Clockwise (1986) Poster

(1986)

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Minor Classic
a_gulliver7 July 2003
The most surprising things about this minor classic from the mid 80's are that it was director Christopher Morahan's first film since 1969, and Cleese's character is based on a real-life headmaster! John Cleese based the character on the head of his daughter's school, and I can tell you the real life head is just as delightfully nutty as Stimpson.

Time obsessed Mr Stimpton, head of an ordinary British state school finds himself chairman of the Headmasters Conference and has to get to Norwich to address their meeting. Everything goes wrong on the way, despite Stimpson's meticulous planning, and due to his obsessive nature he gets more and more frayed at the edges as things go wrong.

There are some great observations on human nature in a film which moves quick enough to keep you laughing but not so quick that you miss anything.

Not perhaps Cleese's very best work, but a minor classic nevertheless. Generally under-rated as most have already said. Chris Morahan went onto continue his film directors career with the excellent thriller "Paper Tiger" in 1990, among others.
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8/10
One of the most under-rated comedies of all time
andyh-917 February 2004
John Cleese was at his harried best in this little gem of a movie. Certainly one of the most under-rated films in this genre of all time. Intelligent, (maybe too clever and too British for the Americans at the time of release) extremely funny and a film one can watch over and over without it becoming stale. Cleese's timing is superb and as for his wife and daughter.. an absolute pleasure to observe!
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9/10
Right! Left? Right! No, left!
R_O_U_S16 February 2004
A scrupulously punctual headmaster in an English comprehensive school sets off for the Headmaster's Conference to deliver a keynote speech. One little slip sees him boarding the wrong train, which leads to a chain of consequences conspiring to keep him from his goal. This is one of the finest farces I've ever seen brought to the screen, written naturally enough by theatre farce-meister Michael Frayn. The frenetic energy of John Cleese in his prime really lifts this above the norm, as he hitches a ride with a student, bumps into and kidnaps an ex-girlfriend and winds up naked in a monastery. The climactic scenes at the HMC amount to perhaps the finest pay-off seen in farce. This is, indeed, a historic moment.
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7/10
The secret to knowing who you are is WHERE you are, and WHEN you are
hugh197122 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw this film on its cinema release and thought it a gentle, slightly dated but amusing English comedy. Watching it again last night (it was given out free on DVD with a Sunday newspaper) I realised what a greatly underrated, highly intelligent film it is. In fact I suspect it is a little TOO intelligent for mainstream audiences, which perhaps is why it has never been a blockbuster.

What impressed me was the highly philosophical nature of the plot which deals with the artificial nature of timekeeping in modern society.

Stimpson suffers from the modern disease of believing that all the problems of life can be solved by the imposition of obsessive man made order and regulation (something our present Government appears to suffer from also) in particular with regards to timekeeping. His whole identity is based on timekeeping and he is unable to relate to anything outside his own worldview. Stimpson is the classic tragic overreacher who doesn't realise that his attempts at control are actually having the opposite effect.

The sense of dislocated identity is a recurrent motif in the film. The senile old ladies are not merely there for comic relief - they act as a mirror to Stimpson's own disintegrating sense of self. One of the ladies (the late great Joan Hickson) is stuck in a 'loop' of consciousness relating to sherry glasses, and the other is convinced that she is in the place she has already left, but the third lady, 'aren't we lucky people!' represents the childlike happiness of those who are literally outside time - her polite bewilderment and contented singing at the end of the film as Stimpson is led away underscore this neatly.

Other motifs of dislocated identity and location abound. Stimpson drives a car which does not belong to him, and which does not belong to the girl he takes it from, who is also not licensed to use it. It is then driven in a completely random, directionless way across fields ('we don't need the track!')until it has to be rescued by a tractor which Stimpson refuses to see even though he's standing right next to it. (This particular sequence, with the Morris 1100 driving over the fields, has an almost lyrical quality to it, especially to someone who spent most of his childhood holidays in a similar car).

Stimpson then spends some time in a monastery, where the characters, like the senile ladies, are outside of time in the conventional sense - almost stuck in the middle ages - again the innocent happiness of those outside time is shown by the monk cheering on Cleese in his chase after the car.

Finally Stimpson makes his last ditch attempt to reach the conference in a car stolen from someone who again, does not own it himself, and in a stolen suit which does not fit him which, in a hilarious counterpoint to his own crumbling identity, falls to pieces while he is wearing it.

The only thing the film lacks is perhaps a little more background on what changed Stimpson from being a hopeless timekeeper to an obsessive one, and what happened to him after he was caught.
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Underrated Comedy
KirkieRobRoy26 November 1999
A much underrated comedy detailing the collapse of a stern, disciplinarian headmaster during a chaotic journey to deliver a speech at a convention of snobbish educationists.

Cleese begins in a very restrained way and is watchable and funny as he gradually descends into anarchic despondency. The pathos as he finally delivers his speech, in an ill-fitting (stolen) tasteless outfit, surrounded by the detritus of his dreadful day, is genuinely moving as well as funny.

Best line, from Cleese, as yet another possible means of reaching his goal emerges: 'It's not the despair: I can cope with the despair. It's the HOPE - that's what's killing me.' Almost the perfect motto for Scotland football supporters, you might say.

Probably alone in the world, I rate this movie superior to the overly foul-mouthed and Americanised Fish Called Wanda. A host of grizzled British character actors, including the magnificent Alison Steadman, keep things going.

I wonder what happened to the sherry glasses?
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8/10
The Master at Work
emguy22 April 2001
I recall a review in the Washington Post when this film was in theater release. It said something like, "If you want to see the master at work, go see this film." I thought that was very fitting. If you like John Cleese's brand of comedy, it's on good display here.

In its way, the movie is a simple comedy of errors. Murphy's Law dogs Cleese everywhere he goes. Yet despite the great John Cleese reactions to the never-ending stream of challenges, his character never loses sight of his goals or his integrity. I think that juxtaposition is part of what makes the movie work. Despite all the humiliations and frustrations, the character never forgets that he's doing it all for the sake of his students and his school.
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9/10
Impeccably executed British Comedy classic. Timeless.
Champion-33 April 2002
There are a great many films which are painful in their bland mainstreaminess.

And a very few which manage to pull it off, and remain funny to virtually everyone, over a period of several years.

This John Cleese vehicle from the mid 1980s manages to fit into the latter category - it is simply such a very well crafted traditional comedy, that it is impossible not to be touched.

Here we see Cleese very much in Basil Fawlty mode, as an aspiring head-teacher for whom things just don't run smooth when it really matters.

The other classic elements of British Farce are there - major misunderstandings, people getting undresses, well-intentioned old ladies who say the wrong things at the wrong times, and of course Geoffrey Palmer as a straight man.

And just a touch of poignant surrealism in the way the final minute leading into the credits is played out, to offset the traditional production values.

It's straightforward, and unchallenging, and probably the best film about lateness ever made. High praise indeed, for something so mainstream.
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7/10
Amiable fun.
HenryHextonEsq24 March 2001
Clockwise is no classic comedy; make no mistake there. But it is a very watchable one, largely thanks to a fair plot and script often greatly elevated by the marvellous John Cleese. It never really loses as much steam as I thought it might, and contains a fine scene where Cleese attempts to deliver his speech - "Expatiate over weighty balls of matter!" Apart from that speech, nothing raised a huge guffaw; but much was gently amusing. Certainly worth watching, if lacking in real wit. There are just too many hapless onlookers' reactions shown to generate laughs, that is a mark of a less-than-inspired comedy, but Cleese gives a fine, Fawlty-esque performance, that will impress all. Rating:- *** 1/2 (out of *****)
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7/10
Minor Classic Indeed
Mallocky18 February 2006
Glad to see this film is building up a fan-base. Any references I've come across in film guides have been pretty dismissive, and it seems to have been rubbished on its release. I think "minor classic" is the perfect description for it: it's so pleasantly low-key, restrained and, well, English. It respects the tradition of farce and, despite the frenetic pace and the subject matter, retains a kind of gentle, even staid appeal. The race to get to the conference might be nail-biting but the sleepy English countryside, the apple-eating farmer, the scene of John Cleese soaking in a bath-tub, evoke a world of endearing laziness. A film for bank holidays, and perhaps more suited to TV than the cinema. A Fish Called Wanda has funnier moments but, on the whole, I think I prefer this.

Interesting that so many people have said they can watch it again and again. I've seen it four or five times and I'm planning on buying it on my way home from work today, then watching it over dinner. Don't know what made me think of it and look it up. Actually I saw it being given away free with a newspaper last week, that must be it. I wasn't going to add to a tabloid's circulation, though.
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10/10
Murphy was right, don't try to deny it!
lee_eisenberg7 August 2005
Murphy, whoever he was, said in his eponymous law that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. "Clockwise" proves that to be true. Brian Stimpson (John Cleese) is a headmaster on his way to a meeting, but one thing goes wrong after another. Quite literally any bad thing that you can come up with, that is happening to him. I wanted to pity him, but I preferred to laugh. You can't not laugh while watching "Clockwise". It's not exactly Monty Python-style humor, but it's still a hoot. It's the sort of situation where you think "Oh no...oh yes." I think that it's safe to say that John Cleese will never get stale. As long as you're not religious, you'll really like the scene at the church.
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9/10
To enjoy many times
jéwé12 April 2001
A very funny film, in my opinion the best Cleese available. Cleese himself always ignores this film when talking about his cinema-work and the title is never mentioned when Cleese's films are named by the critics. It seems, for some vague reason, that there is nothing between Monty Python and 'A Fish called Wanda'. Rubbish, see this one. I also liked 'Fish' the first time around but got bored very soon by repeats. Not this one. Like 'Mr Hulot's Holiday' and 'Gregory's Girl' and film to watch many times. Script scores high in the family's 'citation index'. Nine-twenty Linda...
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10/10
A film for dutiful Englishmen and Swedes
hawkan29 November 2000
I read comment from John Cleese where he said that the only countries where this film was successful were Sweden and England. Countries with many dutiful people and where the time is very important. 15 minutes late arrival to a meeting is a catastrophe in Sweden. If you are late to a movie you will be sure to here some annoying comments. This film is about a headmaster who is a "timefreak". On his way to a important meeting in Norwich, he takes the wrong train and the catastrophe is a fact. Or...? Very funny, one of my favourite comedies of all time.
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"This...is a historic moment."
tom_jones22 April 2002
Having known my share of stuffed shirts, I was howling at the torture of John Cleese in this film. You know who all those stuffed shirts are, too: those who insist on a spotless, shiny, tidy room; who balance out their finances every day, it seems; who have carved a nice manageable life for themselves. What makes the comedy work, though, is that in spite of all the setbacks Cleese suffers, the movie doesn't take any sadistic delight in them. When the car, and Cleese, gets stuck in the mud, we all cringe at his predicament, and laugh along with him, since we'd probably be going through the same thing ourselves, but for the grace of God. No toilet humor, no toilet language. Just a madcap comedy of errors fit for all. Right!
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See this Ealing comedy for the '80s if you ever get the chance
jbateman1 December 1999
The secret of this comedy is its pacing. It shows the events of one working day in the lives of a range of people from schoolchildren to pensioners, whose course is hilariously skewed for them all by the obsession of the film's central character. It uses a traditional "obsessive tunnel vision" strategy of comedy - a character's failure to see the chaos he is causing in the lives of those who are unlucky enough to lie in the path between him and his goal.

Alison Steadman plays the sassy schoolgirl who does everything she can to help her headteacher achieve this obsession, tearing him between his drive for the peak of respectability orthodoxy and her less than respectable means to achieve this goal. The comic tension between the unlikely pair seems a hilarious pastiche of the sexual tension in most hero + heroine situations.

Americans may not immediately recognise the small-town England setting, which gives it a tone of Ealing comedy, but the film should greatly amuse viewers from any background.
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8/10
Hilarious John Cleese farce
The_Void26 June 2006
Anything featuring the immense talents of John Cleese is automatically worth seeing, and this eighties comedy is certainly no exception. Aside from the great john Cleese, this film benefits from a great number of other positives, including a finely worked script; that manages to stay realistic and down to Earth despite the highly unlikely nature of much of the plot, and the highly farcical nature of many of the events; which bode extremely well with the lead star, as Cleese finds himself in his element in the role of the strict headmaster. Indeed, the major reason why this film works so well is down to the former Monty Python star, as he blunders his way through the film and somehow manages to retain and air of authority while doing so. The comedy styling is one of "it can't get any worse!", and it continually does; as constantly punctual headteacher, Brian Stimpson, finds himself in a world of trouble after missing the train to Norwich, where he is set to make a speech to a meeting of the best headmasters in the country. After acquiring the services of one of his sixth form pupils, he gets back on track to Norwich; but not without a number of problems.

The comedy comes by way of both gags, and the plot itself, which always manages to garner a laugh or two due to its superbly silly nature. Cleese is joined by a number of British stars, who all do well in their respective roles. Sharon Maiden stands out as Cleese's travel companion for much of the film; and somehow manages to look cute despite a truly awful hairstyle. Smaller British stars such as Pete Walker's muse, Sheila Keith, Alison Steadman and Eastenders' John Bardon, who would go on to star as Jim Branning in said soap opera help to liven up the supporting cast. The film does feel typically eighties, but stays away from the more silly side of the decade's cinema and many of the jokes bend more towards the intellectual side. The film is in very good humour throughout, and therefore offers an enjoyable time for its audience. Seeing John Cleese deliver an assembly towards the start will no doubt remind anyone that was schooled in England of that time, and Clockwise does a very good job of presenting it's plot and setting. Overall, this film comes highly recommended to anyone that enjoys fun films.
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7/10
I Can Take the Despair. It's the Hope I Can't Stand.
JamesHitchcock7 March 2006
In "Clockwise" John Cleese plays a character who has much in common with Basil Fawlty from the television series "Fawlty Towers". Like the manic Torquay hotelier, Brian Stimpson is a control-freak who finds his own life going out of control. The headmaster of a small-town comprehensive school, he is a stickler for discipline, with a particular obsession with punctuality. He is the sort of man who knows the school timetable off by heart; upon seeing a pupil idling about the school he can instantly tell that pupil exactly what lesson he or she should be attending at that precise moment. (The school is, in an in-joke, named after the famous English clockmaker Thomas Tompion).

Stimpson is disliked by his pupils and staff, who see him as authoritarian and patronising, but he is evidently held in high regard by the wider teaching profession, because he has been elected Chairman of the prestigious Headmasters' Conference. The film tells the story of what occurs on the day on which Stimpson is due to address the annual meeting of the Conference in Norwich. Things start to go wrong when, due to his misunderstanding what he is told by a ticket-collector at the station, he finds himself on the wrong train and ends up missing the train he should have caught. Told that there will not be another train to Norwich for several hours, he decides to make the journey by road and returns home, only to find that his wife has taken the car. He meets Laura, one of his sixth-form pupils, and in desperation persuades her to drive him on the 163-mile journey to Norwich. A further chain of misunderstandings leads to them being pursued across the English countryside by the police, by Laura's parents (who suspect that their daughter is having an affair with her headmaster) and by his wife (who suspects the same thing). On the way they kidnap a former girlfriend of Stimpson's whom they meet by accident, drive the car into a field and get stuck, find themselves in a monastery and, in their desperation to get to Norwich on time, end up holding up a passing motorist in order to steal his clothes, his money and his car.

The film's central joke is that a man who is so obsessed with punctuality should find himself running very late in his attempts to get to the most important meeting of his life. Although Stimpson is the sort of man that most people would automatically dislike if we were to meet him in real life, Cleese manages to arouse a certain sympathy for his character, whose sense of panic arises from a sense that he is the victim of circumstances, that the entire universe is united in a vast conspiracy to prevent him from fulfilling what should have been a relatively simple task. His desperation is increased by the remote possibility that he might just be able to get to Norwich on time. ("It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand). There can be few of us who have not had, at some time or other, a similar feeling.

Although the film is sometimes described as a farce, that word should not be taken as implying that it is a purely mechanical comedy; character also plays an important part. Fortunately, Cleese is not only a very good technical comedian- his timing in this film is superb- but also a very good character actor. (A gift shared by another ex-Python, Michael Palin). Cleese also receives good support from the rest of the cast, particularly from Alison Steadman as his long-suffering wife Gwenda and Sharon Maiden as the wild and headstrong Laura, for whom driving her headmaster cross-country is a much more interesting way of spending her day than a few hours of boring lessons.

The film is not quite in the same class as Palin's two great post-Python comedies, "The Missionary" and "A Private Function". For most of the time it is very funny indeed; for most of the first hour and a bit I was laughing out loud. (Remarkably, my wife was too- normally she loathes the Pythons and all their works). Unfortunately, the scriptwriter Michael Frayn was unable to maintain this sense of comic invention to the end. The story needed some dazzling twist to finish on, but instead it fizzles out rather tamely and the last quarter of an hour or so, after Stimpson finally arrives at the Conference, is rather disappointing after what has gone before. Nevertheless, this is still one of the better British comedies of the eighties; I certainly prefer it to the overrated "A Fish Called Wanda". 7/10
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8/10
one of the best comedies ever
radlov29 September 1999
I think "Clockwise" has been underrated. This movie is certainly not less funny than the much more famous "Fish called Wanda". John Cleese plays an outstanding role as the extremely time conscious headmaster. Very good are also Alison Steadman, as the headmaster's wife, and Sharon Maiden as Laura, his travel companion.
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7/10
Solid and very funny farce
TheLittleSongbird7 February 2010
A very fun film, despite the flaws, that is great fun to watch on multiple viewings. While I did find the film's structure occasionally episodic, the pacing sometimes a little too fast and the direction a tad on the leisurely side, it is a hugely enjoyable farce. The chief element that makes it so is the performance of John Cleese, his comic timing assures yet another really funny performance. He has been better but he is still the John Cleese I know and love. Sharon Maiden assists him well too, she really stands out among the cast who all do more than acceptably. The script is inspired and the sight gags are even better, the soundtrack is good and the camera work is fine. The film is typically 1980s, and that is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. While flawed, it is solid and very funny as a farce. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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8/10
Cleese at his best
AndrewKnevett27 September 2006
If you're a fan of John Cleese and good old-fashioned British comedy then there's a good chance you will like Clockwise. It's an endearing film with a simple premise and witty script. I liked the fact it was filmed on location as it opens a little window into life in 1985. Check out the old red telephone boxes that were symbolic of Britain at the time! Cleese is excellent as is the supporting cast including three actors who starred in Fawlty Towers.

I didn't enjoy Clockwise around the time it was released but now as I have got older and started to appreciate old British comedy more it ranks as one of my all time favourite comedies of all time.
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8/10
Fun bit of fluff
Tito-824 April 1999
The next time that you're in the mood for some undemanding fun, this might be a good film to watch. This movie was certainly no laugh riot, but it did consistently keep a smile on my face. Probably the largest reason for me liking this film was John Cleese, who once again shows what a gifted comedic actor he is. Without him, I have little doubt that the film would have been somewhat less charming, because it really is little more than a one joke movie. But when the joke is on John Cleese, you know he'll give you a reason to smile.
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10/10
Brilliant, subtle and complex period piece
alantlwilson22 July 2006
This came on TV whilst I was ill, and I found myself laughing uncontrollably at points. It's probably the best ever analysis of the finer points of the tight-arse institutionalised anxiety that so many of us grew up with in the UK in the 50's/60's. That makes it very subtle and complex: It may not travel well, but if you get one half of the richness of the references and cultural idioms being spoofed here, you'll appreciate what a glorious, authentic, intelligent, finely nuanced romp it is. Encapsulate all this in a "Monsieur Hulot's Greek Tragedy" high paced idiom, and it's a classic. Wanda is Chardonnay. This is fine burgundy. If you want a lot of fun getting to know why anybody would be silly enough to call a private school a public school, dive in, because this one is right on the button!
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Cleesey
Preeko13 January 2004
I liked this film but in my opinion not the best Cleese film ever. But nevertheless a good film. At first set in a normal british school, that most of us Brits will remember. John Cleese plays a headmaster and everything goes perfect and correct until everything goes wrong.

Rating: Three Stars out of Five
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9/10
A car? Was it a Cortina or an 1100?
Karl Self22 September 2008
This is an absolutely underrated, classic British comedy. I've always had a soft spot for this movie and am glad that others seem to share this sentiment. It also doubles as a showcase for John Cleese, whom you will see here in an, as I think, far more complex and likable role than as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers.

In the DVD extra you can see Cleese wondering why this movie didn't fly in the USA, when several years later other "typically British" movies such as The Full Monty were roaring successes there. Good question. For one I think that US audiences simply don't care for the perils of an English headmaster, whereas a bunch of good-natured social dropouts doing something outrageous has much more universal appeal. I think that Clockwise's main problem in this department is however that it lacks international star power -- maybe if they had given the part of Laura to Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer, things might have turned out differently. As it is I think the producers made an excellent choice in Sharon Maiden, who is playing her very difficult role excellently. Too bad we didn't see more of her afterwards.

I think this was an 8-pointer but I'm giving it 9 points just because it's such a darn likable movie.
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8/10
Classic Cleese.
clendinning27 December 2001
A wonderful snowball of a comedy featuring misdirection, mismanagement, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, missing persons; but don't miss a minute of it.

Find out how the right word, wrongly placed can change a man's life and lead to a wonderful series of 'Cleesic' catastrophies.
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Better then a fish called wanda
manson2113 April 2003
Clockwise has got to be the most underrated film in movie history i watched it last night and i was laughing so hard till red in the face. John Cleese is Mr stimpson who has to leave for norwich to a teachers school conference but ends up geting on the wrong train and from there it gets bad to worse but i don't want to tell the whole film in case no one watched this film. Do love the telephone box when he is smashing it up but anyway thats about it for me. Clockwise is sure a classic and i thought its better then A Fish Called Wanda giving this film 10/10
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