Review: Rag Tale [2005] - dir. Mary McGuckian

Comic adventures for a group of journalists working on a newspaper called The Rag. The tabloid reports on scandals and intrigue in a world where the real truth never stops a really good story.

I recently saw The Hoax, and one of Howard Hughes's ideas (or at least, Clifford Irving's) was to create a crisis for a man, then save him from it, and in so doing, make yourself indispensable. Such is the game-plan of the editor of The Rag, who is faced with losing editorial control (and also his job) as the Chairman decides on a new pro-Monarchy policy, being led by his wife, the current Deputy Editor. This film follows the Fleet Street power struggle, the revelations about the characters and their ultimate consequences.

The acting is superlative, and the script is sharp and economic, although not particularly witty and not played for laughs like The Thick of It, for example. The cast runs like a roll call of some of Britain's finest character and improvisational actors, including Simon Callow, John Sessions, Malcolm McDowell, Sarah Stockbridge and Bill Paterson. The descriptions on the front of the box: "The Office on Crack", "Brutally Funny" and "An Outstanding Cast in a Classic British Comedy" are completely misplaced--did these reviewers actually watch the film? It's not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, some dark humour does not make for a comedy.

While I'd agree that in most cases when you're faced with a film that tries to do something different it is respectful to try to understand what the creative forces behind it were trying to achieve. Rag Tale bypasses this in its pure contempt for the viewer and deserves no such effort. What is most profoundly disturbing about this film is that it appears a lot of brainstorming about camera angles and dynamic cinematography took place at some stage, they shot the film and then obviously forgot to review the footage. There were also a few Koyaanisqatsi-style inserts, the pace of which were much more pleasing.

I stuck with it in spite of its unpleasant look, and I found it ultimately to be a worthwhile story. The film shows something of the machinations of the 'red-top' newspaper world. If you can stick with it, you may well get something out of it, thanks mainly to the cast and an obviously expanded, somewhat improvised, scripting technique, very much in line with Mike Leigh's approach to script evolution by his casts.


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