of all, it's exciting to see Gervais and Merchant in their first co-directed feature film. CEMETERY JUNCTION has some of the finely judged social comedy of THE OFFICE, but it's a much warmer, gentler and optimistic film that THE OFFICE was ever allowed to be - and certainly less self-consciously clever and grim than THE INVENTION OF LYING. I think it's encouraging that two people who have become famous for a very particular brand of observational humour feel able to tackle something quite different. That they are able to bring it off is highly impressive.
Additional tags: Stephen Merchant, Tom Hughes, Christian Cooke, Jack Doolan, Julia Davis, Tim Atack, Valerio Bonelli
CEMETARY JUNCTION was released in the UK in April 2010 and was released on DVD and Blu-Ray today.