This review contains spoilers.
4.2 Save Royston Vasey
The credits have rolled on the second instalment of The League Of Gentlemen’s Christmas Special and, cor, where to start? The tone of the episode is considerably different from the first, as instead of reintroducing much-loved characters the show is now neck-deep in drama. Terrible deeds are afoot and everyone is in their own personal hell, be it living with trauma or in a literal living death.
One character we do get to see for the first time since the early noughties is Ollie Plimsolls, and boy is it good to have him back… although he does seem to have an axe to grind where the rest of his former touring theatre company Legz Akimbo is concerned. His dream of winning a ‘teen issues’ award is quickly dashed when a colleague wakes him up to inform him that he has to go and teach drama to his Year 9s. Royston Vasey seems to have the death touch; everyone who lives in the small town hasn’t gone anywhere; trapped in the town’s uniquely firm grip.
What follows is another dream sequence in which Ollie’s class transforms into a fond reunion of Legz Akimbo. We should have seen that it was all a reverie as the theatre troupe’s production value has gone up considerably, but what remains are the wonderfully naff freeze frames, walking in place and a cracking new addition to the Legz Akimbo oeuvre: a section where the clan ‘rewind’ their play ‘Perve Swerve’ with frantic backwards walking.
The rest of the episode continues the storylines that were set in motion last night, with the exception of a bleak game of bingo at the local pub in which the nicknames for each ball fit in very appropriately with the telling of the bingo caller’s moving love story. Considering this is a three-part special, the story needs to get rolling with the strange photo booth, which shows evidence of claiming further victims but is still an entire mystery, and the shift in the county border that means Royston Vasey will possibly be no more. “Keep Royston Vasey on the map!” shouts mayor Bernice Woodall from the megaphone in her car. The same map that Tubbs Tattsyrup covets…
What are we to make of Tubbs getting her hands on the new and exciting prospect of a smart phone and, with it, her precious Google maps? Other shows in the past have made a return with lots of modern, techy references but here it doesn’t feel like something that’s shoehorned in; it’s an acknowledgement of a world that is travelling far too fast for a couple like the Tattsyrups. She heavy handedly plays with the exciting technological gadget but has no idea what it does or means. Her character continues to be endearingly naïve but desperate for adventure, something the first ever discovery of a map prompted within her, and the excitement appears to have conveniently pushed the storyline along with regards to saving the town. Could Tubbs and Edward be the ones to save Royston Vasey?
The visual gags out and about in the town continue to be quick-witted and fittingly grim while Pop continues to be a slimy and all-round horrendous person, gifting his adolescent granddaughters one half of a bikini each. While the other characters offer lots to love, for all their crackpot ways, Pop is there for you to hate. It’s difficult not to wish another classic character was filling his slot (which, incidentally, is a joke Pop would appreciate).
The plotline with the Dentons has gone madly fast, with Benjamin being restrained in their dedicated toad room to bring life to his Uncle Harvey, preserved by the girls’ witchy ways at the point just before his spirit left his body. It’s a stretch, sure, but something that is well within the characters’ capabilities. This is another major thing to celebrate; the way The League of Gentlemen team knows when to keep things realistic and which characters can take on some of that brilliant folk horror magic.
Geoff and Mike’s story, meanwhile, is a fantastic example of comedy turning into tragedy; a fine line that the League crew frequently walk. Geoff’s attempt to kill Mike’s wife Cheryl begins with some laugh-out-loud moments, including waving a sharp tool to a DIY shopkeeper and asking “would this kill a fat woman tonight?” He takes the new role of killer incredibly seriously, complete with camouflage get-up, but the laughs falter when Mike pleads with Geoff for a humane mercy-killing for his wife. Then the laughs stop altogether. Geoff and Mike come to the horrifying realisation that Geoff smothered to death the wrong woman; Pauline. It’s a gut-wrenching moment as Mickey falls to his wife’s side on returning home and the camera pans across to their wedding photo. After the first episode, however, some may be inclined to believe that a mercy killing is exactly what Geoff achieved.
Read Catherine’s review of the previous episode, Return To Royston Vasey, here.