This is no ordinary musical. The plot is simple enough: Maxwell Randall (the Green Baize Vampire) is six times world snooker champion and Billy Kid is the cocky young upstart looking to steal his crown. Add to them T.O. (The One), Billy's wide boy manager, the Wednesday Man, to whom T.O. owes a large gambling debt, and Miss Sullivan, a trouble making journalist, and there you have it (apart from two sets of hangers on who make up the chorus). Basically, Maxwell wants to set up a grudge match (the loser will never play professional snooker again), the Wednesday Man tricks T.O. into accepting the challenge by assuring him that Maxwell will not be "at his best", and Billy finds that he has been set up to lose.
What makes this peculiar film work is the stark, to-the-point direction of Alan Clarke (responsible for such hard hitting productions as "Scum" and "The Firm") the rock/opera influenced music of the highly respected composer George Fenton ("The Madness of King George", "Cry Freedom", "Gandhi" etc.) and the clever scripting and original lyrics of Trevor Preston. Take into account three wonderfully tongue-in-cheek central performances from Phil Daniels (Billy), Alun Armstrong (Maxwell) and Bruce Payne (T.O.) and you have the ingredients for what I am quite happy to admit is my all time favourite film. There are those who may say that Clarke, Fenton, Daniels, Armstrong and Payne must have taken leave of their senses to agree to do such a downright weird project in the first place (I have a feeling that at least one of the above might even agree with those detractors) but I can't see anything wrong with a musical about snooker that includes references to Bela Lugosi and arcade games, has characters tangoing about and shooting snooker balls into pockets with the help of a revolver and basically, sends itself up with obvious glee.
I'd be the first to admit that the three lead actors have all done a great deal more admirable work than this. I've seen Alun Armstrong in countless stage productions and he never fails to impress. Bruce Payne was nothing short of breathtaking in Steven Berkoff's "Greek" and Phil Daniels as Alex in the RSC's "A Clockwork Orange" is still one of the most outstanding performances I've ever seen from any actor, on any stage, anywhere. However, I will always remain particularly fond of the off-the-wall characters that the three brought to life in this wonderful film and I don't care what anyone else says, I think it's just great.
If you haven't already seen "Billy the Kid & the Green Baize Vampire" you'll be extremely lucky if you ever do. It was first shown on UK television in the mid-eighties and has, I think, been repeated just once. Zenith Productions sold the rights (or whatever it is they do) some time ago and, search as I may, I've been unable to locate it. I'm just grateful that I had the forethought to tape it when Channel Four showed it all those years ago and only hope that my VCR never gets hungry and chews it up!
My enthusiasm for this film probably does no more than give it a one woman cult following but if there are any more odd little "BTK..." fans out there, please add your comments; it'd be comforting to know that I'm not alone.
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