Blu-ray review: Eskimo Nell

Starring: Michael Armstrong, Roy Kinnear, Christopher Timothy
Director: Martin Campbell

eskimo-nell 1Michael Armstrong is best remembered for writing and directing the cult horror movie Mark of the Devil (1970), but here he takes on a more unusual hyphenated role, that of writer-actor. He plays one of a trio of earnest young men who are persuaded by a sleazy producer (Roy Kinnear) to make a film based upon the dirty poem “The Ballad of Eskimo Nell”. It’s not an ideal project, and it only gets worse as they find themselves committed to making four different versions of the same story to please various backers.

Their attempts to square this circle lead to some ingenious farce, with parodies of Johnny Guitar and The Sound of Music and numerous swipes at various thinly veiled figures such as Mary Whitehouse. The result is a bit like The Producers meets Bullets Over Broadway, seen through the prism of Evelyn Waugh, Tom Sharpe and Joe Orton and rewritten by Malcolm Bradbury after swallowing a packet of Viagra. The nudity is actually quite minimal – there’s hardly any time for it, as there’s such a stream of intricate gags, culminating in some comical goings on with multiple cans of film. Arguably future Bond director Martin Campbell loses control a little towards the end, but by and large this is a surprisingly ambitious and accomplished movie that stands head and shoulders over most ’70s sex comedies, and it’s graced by a standout turn by a very young Christopher Timothy (of All Creatures Great and Small fame) as the project’s beleaguered scriptwriter, who would rather be penning books about penguins. “It’s different with penguins,” he sighs, as his flat turns into a sex den. Look out also for Christopher Biggins as a fey Old Harrovian who gets roped into proceedings. 8/10

Notwithstanding its regular jabs at the cheapness and tawdriness of the British film industry in the ’70s, Eskimo Nell is a very lush-looking film, with plush décor and costumes. These emerge very attractively on an HD transfer which has some touches of grain but is on the whole clean, fresh and atmospheric. Lady Longhorn’s flock wallpaper comes across splendidly, as does Biggins’ scarlet and salmon blazer. 7/10

Wild Loves is a 6-min stag movie starring ’70s porno star Mary Millington, shot in rather soft, crumbly b/w which looks very attractive in this transfer – a nice find for Millington aficionados. There’s also a very interesting audio commentary from Armstrong, who explains that sex comedies were the only films being made in Britain at that time. Among other juicy snippets of gossip, he reveals that he borrowed his character’s awful dress sense from Michael Winner, and that many of the scenes with Kinnear were taken verbatim from meetings with low-rent producers Tony Tenser and Stanley A. Long. 7/10


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