Saturday, 12 May 2018

Introduction

Welcome to Stuart Fernie’s Blog




Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "We're No Angels", "The African Queen", "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .


link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.

Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!

Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.


I can be contacted through the comments sections or at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk




All intellectual property rights reserved

Reflections on "We're No Angels" (1955)




Reflections on “We’re No Angels” (1955)

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall,

based on the play “My Three Angels” by Samuel and Bella Spewack,

which was based on “La Cuisine des Anges” by Albert Hussan,

starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov



A video presentation of this material is available here.

Just as I enjoy “traditional” angel films, I also appreciate those in which men act in much the same way as angels, perhaps having been “sent” by some omnipotent string-puller who can organise the crossing of paths of people in need and those who can help them.

This is a comedy Christmas film like no other as three “wise men” arrive at a family home in the French penal colony on Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve 1895 and set about helping the family to resolve a variety of issues.

However, this is no morally secure, reassuring and treacly Christmas fare, for our three “angels” are, in fact, escaped prisoners (a thief and two murderers) obliged to spend Christmas taking refuge with a kindly family of shopkeepers (the Ducotels) as they await the opportunity to board a ship bound for freedom. Not only are our three angels escaped convicts, but they are unrepentant, steeped in (largely criminal) wisdom and experience, good-hearted and utterly charming to boot.

In terms of plot and character development, there is no question of rehabilitation – our three heroes do good by plying their criminal skills. The villains of the piece (businessman André Trochard and his nephew Paul) deserve their comeuppance though their deaths may be considered a trifle extreme, but that issue is deftly avoided as the whole is treated with dark humour and a lightness of touch shared with the audience from the very start. Our angels are defiantly humorous and single-minded in their desire to see the villains disposed of and the family benefit from their nefarious actions, but very cleverly they do not actually cause the deaths, though they do nothing to prevent them and are very happy to see the Ducotels profit from them.



They make moral judgments but are willing to take direct and potentially amoral action to enforce these judgments. The whole is a consciously playful and amusing (as opposed to broadly comic) mix of genres as our three angels maintain a moral distance from the family (skewed in this case toward criminal simplicity and inferiority rather than principled and complex superiority) and they act to resolve financial, familial and romantic issues using amoral methods more in keeping with those seen in a film noir.

Comedy stems from their unremorseful acceptance of their own criminal natures which they put to good purpose while protecting the “good” who remain blameless, their almost gleeful inflicting of punishment on the villains, and then there is their complicity with the audience. There are numerous asides, the full import of which only the audience will understand while other characters cannot, thus creating collusion while developing empathy and sympathy.



It could be suggested that the three combine to form the perfect angelic unit of assistance (spirit, heart and action) sent from Heaven to help this good-natured family in their time of need. Indeed, this is vaguely implied at one stage as our trio literally look down from above (while repairing the roof) as they assess the situation and decide on the appropriate action, but their unconventional methods rather deliciously call in to question the whole nature of morality and justice.

In the end, our three heroes are so disappointed and traumatised by this encounter with “civilisation” with its underhand ways and complexities that they decide to return to prison where they will feel more secure! Our angels are open, genuine and sincere – they are what they are, accept it and act on their instincts, while some of the “honest” folk they have met are duplicitous and downright cold-hearted, characteristics they find unpalatable and unacceptable.

Humphrey Bogart (whose film noir credentials are essential to both the amoral and comic elements of the film), Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov play off one another beautifully and in determined good humour as the well-intentioned criminals willing to put their dark natures to good use, especially opposite Basil Rathbone who plays the law-abiding but black-hearted villain with dismissive and superior gusto.



The script is sharp and fast-paced and plays in an almost farce-like style which contributes to the lightness of the atmosphere and makes good use of audience complicity and understanding to achieve its unique effect.

The whole is carried off with such verve and knowing playfulness that the rather confined staging and sets which betray the theatrical origins of the piece go virtually unnoticed.

There are frequent references to the angelic nature and worthiness of our heroes and there is even a clear suggestion from Jules at the end of the film that they may, indeed, have been Heaven-sent (confirmed by the appearance of halos above their heads as they saunter off to prison), so what we have is a comical angelic Christmas-themed film noir which reinforces the old adage that God works in mysterious ways – who would have thought it possible?



My thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.

I can be contacted at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk .

Stuart Fernie

HOME (blog)

www.stuartfernie.org for discussions of other films, some books and other topics.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Reflections on "The African Queen"




Reflections on “The African Queen”

Directed by John Huston

Screenplay by John Huston and James Agee, Peter Viertel and John Collier, based on the book by C.S. Forester

Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn



A video presentation of this material is available here.

This is an apparently straightforward tale of two ill-matched and unlikely escapees of German expansion in Africa at the outbreak of World War One who set out to use a fairly decrepit old river boat (the African Queen) to find and destroy a German gunboat patrolling the lake at the end of the Ulanga River, thereby allowing an Allied counterattack.

Along the way, we are treated to some wonderful character development, an unusual and totally engaging love story, observations on religion, social status, feminism and tyranny, and we witness the result of the combination of spiritual strength and physical ability. We are also treated to clever and cunning performances from the lead actors and sly, multi-layered and brisk direction from John Huston.



The start of the film is very important as it establishes situation and character. Huston is quite brilliant in terms of managing to condense a substantial amount of information on circumstances and character traits into just a few short minutes.

Our story opens during a religious service conducted by missionary Samuel Sayer, accompanied by his sister Rose. Their work consists of introducing Christianity (and European mores) to the natives of a community living by the Ulanga River. Judging by the scenes in which they attempt to sing a hymn with the villagers, it is fair to say this well-intentioned and gentle attempt to impose European religion and culture on this African community is failing somewhat.

Samuel and Rose appear to be considerably more concerned by this failure than the villagers, especially when they are distracted by the African Queen’s ship’s whistle, marking the arrival of Charlie Allnut and any number of physical diversions from the stout spiritual work being conducted by the missionaries.

After abandoning the hymn as their congregation takes its leave (note we have our first hint of Rose’s determination and strength of spirit as she persists in ending the hymn and giving a full-voiced “Amen” even after her brother has ceased singing and produced a rather perfunctory “Amen”), Samuel and Rose invite Charlie to have tea with them.



Not only have Samuel and Rose brought Christianity and hymn-singing to this remote African community, they have also imported English afternoon tea complete with English etiquette to go with it.

Totally anachronistic, given the geographical, historical and social contexts, Samuel and Rose nevertheless insist on fussy politeness and the maintenance of social standards when serving tea.

Apart from being amused and entertained by the scenes in which tea is served, we learn that Samuel and Rose belong to a somewhat coddled and perhaps sheltered class whose lives are governed by social niceties, rules and position. Charlie, on the other hand, is seen as a pleasant, natural and open man used to industry. He is not afraid of hard work but is equally happy to sit back and enjoy some relaxation. He is willing – even keen – to discuss the embarrassment of his loudly rumbling stomach (and thereby dissipate it), but his hosts are too schooled in manners and etiquette to be able to cope with any infringement of such, and they may even consider him their social inferior.



Samuel’s inability to cope with challenge and difficulty proves too much for him when the Germans invade the community, set fire to the villagers’ homes and, showing a complete disregard for common humanity and human rights, bundle the villagers off for the purpose of forced labour. This is in direct contrast with his gentle (if unsuccessful) attempts to inculcate European values. He is struck, but Samuel loses the place largely as a result of his inability to cope with such brutal violations of his Christian code. He dies, but not before revealing several truths about himself and his sister.

Samuel, it seems, was not bright enough to shine as an academic and opted to pursue what he hoped would be perceived as a worthwhile (if distinctly second rate) career as a missionary. Rose appears to have been included in this “deal” as she was not considered “comely” enough to attract an appropriate husband and apparently it was uncommon for women to be expected to succeed independently. Africa was perhaps viewed as a destination for “failures”, or at least as an inferior career path for those unable to gain a place in Europe, and one wonders if Charlie Allnut (willing and pleasant, but hardly inspirational) also fits into this categorisation. However, Rose and Charlie will shortly display strength of character, determination and courage which will prove these judgments decidedly wrong …..

At the start, Charlie might be described as something of a feckless wanderer - a man who drifts from job to job happy to keep his head above water and displaying competence but no real ambition or direction. He is friendly and at ease with the villagers and shows no “side”. He is also natural, caring and polite – he is willing to make the effort to get along with Samuel and Rose even though they show him scant regard or respect. There is even a hint of innocence and purity in his actions and manner as he shows kindness, goodness and generosity when he buries Samuel and offers to take Rose to safety on board the African Queen.



As has already been suggested, Rose is made of sterner stuff than her brother. Even from the little we see of her at the start of the film, it is clear she is a woman of spiritual and moral substance – persisting with the hymn and “Amen” despite the hymn’s reception, her insistence on etiquette at afternoon tea and her polite diffidence in persistently referring to Charlie as “Mr Allnut”. She is also, however, stirred and distressed by the amoral and selfish actions of the enemy (her brother’s death and their awful treatment of the villagers) and especially her brother’s “indictment” or judgment of her as a woman. She wants to prove her worth and she wants to hurt the enemy.  

Principled and idealistic, Rose is highly spirited (and certainly not just in terms of religious fervour), but she has led a sheltered existence and is relatively inexperienced in the practicalities of life. Charlie, on the other hand, is very well versed in the practicalities of life but lacks direction and drive. Together, they make the perfect pair – Rose sees very clearly what to do while Charlie sees how to do it. Consumed with the sense of duty to fight the enemy, Rose conceives the idea to attack and destroy the enemy gunboat (the Louisa) which is patrolling the lake at the end of the Ulanga River, and which is preventing Allied advances. Charlie, somewhat to his own surprise and really just to humour Rose, sees a way to achieve this using potentially explosive and cleverly combined materials already on board the African Queen. Of course, Charlie is convinced the sheltered and inexperienced Rose will abandon her daring and idealistic plans as she encounters numerous practical hardships and faces physical dangers. In the end, however, Rose is thrilled by their physical encounters with peril and is much impressed by Charlie’s ability to navigate the dangers they face together, while Charlie is equally impressed by Rose’s spirit and resilience.

They form the perfect team as each complements the other to allow them to achieve things neither would have considered or been able to do alone. Mutual admiration leads to appreciation and love, inspiring both to even greater acts and achievements.



Of course, what matters in terms of appeal and entertainment is that all of this is accomplished with charm, humour and affection.

Katharine Hepburn plays up her image as a haughty, difficult and aloof woman (her career came close to an early end precisely because of this image) who transforms into a loving, caring and touchingly sweet devoted partner. This transformation is tinged with a youthful innocence and happiness which is playful and appealing to the audience and is in direct contrast with our initial view of Rose, and indeed Miss Hepburn’s own public image.

Humphrey Bogart’s performance is a masterstroke of comic underplaying and playing against type. His excessive politeness and gentleness in the face of danger and provocation ran contrary to public experience and expectation and is crowned by the occasional grimace or reaction of outraged shock (emphasising his innocence and sincerity) cleverly shared with the audience before facing other characters.

The consciously playful interplay between the two leads, combined with the growth and development of the two main characters as they learn to appreciate one another’s qualities of spirituality and physicality, is a joy to behold.

Clearly, the suggestion is that in the right circumstances and with the right chemistry, apparent “losers” can be transformed into glorious winners, and that applies equally to the African Queen herself. This tired, worn and seemingly insignificant little boat provides a metaphor (in essence a mechanical mirror of those who sail her) for apparently spent or worthless forces rising up to fight tyranny and oppression.



At various points luck intervenes to support our pair’s efforts and help them on their way. These moments include the dazzling of the sniper as they pass the fort, the sudden rains that transport the African Queen the last few yards through marsh-land and of course the chance striking of the upturned and armed African Queen by the Louisa, saving Rose and Charlie from execution. Little is made of these strokes of luck, but there is certainly room for several possible interpretations – God working in mysterious ways, karma or just blind luck. I dare say viewers will opt for whichever interpretation best suits their outlook.

Although undoubtedly dated to modern audiences, the film is superbly co-written and directed by John Huston and is principally memorable for the comic yet touching development and evolution of the main characters. Bogart and Hepburn deserve the highest praise for their performances and I cannot recommend this film highly enough.



My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk .


Similar pages may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .






Thursday, 22 February 2018

Reflections on "Babette's Feast"





Reflections on “Babette’s Feast” (1987)
Written and directed by Gabriel Axel from the short story by Karen Blixen
Starring Stéphane Audran, Brigitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer




This is the story of two elderly Danish spinster sisters (Martine and Filippa) who devote themselves to the principles of a religious sect founded by their father in Jutland, and their housekeeper Babette, a refugee from revolutionary Paris, who insists on providing and preparing a high-quality French dinner for friends of her benefactors when she wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery.

The film quickly establishes the pious superiority of the spiritual over the physical in terms of the sisters’ rejection of relationships and pursuit of ambition (and development of talent) to focus instead on good and charitable works within the confines of their small religious community which embody the teachings of their beloved (though long since deceased) father.

Perhaps because of the absence of their righteous, idealistic and domineering spiritual leader, cracks are beginning to show in the spiritual love his “disciples” display to one another as past deeds and wrongs are recalled and old feelings of resentment and anger are evoked. It seems that focus on the spiritual alone can lead to obsessive and mean-spirited behaviour when there is no balance based on experience and compassion.



Babette’s feast, with its emphasis on food, drink, taste, smell and sensory pleasure surely represents the physical side of life and suggests we should indulge our senses and appreciate what sensory delights life has to offer.

After the feast the villagers are far more content, understanding and tolerant, despite misgivings and a determination to remain true to their principles by refusing to recognise or discuss what they experience during the meal. This suggests that a person is complete only when he/she recognises and accepts both aspects of his/her existence – the spiritual and the physical. In this way he/she will know fulfilment rather than simply deny half his/her nature.



We may require the “soul” (or that which is spiritual) to exercise control and reflect upon our actions, but indulging the senses and gaining physical experience lends knowledge and perspective to the spiritual, and encourages understanding and compassion. It is, after all, easy to adopt a haughty moral or spiritual stance if you have never acceded to the possibility of physical temptation – such a stance requires no strength if temptation is not even recognised or if it is avoided. Nature and all its gifts should be appreciated and, combined with reflection and consideration, is a source of socialisation, tolerance and kindness.

The sisters (and indeed all of their father’s congregation) seem to be driven by a desire to evolve spiritually, but with the physical playing a minimal role in that evolution. Yet their lives are enriched by contact with the world outside their small Jutland village, especially by those who visit their community. Lorens, Achille and of course Babette all add something to their lives – Babette’s everyday preparation of food for the poor and infirm is much appreciated by her clients and indeed they are sorely disappointed and upset when Babette takes her leave for a few days and their food is once again prepared by the charitable but less talented sisters. Despite their insistence on the superiority (and perhaps even the sufficiency) of the spiritual, their rather restricted lives are clearly enhanced by encounters of a more physical nature.

That said, after the French dinner, as Lorens is saying his farewells to Martine, he makes it clear that true love does not require a physical aspect to blossom and endure.
Toward the end, as Babette has used her entire lottery win of 10,000 francs to fund her French dinner, it is pointed out to her that she will remain poor for the rest of her life, to which she replies “An artist is never poor.” Presumably, this is to suggest an artist is spiritually rich in talent and skills, talent and skills which lead to fulfilment and a sense of completeness, especially when shared with others. Babette appears to have sacrificed her future for her fellow villagers, but in so doing she has also gained spiritual joy and satisfaction for herself in exercising her artistry with food which, in turn, brings to the fore humanity and a sense of spiritual well-being in others.



Of course, there is also the existential link connecting the main characters – each has an influence on others, though each acts of his/her own volition.

Martine and Filippa devote their lives to caring for the weak and the poor, and to maintaining the principles established by their pastor father. They deny themselves opportunities to cultivate life-paths or careers that might conflict with these principles, though they appreciate and savour their “foreign” encounters with Lorens and Achille in particular. In a sense, these encounters only strengthen their resolve and affirm their faith, but they are nonetheless touched and affected by these meetings and potential life choices.

Achille knew considerable success but this has now faded, and with it his celebrity and position. His greatest achievement, however, may have been to direct Babette toward the sisters’ home (due in no small part to the affection and admiration he developed for Filippa as he shared his talent and skills with her) at a time when Babette’s world crumbled around her. This act of thoughtfulness and consideration undoubtedly saved Babette’s life and positively influenced the lives of all those in the Jutland village. It also provides further illustration of the principle that an artist is never poor when he/she shares his/her talent, and this leads to a spreading of humanity and compassion while allowing the initiator to feel a certain fulfilment and satisfaction.

Lorens becomes a celebrated and influential General largely due to the apparent impossibility of a relationship with Martine, though in the end he appears to value his enduring love and devotion for her above his career and all he has achieved.

At one point in the film it is stated “We take with us only what we give away”, suggesting perhaps that what we do for others is all that matters, and this is borne out by the actions and attitudes of the main characters.



Much has been made of religious connotations in the work – Christian forgiveness at a last supper attended by 12 disciples etc, but I would suggest that the film’s principal strength is in its fundamental message to embrace the duality of our natures in order to achieve fulfilment, while bearing in mind the existential influence we may exercise on others in our dealings with them.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk .



Friday, 9 February 2018

Reflections on "War for the Planet of the Apes"




Reflections on “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves

Starring Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson


Criticism of human character and nature is maintained and even sharpened right from the opening scenes of “War for the Planet of the Apes”. Humans initiate and escalate aggression and violence in a furtive attack on an Ape encampment, the purpose of which, it transpires, is to divert the apes’ attention while their Colonel infiltrates Caesar’s home and kills Caesar’s wife and son. This happens shortly after Caesar has released some human soldier prisoners as a gesture of good will and has offered peace on condition the apes are left in peace in the Redwoods.



The Colonel’s unprincipled act virtually amounts to treachery in the face of Caesar’s act of mercy and his reasonable stance in offering terms. This is compounded by the fact he appears to neither know nor care about who he has just murdered, but simply assumes he has killed Caesar.

On top of this, turncoat apes are used by human military forces as informers and trackers but are treated with condescension and contempt while Caesar spares the lives of captured soldiers, showing mercy and respect for life – all life.

There are few shades of grey or signs of inner conflict such as we witnessed in “Dawn”. Lines and characters are clearly drawn from the outset of the film and a final conflict seems inevitable from the beginning. The principal antagonist is not even named – he is known simply by his rank, symbolising authority, position and attitude.

Having lost his family in such an underhand and brutal attack, Caesar finds, despite his previous (but untried) insistence on forgiveness and “letting go” of the past, especially in his dealings with Koba, he cannot contain his hatred and his desire for revenge. He, accompanied by a select few supporters, sets off on a mission to seek out and destroy his enemy, the Colonel, as his fellow apes decamp and seek another home.

Along the way there are numerous references to the original Apes film (including horse rides along the coastline, crucifixion scarecrows, the gift of a human doll and the name “Nova” given to the little mute girl they pick up on their travels), as well as an explanation for the spreading mutism and simple-mindedness among humans, an element essential to the original film.

Many themes are touched upon or revisited in the course of the film, using apes to represent any race or minority group under threat from those willing to ignore or neglect others in an attempt to establish their authority and ensure their own survival. These themes include animal rights, mankind’s fundamental untrustworthiness and willingness to sacrifice others (belonging to other races, but also his own) to ensure his own survival, racism and slavery, and the need for compassion and forgiveness in the face of hatred and the desire for revenge.

However, the outstanding theme is that of anti-fascism.

The Colonel’s installation is set out rather like a Nazi concentration camp and incorporates forced labour, crowded internment facilities or cages and sustenance inhumanely withheld until completion of the task set. Columns of soldiers cry out praise for their Hitler-like leader who arrogantly presents himself for their acclaim on a balcony high above them. The Colonel is even aiming for the purification of his race by getting rid of the weak and infirm, and is willing to use other races to this end before eliminating them as well.

The message regarding dictatorship and how easily mankind turns to a leader who offers solutions in times of crisis (regarded by some as extreme), is clear.

Caesar, in contrast, acts in the best interests of all his race and is even willing to put his life on the line to defend his people and insist upon their rights to fair treatment. It should be noted his fellow apes are willing to endure harsh treatment in order to save his life. Their mutual respect and admiration is in direct contrast to the dictatorship endured by the humans.

Subtlety may have been lost, however, when Caesar refers to the Colonel’s pointless building of a “wall” (as opposed to “defences”) to protect against the influx of enemy soldiers.

Once again, there is sterling work in terms of writing, direction and performance. This is the darkest of the three films but this is perhaps inevitable and logical given the development of the overarching storyline and the increasingly pessimistic tone, though this was lightened by occasional humour, especially from the vaguely Dobby-like Bad Ape.

I have to say I was totally engaged and didn’t notice time go by, and there are few higher recommendations for a film.


This would appear to be the final volume of a trilogy, but I would suggest there is ample scope for a further trilogy. These three films have set the scene and laid the historical groundwork for a further series of adventures which would see the return, thousands of years later, of the astronauts who set off into space during “Rise”. They would return to a planet inhabited by intelligent and talking apes alongside silent and weak-minded humans.

The astronauts might eventually make their way along the coastline and encounter archaeological digs in a forbidden zone which covers the site of the Colonel’s military installation, handily buried, along with the vast majority of the nation’s fighting forces, in a deluge of snow and nature …..

They may even discover that Caesar’s exploits and principles have been enshrined in sacred scrolls handed down through the generations, scrolls which form the basis, and establish the fundamental values, of Ape culture.

I look forward to seeing such a second trilogy …..



My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie


stuartfernie.org (with links to my page on the original “Planet of the Apes” and a page about “Rise” and “Dawn”)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Reflections on the use of humour in drama




Reflections on the use of humour in drama



As a general rule, people don’t like to be laughed at (unless, of course, they set out to produce that effect). Humour degrades its target and may threaten the position of that target as the perpetrator of humour points out weaknesses and insecurities in character or may reveal underlying purposes, objectives or ruses behind the manner and style of others.

A humourist may adopt a certain position of (moral) superiority as he/she reveals truths and takes up a stance that offers perspective and overview, and certainly does not bow to automatic or expected respect.



A humourist will frequently display an irreverent attitude which may shock, but which serves a purpose beyond immediate amusement and gratification. It may equally offer dissent or challenge to a commonly held view or an established position or argument, but it may be more effective than straight counterargument as humour engages emotion and personal interest far more readily than does mere intellectual jousting.


In terms of drama and entertainment, for most people light comedy appeals more than heavy drama, though a subtle mixing of the two may produce rewarding results. Comic relief has long been recognised as an essential element in the success of serious works, offering some degree of escape from what might otherwise be judged an overly intense experience, while drama and conflict lend weight and value to what might be considered a pleasant but ultimately vacuous experience.

I would say the key elements in successful comedy/drama are balance and complicity.


Going back to the 17th century, Molière’s comedies reveal many of the social ills of his time but also address several universal social themes such as status, love, parenthood and faith, to name but a few, but he was always careful to maintain a balance between gently mocking comedy and touching emotion bordering on tragedy. He knew the key was to have his audience care for his characters despite their flaws and so while encouraging laughter at his characters’ misjudgements, he fosters emotion and sympathy as the audience sees the potentially tragic results of these misjudgements. To this day, most comedies of note follow a vaguely similar pattern as they promote an underlying threat of (self) destruction with regard to their main characters in order to ensure a degree of emotional engagement on the part of the audience.

Complicity of the audience through previous knowledge and awareness (which, crucially, may not be shared with characters in the production being viewed) will also foster engagement and a sense of “participation” in a production. Just about the ultimate example of this is “Groundhog Day” in which weathercaster Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives the same (Groundhog) day seemingly endlessly, but only Phil and the audience are privy to the joke.

Much can be achieved through the medium of humour (or the inclusion of humorous elements) that might otherwise be less successful or engaging.


At its core, the above-mentioned “Groundhog Day” is a fable about personal development and evolution through (eventual) consideration of and selfless service to others. Such a naive, simplistic and potentially patronising message had to be handled deftly and with care, and Harold Ramis along with Bill Murray carry it off wonderfully with a series of strangely comical positive-yet-cynical vignettes. These trace Phil Connors’ transformation from self-centred careerist through depressive fatalist and selfish hedonist (willing to use others for his own ends, but equally depending on them), until finally he achieves fulfilment through altruistic acts of kindness and help. The lightness of touch ensures we never dislike Phil (perhaps because he is the ultimate target of the humour of the film) as we share his responses to his outlandish situation, which the humorous tenor of the film allows us to accept and enjoy.


Similarly, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would undoubtedly have been considerably less appealing and successful in terms of engagement, sympathy and empathy if it had been presented as a harrowing battle of wills between a representative of social repression and one of personal freedom. Humour allowed for the humanisation and development of the numerous characters involved, and their struggles and conflicts became all the more touching and affecting because humour encouraged empathy and a sense of solidarity, ultimately emphasising and clarifying the division between the two factions and making the end (and the “message”) all the more effective and moving.

Even the genre of action/adventure films has been augmented and enhanced by the inclusion of humour.


The early Bond films injected a knowing self-awareness and even mockery which added an element of sophistication and entertainment which many have sought to emulate in other productions and which has influenced several of the most successful franchises in cinema history, including “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “Mission Impossible” and some Schwarzenegger productions. By incorporating elements of humour in their storylines, writers lighten the emotional load (in itself essential to maintain interest) on audiences and yet build emotional engagement with their characters and draw audiences into their work.

My thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie