From the off, Beyond The Pole is quirky and distinct. The idea to base what is otherwise a Brit-Bromance comedy around an Arctic expedition is a good one. It gives a fresh outlook on what is otherwise quite a straightforward, entertaining romp – a low-budget, affable flick that has heart, conscience and, most importantly, a sense of humour.
Featuring a cast of slightly notables and barely familiars from the television and comedy worlds, Beyond The Pole tells the story of two young chaps and their ambition to be the first unsupported, carbon-neutral, organic and vegetarian expedition to the North Pole.
Brian (Rhys Thomas) is the dopey heart of the duo, and Mark (Stephen Mangan, Green Wing), is a daft send-up of the eco-conscious nagger who, when faced with a 4×4 in a narrow streets, declares, “I’m going nowhere, this is Tiananmen Square!”
Of course, it is all completely insane, and the film wastes no time detailing the emotional and psychological backgrounds for their rash plans in a ragged, mockumentary style.
The duo are out-and-out man-children, pursuing the giddy heights of adventurous ambition in order to avoid the actual problems in their lives, as Brian is faced with settling down with his girlfriend Sandra (the buoyant Rosie Cavaliero), and Mark is wrestling with a cold family life and a disintegrating marriage. Hitting the North Pole is their escapism, their way of dealing with encroaching adulthood, and the audience is strapped in for the ride.
A lot of Beyond The Pole‘s charm comes from its cheeky, rambunctious tone. It is full of energy, wholly unpretentious and without cynicism. This saturates the production, from the the likable performances upwards, with standout cameo appearances from Mark Benton (best known for being that sod in the Nationwide TV adverts) as ‘Mark’s 2nd best friend’ Graham, Patrick Baladi (The Office) as Mark’s smarmy older brother, and – best of all – Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Generation Kill), camping it up as Terje, one of the Norwegian two-man team that are rivaling the plucky Brits’ bid for the record books.
However, the most impressive coup of cheekiness on the part of writer-director-producer David L. Williams and co-writer Neil Warhurst (apart from the fact that the film was made for considerably less than a million pounds, with shoots in Greenland and Iceland, of course) is that they smuggle in a palpable, unavoidable layer of global warming commentary, starting with the opening line, “The planet is heating up… we know that”, and progressing through other climate-conscious asides, from ice quakes to the drifting and melting of the continent itself. These issues are interspersed throughout the film, narrated by the characters with a self-effacing humour that undercuts any of the patronising sermonising that can be found in even the best documentaries on the subject, such as An Inconvenient Truth.
That Beyond The Pole has this firm basis in Everyman environmentalism gives its pleasant comedy a distinctive edge, and its independent status makes it a property worth supporting. After all, you’ve got to laugh sometimes, so why not learn a couple of things while you chuckle?