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2018 Leeds Film Festival Review: Happy New Year, Colin Burstead – “A captivating and hilarious 90-minutes”

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Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. is the latest film by maverick British filmmaker Ben Wheatley who has been inching to more mainstream acceptance with his last two films High-Rise (also his best) and Free Fire. He also directed an episode of the absolutely brilliant and shamefully unreleased in the UK television show Strange Angel which is set to be a five-season arch on the life and mysterious death of anarchist rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons. Wheatley is no stranger to the small screen due to directing a feature-length Dr. Who episode. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. will debut for the general public after festival screenings and a UK theatrical tour on BBC Two just in time for New Year’s Eve.

Going into Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. I wasn’t quite sure if I would like another single location film from Wheatley which is basically a family get together that goes terribly wrong. The extremely dysfunctional Burstead family comes together on New Year’s Eve in a Dorset Country house. It was, of course, the title character Colin Burstead’s (Neil Maskell) idea but his sister Gini (Hayley Squires) has invited the black sheep of the family, their brother David who is played by Sam Riley in quite possibly his best performance to date. He has really grown as an actor since his pluck from obscurity into the star-making role in Control but despite some attempts to crack America early on, he has found his biggest artistic success with supporting roles in Ben Wheatley’s last two films.

The film was made on the sly over ten days but with a director of Wheatley’s calibre and his own background in making films quickly and inexpensively, it never seems cheap. It may seem slightly televisual at times and there are talks of a possible TV series to come out of it. However, as a stand-alone film, it’s a fascinating insight into a modern British family at crisis, or is it actually a huge metaphor for Brexit? Wheatley doesn’t like to explain his films but with lines about a “Hilary Benn Brexit” and apathy to both main parties, it’s hard not to see the parallels to family arguments over Brexit. Is Colin himself the United Kingdom and the rest of the family the EU as one suggested in the Q&A?

Overall it’s a testament to the skill of Wheatley to make something which could on paper sound like a bore into a captivating and hilarious 90-minute descent into what is so commonplace for British families. If anything the film makes me feel lucky my dad lives in Saudi Arabia and my mother lives in Holland and the rest of my family is back in the States making this kind of get-together next to impossible. The cast is mostly people who Wheatley has worked with on most of his films but besides the knock-out performances from Maskell and Riley, the real discovery is Asim Chaudhry as an uninvited family friend who steals the film from everybody else.

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