Hilarious, affectionate and moving, no film lover can miss this quintessentially British documentary.

Hilarious, affectionate and moving, no film lover can miss this quintessentially British documentary.

Joyce Glaser reviews A Bunch of Amateurs (November 11, 2022) Cert 12A, 95 mins.

It’s not surprising that Academy Award winning scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy is the Executive Producer of A Bunch of Amateurs: a funny, feelgood, quintessentially British story about a group of amateur film-makers fighting to save one of the few remaining film clubs in England.

Beaufoy was not only born just 15km from Bradford where the Bradford Moviemakers have been meeting each Monday since 1932, but, his most celebrated screenplays, notably The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire and The Battle of the Sexes, have audiences rooting for the endearing underdog in their respective battles. Though there is nothing amateurish about director Kim Hopkins’ documentary, she will have you raising a cup of tea to the affable film buffs and willing them on.

Home movies show that in its heyday the club was a thriving work and social space. Retired carpenter Colin Egglestone, who needs a stairlift to reach the screening room these days, says his father and mother-in-law were members. There was money, then, too, as suggested by home movies of awards ceremonies when men and women sit around a sparkling white tableclothed banquet table in their finest dinner clothes.

The glamour is gone, just as the glamour of Hollywood’s golden years has faded from filmmaking today. And the club’s membership is ageing and dwindling. Two spouses pass away during the filming: Colin’s wife (who had Alzheimer’s) and Harry Nicholls’ wife.

This is a problem with many clubs and special-interest groups the world over. In a city like Bradford, where young people and ethnic minorities account for a higher than average proportion of the population respectively, how do you attract new blood to this close-knit group of old friends? Hopkins does not dwell on this point, but audiences involved in special interest organisations might ponder the question.

The tone is affectionate, tongue-in-cheek and joyous while Hopkins introduces us to the regulars who, when we first meet them, are in the red-upholstered screening room enjoying Gordon MacRae singing Oh What a Beautiful Morning from the 1955 movie Oklahoma. We soon learn the reason for this choice.

Carer Phil Wainman, whose 1999 directorial debut was, It Came from Somewhere Else, is so busy helping out on other projects that he frets about completing Appointment in Walthamstow, which we are privileged to see being shot on location. In a humorous scene later on in the film Joe Ogden (Disability Support Volunteer, actor and filmmaker) and Phil reminisce about the hallucinatory element in the recipe for Phil’s 2001 classic, Nice Jam. But now, Joe and Phil worry that if they keep jumping from one film to another nothing will get finished.

Harry, a serious-minded, overweight, super-hero fan, is about four decades older than MacRae was when his bright smile challenged the mid-western sun, but he is obsessed with recreating Oh What a Beautiful Morning and does not want to wait.

Undaunted by the conspicuous absence of blue skies and sky-high corn fields in Yorkshire – and his unwillingness to embark on riding lessons at his age – he is determined that the show must go on: with his name appearing three times in the credits.

Viewers will follow the making of this short film in which clever editing, a stunt double Joe Ogden’s foley work and Phil’s magical CGI combine to grant the lip-synching cowboy his chance to travel back to the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Hopkins withholds the finale of this whimsical wonder until the end, when we see why it wins the Best Comedy award from the Burnley Film Makers.

Hopkins takes a page from the classics that the members watch, discuss and emulate in and around Bradford, by including in her documentary the elements of a feature film. There is a variety of characters, a bit of action, suspense, death, romance (Joe and Jeanette) discord, friendship, and a lot of humour.

The plot and conflict are established at the AGM when Andrew, a retired accountant, reports that the roof is leaking, they haven’t paid the rent in five years and there’s £340 in the bank. The action is the preparation for a big fundraiser, headed by enthusiastic DJ and Events Manager, Marie. Will her hard work, energy and creative ideas be enough to persuade the public to reach into their pockets with so many other diversions?

The suspense is whether the club, housed in a graffiti covered Victorian building, plagued with fly tippers, will reopen after being shut for covid? To reveal the ending would be a spoiler, but it’s hilarious, uplifting and, unlike most film endings, unpredictable.