Running Naked




An attempt to film a story about cancer without sinking into misery.

Running Naked


This is a film marked by good intentions so let us start there. Although the work has rather complex origins with separate credits given for an earlier screenplay and for the original story, the main writing credit is shared by Victor Buhler the director and Michael Knowles the producer alongside Jennifer Knowles who is a cancer survivor. That last fact is relevant because Running Naked is a film that is absolutely centred on cancer, albeit one that seeks to avoid the downbeat feeling that so often results when stories are built around this subject. The aim of finding a different approach is laudable and there is promise in the idea of telling a story in which the expectation of an early death results in somebody being persuaded to rethink the past and to take their future such as it is in a fresh and more positive direction. If that in itself is a sign of good intentions, so is the announcement that in due course and following on from the film's premier on World Cancer Day and its release four days later on 8th February a portion of all profits will be donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust and to Sheffield's Weston Park Hospital.


Given that context, I would love to be able to say that Running Naked is a good film, but I can't do that even though the actors concerned do their best with what they have been handed. Matthew McNulty plays Mark Doherty, a doctor in Manchester, and Andrew Gower is cast as his best friend, Ben Taylor. That friendship goes back at least sixteen years to a time when they were teenagers and met as fellow cancer patients having leukemia treatment in a local hospital. The film reverts at intervals to that time and to their youthful pranks which include streaking in the hospital but these flashbacks are clumsily inserted. Stylization is present from the start (the streak is accompanied by an imagined official commentary and the boys' genitals are self-consciously blurred over). But the fact is that if the comedy element is to work as a part of the whole it has to be more realistic than this. Indeed, the film is promoted as one that will make you cry as well as laugh and it can only achieve that if it feels real enough to move from the comic to the touching in a journey that takes the viewer with it.


Unfortunately, despite the many hands involved in the writing, the screenplay of Running Naked fails to reach a stage that makes the characters and their behaviour appear believable. The childhood connection could justify the central friendship, but the adult Ben Taylor emerges as a repressed, weedy man and that both lessens audience sympathy for him and makes the long-term bond seem unlikely. Furthermore, the plot gets going with Ben as Mark's patient and Mark revealing to him that his cancer has returned leaving him with but a short time to live. The steps that Mark then takes to make Ben live for the day are totally improbable and appear even more so in the manner in which they are presented. Romantic entanglements for both men are brought in too, but the main development in the film's second half comes with two interconnected plot twists that are even more ridiculous than what precedes them. Those tears that the filmmakers hoped for never come because, in seeking to move beyond the humour to something genuinely touching, the writing leads Running Naked not into pathos but into what, considering its serious aims, emerges as bathos. Alas, it is much easier to admire the intentions behind it than to enjoy the finished film.




Cast: Andrew Gower, Matthew McNulty, Tamzin Merchant, Rakhee Thakrar, Samuel Bottomley, James Senneck, Kidran Sonia Sawar, Sacha Parkinson, Emma Stansfield, Tom Durant Pritchard.


Dir Victor Buhler, Pro Michael Knowles, Screenplay Victor Buhler, Jennifer Knowles and Michael Knowles, based on a screenplay by Matthew Elders from a story by Rob Wales, Ph Oliver Walker, Pro Des John Ellis, Ed Andy Paton and Craig Leedham, Music Craig Potter, Costumes Nicola Wilson.


NOW Films-Miracle Media.
92 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 8 February 2021. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.