Stanley: A Man of Variety




An intriguingly odd work that is definitely one of a kind.

Stanley - A Man of Variety

Timothy Spall and rodent


Advance descriptions of this film, a personal project of that fine actor Timothy Spall, made it sound a strange work. But, when you see it, the movie turns out to be even stranger than one had expected. Spall, the only player in the cast, appears as a man named Stanley first seen in a cell in an institution that is prison-like. Stanley is shown to be obsessed with British comics of the past and, given his uncertain mental state, it is reasonable enough that he should hallucinate their presence. They are figures shown in black and white for the most part although the film is in colour and, since Spall plays all of them, it sounds like an invitation to enjoy impressions. In addition, Spall appears as other figures in Stanley’s memory including his parents (yes, that does mean that, like Alec Guinness in the classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, he does not restrict himself to male roles).


Spall, who is also co-writer and an associate producer, has spoken of the old comics having a darker side, but one nevertheless approaches this film anticipating a largely comic entertainment. In the event, however, what is screen centre is the plight of Stanley himself. Fifteen years after the death of his daughter, he seeks a dispensation to be allowed out to visit her grave, a vain quest as it proves and one that is almost Kafkaesque in its futility. Does he deserve to be let out for this? Has he been he institutionalised on criminal or mental grounds? Is he in reality not behind bars at all but living in a world of his own imagination?


The one thing that is certain is that Spall plays Stanley seriously and convincingly. The people whose presence he hallucinates may be harassing an innocent man or, like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, they may be there to help him by making him acknowledge his bad ways - in this case by forcing him to come to terms with his own guilt. As we ponder these issues, we are diverted by the impersonations.  In truth, they are of variable quality although not all viewers will be able to judge because the artists evoked go so far back as to include Max Wall, Max Miller and Frank Randle. Easily the weakest is a female judge supposedly echoing Margaret Rutherford: by then Stanley is admitting to murder, but the weapon was a chamber pot and, given that the judge suffers from amnesia, the court scene is not far removed from that in N. J. Simpson’s satirical nonsense play One Way Pendulum filmed in 1965. If that mix suggests a work of uncertain overall intent, the music behind the end credits sounds equally conflicted. Stanley: A Man of Variety might just possibly become a cult classic but it never coheres meaningfully. At the same time running for less than an hour and a half, its oddity is quite enough to sustain our interest. The person who emerges with most credit is not Spall the impersonator but Spall the actor.




Cast: Timothy Spall.


Dir Stephen Cookson, Pro Stephen Cookson, Screenplay Stephen Cookson and Timothy Spall, after a script by Falcon Fields, Ph Ismael Issa, Pro Des Felix Coles, Ed Rupert Hall, Music David Lord and Tim Wheater, Costumes Colleen Kelsall.


CK Films/Special One Films-Picturehouse Entertainment.
83 mins. UK 2016. Rel: 15 June 2018. Cert. 15 .