CLOCKWISE. The screenplay of this film impressed John Cleese

A charming, yet relatively little-known comedy.


15 March 2024


In the early eighties, after completing “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” the famous group of comedians stopped creating projects together. However, its members continued to appear in films or series, and Terry Gilliam successfully took the director’s seat. John Cleese also focused on his solo career and starred in several very good productions, to mention only “A Fish Called Wanda.” But before achieving success alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, he appeared in a charming, albeit relatively poorly known (at least to us) comedy, “Clockwise.”

The main character, Brian Stimpson, is the headmaster of a prestigious English high school. His obsessively organized life is ruled by the hands of the clock, and being late is something that gives him nightmares. One day he learns that he will soon receive an award for headmasters, which will be presented in a city several hours away by car. He carefully prepares for the ceremony, drafts a pompous speech, but whimsical fate keeps throwing new obstacles in his way so that Stimpson won’t make it to the gala on time.

As the plot unfolds, the organized world of the protagonist begins to disintegrate. His principles start to be threatened, and the guiding principles of his life cease to apply, leading to a series of humorous episodes. To some extent, one could even speak of a road movie, and in accordance with the narrative rules of such productions, the protagonist of “Clockwise” changes under the influence of his adventures. The catch is that these changes are not necessarily for the better. His determination to reach the awards ceremony overshadows his common sense, and the obstacles he encounters drive Stimpson to resort to absurd and previously unfamiliar methods just to avoid being late. He crosses further boundaries, and his actions become increasingly chaotic. Throughout the entire duration of the movie, I wondered how the plot would end, and I must admit that the writers served up an interesting resolution, amusing, though leaving a certain sense of dissatisfaction. Moreover, Cleese himself didn’t particularly like the ending.

An undeniable advantage is the opportunity to see various lesser-known corners of Great Britain on screen. Typically, when the plot unfolds in Shakespeare’s homeland, we see London with its iconic landmarks, or relatively other large cities. Here we visit locations such as Edgbaston, Grimsby, Kingston Upon Hull, Much Wenlock, Shrewsbury, Stourport, and West Bromwich. Doesn’t it sound refreshing? Additionally, we get to see the English countryside from the mid-eighties, which adds a nostalgic atmosphere to the whole film. The filming took place over eight weeks in June and July 1985.

John Cleese once stated that the screenplay by Michael Frayn was the best he had read (although he considers “A Fish Called Wanda” to be the best film he’s been involved in). Allegedly, on the day the script landed on his desk, the actor immediately read it and instantly decided he wanted to play the main character. Christopher Morahan, who had previously mainly worked for television and was a theatrical creator, sat in the director’s chair. “Clockwise” is the most famous title in his career.

The film received quite good reviews from critics and enjoyed relatively high popularity in Great Britain, with excerpts from dialogues even entering everyday language and occasionally being quoted in newspapers and literature. Unfortunately, due to its typically English humor, the production did not gain approval from audiences across the ocean. Cleese took this lesson to heart, and his later film “A Fish Called Wanda,” three years later, fared much better in the USA. Nevertheless, it’s worth familiarizing oneself with this somewhat lesser-known offering from the actor’s repertoire. It contains plenty of funny situations and captures the great atmosphere of Thatcherite Great Britain.

Written by Piotr Zymelka



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