At the Cinema | Cemetery Junction – Was 1973 Reading a dead end for Ricky Gervais?

Cemetery Junction - Felicity Jones, Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes  and Jack Doolan star in the coming-of-age period comedy from Ricky  Gervais & Stephen Merchant

Ricky Gervais’s first feature film on home soil sees him returning to the Reading suburbs of his youth.

Perhaps nostalgia has rubbed off some of his edge for with Cemetery Junction he’s come up with a surprisingly conservative coming-of-age comedy that shows very little of the satirical bite or formal daring of the TV shows that made his name.

And it’s not only the film’s setting that’s rooted in the past: the style and tone are markedly old-fashioned too.

Co-written and directed by Gervais’s Office and Extras collaborator Stephen Merchant, Cemetery Junction takes place in the summer of 1973, where life for old school mates Freddie, Bruce and Snork is a round of dead-end blue-collar jobs enlivened by booze-fuelled rucks after pub closing time.

Cemetery Junction - Christian Cooke, Jack Doolan & Tom Hughes  star in the coming-of-age period comedy from Ricky Gervais & Stephen  Merchant

Reckoning there’s more to life than this, Christian Cooke’s Freddie begins work for the life-insurance company run by Ralph Fiennes’ blunt self-made man and soon runs into the boss’s daughter, childhood friend Julie (Felicity Jones), who inspires him to raise his horizons still higher. Freddie’s ambitions provoke resentment from short-fused skirt-chaser Bruce (Tom Hughes) and baffle the bumbling Snork (Jack Doolan), but Freddie doesn’t want Cemetery Junction to prove the end of the line for him.

Having got out of Reading himself, Gervais looks back with a mixture of fondness and bile. He clearly still loves the era’s music – the film thrills to such glam-rock classics as Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting), David Bowie’s All the Young Dudes (rather than Mott the Hoople’s version, interestingly) and T Rex’s Life’s a Gas. He’s probably less fond of the frilled shirts and flares. And he patently has no time for the stunted, aspiration-free outlook embodied by the character he plays himself – Freddie’s narrow-minded factory-worker father.

On general release from 14th April.

“Why I admire Ricky Gervais.” A view from the sofa.

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