Death at a Funeral

Review by © Jane Freebury

From the long pause as Matthew Macfadyen stares into the coffin and asks ‘Who’s this?’ to the sight of old Uncle Alfie’s bare buttocks perched on the roof, this wonderful new comedy set in London’s green and tidy urban fringe is pitched to perfection. It takes its time to develop and then as things unwind it delivers one belly laugh after another. And that’s not something you can count on in movie comedies.

Once the undertakers deliver the right body, the funeral can commence and friends and family members from miles around arrive at the home of the widow (Jane Asher in the role) to take their leave of old Edward – a bit of a dark horse, it turns out. It would have been the usual sedate affair, with guests speaking in hushed tones over tea, but certain things have been set in train.

While on his way to the funeral Simon, Martha’s boyfriend, took a hallucinogenic by mistake when he needed valium to calm his nerves at the prospect of meeting again with his dreaded future father-in-law. And a stranger called Peter is on his way intending to blackmail the family over an affair he had with the deceased, family man and husband as far as everyone else was aware. And he’s not the only one who’s just out for himself, either.

Among the chintz and the china, there’s English reserve on the surface, as genteel guests mingle in the drawing room and out on the manicured lawn. But there’s pandemonium underneath as the ceremony tips into farce.

Justin the jerk keeps trying to crack on to Martha because they had a one-night stand together once and she must surely still fancy him. Martha is trying to fob him off while she tries keeping her stoned boyfriend Simon (Alan Tudyk, who is just marvellous) in check at the same time. He’s right out of it, however, talking to the leaves and the flowers and the funny hats.

While Daniel is trying to hide the blackmailing stranger from other guests, events take a drastic turn for the worse – and the comedy steps into high gear. The film comes into its own in the second half with madcap mayhem that John Cleese and even Alec Guinness would have been happy to be part of.

When everyone is finally seated around the coffin for the eulogy from Daniel who is clutching index cards – another beautifully captured moment – Simon starts to shriek that he hears scratching noises inside the casket.

It’s hard to guess what will happen next as they are congregate around the coffin, which is one of the reasons this is all such fun.

4 stars

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