Has curiosity value that will fade quickly with time but is too inconsistent and half-hearted
Bernard Manning died on 18th June 2007. In this film he presents his own obituary although technically not from beyond the grave as it was filmed many months before. He did the same thing with his written obituary in one of the red top papers. The cynic in me thus expected this film to be an old man frantically ensuring that the last word is his, that he doesn't leave behind a silence for others to fill with their opinions and judgements however it somehow manages to frustratingly drift between everything that it could have been.
It did get to me in the end because the film does do a little bit of everything but does nothing that well. On one hand we have a genuine look back at this celebrity. On the other hand it is a portrait of a "simple lad" who takes no nonsense as he approaches his death. Then at the same time it is a look back at his life of a man keen to be remembered how he wants. The film does all these and at times it is quite engaging on all these levels, the problem is that it feels uneven and inconsistent in its approach as a result and leaves the viewer feeling like nothing is followed through on.
In regards the celebrity obituary part of it, it is weak. Sad to say but one of the contributors is right when he says that many will have thought Manning was already dead and many more will have not cared whether he was or not. The clips only serve to highlight what level his humour was at and his audiences rarely seem to rise above the level of working man's club, where (let's be honest) simply looking down at minority groups will get a cheer or a laugh. His jokes range from the puerile to the shockingly bad-taste (a joke about an Irish rapist who tied his victims legs together for instance) but they are rarely funny.
This is our way into the more reflective material with Manning and mostly this is very obvious stuff that does just what you expect it to in the way he tries to build himself a fond recollection. It comes over as a man in denial of who he is and the film never probes that it simply lets him say what he wants. Maybe Hull wanted to but was prevented from doing so by Manning's handlers; so he must have enjoyed the one moment where the "real" Manning comes out a show in Blackpool where he spots a black man in the pub and focuses in on him, much to the discomfort of him and his white friends. After the show the group get to talk to Manning but he does rip into them with a callousness and arrogance that never came out anywhere else. This is the closest we ever get to "vulnerability", which is a quality that the film really needed. If only Manning could genuinely have been brought to a point of introspection it could have been better.
Overall then this is a fairly mixed film. It does have good moments but mostly the lack of one clear aim or direction means that it feels uneven and doesn't really work. On one hand we see Manning revealed for what most of us suspect he was, but then the next scene he is given screen-time to defend himself and show a lack of self-awareness usually reserved for sleep-walkers. Worth a glance for what it is but just don't expect too much from it.
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