Director – Steve Roberts, Screenplay – Steve Roberts & Vivian Stanshall, Producer – Tony Stratton Smith, Music – Vivian Stanshall, Special Effects – Ken Lailey, Makeup – Sarah Monzani, Art Direction – Jim Acheson. Production Company – Charisma Films
Trevor Howard (Sir Henry Rawlinson), Patrick Magee (Reverend Slodden), Harry Fowler (Buller Bullethead), Denise Coffey (Mrs E), J.G. Devlin (Old Scrotum), Sheila Reid (Florrie), Gary Waldhorn (Max), Simon Jones (Joachim), Michael Crane (Humbert), Vivian Stanshall (Hubert Rawlinson)
Sir Henry Rawlinson is an eccentric British aristocrat who, among other things, keeps two men prisoners in a compound on his estate, getting them to play at being British POWs. He is haunted by the ghost of his brother Hubert who was accidentally shot while fleeing after being found having intercourse with a villager’s wife when Henry mistook him for a duck, and has now returned wanting a pair of pants.
This is a rambling and incoherent piece of British surrealism. It comes based on series of radio plays created by Vivian Stanshall that aired on the BBC between 1975 and 1988. Like Monty Python and The Goons, it sinks its teeth into the British class system and, in particular, the foibles of the aristocracy. Unlike Monty Python and The Goons, it is free-ranging absurdist humour that lacks a point – indeed, lacks anything approaching editorial succinctness. It drags from one nonsensical happening to the next without anything resembling a plot, pace or consideration for its audience tolerance.
Occasionally it is amusing in some of its verbal wordgames – “Michael and Angelo – two men responsible for the Cistern Chapel,” or plays on Greek harpics and the Kalahari, which is taken to be a ritual form of Japanese suicide, and Trevor Howard’s list of his favourite artists, including Avocado Da Vinci and Anonymous Bosch. There is the oddly amusing moment of surrealism – a combined indoor game of pool and polo. However, other than the very occasional nugget of humour, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is incoherent and incomprehensible.
Occasionally there are some films – like this one – that leave one wondering why they were made – what the director and writers had in mind, and most of all how they managed to attract financing for it, least of all how such luminaries as Trevor Howard and Patrick Magee agreed to appear. Trevor Howard at least gives a fine parody of dithering and crustily single-minded British aristocracy and Patrick Magee is equally good in one of his patented roles of sarcastic causticism. The film, made on a minuscule budget, is over an hour-and-a-quarter too long at 105 minutes.