Directed by Joe Pearson and written by lead actor Rory Cargill, the peace of a 1950’s British village is disrupted by a cunning cat burglar, until a mystery-loving schoolboy comes into possession of a magical magnifying glass. Also starring: Susan Baskerville, Henri Charles, Lisa Jones, Gordon Lamont, Robert McCrea, Johnny Mindlin, Susan Rae and J.P. Turner.
The first thing that comes through is a strong parody of post war Britain and its tendency to make things out much rosier and posher than reality actually was. It’s very on the nose with the ridiculously polite and prim version of villages that were represented in film and television, with a slight Goodnight Mister Tom vibe (a reference anyone not from the UK and under the age of 25, probably won’t recognise). From there, things get a lot more offbeat and even a little shocking, there are some genuinely bold choices that make it feel a lot more like 1999’s The League of Gentlemen, British but outrageous almost to the point of offensive, it’s a risky choice. This is where the cracks begin to appear, it’s a rather jarring change in tone and feels like you haven’t been eased into the change up in the comedy. If it had chosen to go with that right from the beginning, it might be a different case but bringing it through in the latter stages creates a strange atmosphere to it that doesn’t feel completely committed.
Visually it really hits the tone, colours and energy of the 1950s. The way that Pearson uses movement in his direction feels utterly reminiscent of the typical style you find of the 50s, providing a sincere misdirection to the carnage that’s headed your way, which is both a clever way to conceal it and difficult to get a read on. There are one or two moments which have been cut more sharply, feeling a little repetitive, making the joke and not quite moving on fast enough. The overall tone of the film leaves you questioning what they’re truly going for but they made some very confident, risky choices which like or not, it deserves respect that they even tried it.
One of the very first questions you may have with this short is, ‘why is a grown man playing a child?’ and when the comedy starts to truly reveal itself, then you really get the answer to that. It’s an unusual choice and is a difficult one to decide how you feel about it but it strangely does work in a SNL kind of way. The main reason for that is Cargill’s performance, it’s so perfectly contrasted to the story’s wild turns in how relentlessly polite and posh he is. His facial expressions in particular are right on the money, he manages to bring through a lot of childlike wonder both effectively and as parody. The rest of the cast are all fairly short-lived roles with the exception of Alfred’s Father, played by Mindlin who is wonderful, his blissfully ignorant and relatively useless character is very enjoyable to watch and feels like exactly the type of thing you find in a lot of beloved British comedy.
The Astonishing Adventures of Alfred is likely going to be divisive for audiences, it takes a risk with its style of comedy and you’ll probably either love it or hate it. The tone isn’t entirely consistent throughout which creates more of a jarring transition that may have worked better with preparing the viewers a little more beforehand. It is a perfect parody of a remarkably middle-class village in the 1950s and how that time in Britain is represented in the media, with its community spirit and endless niceties. It makes some bold choices and it’s simply a case of they’ll either work for you or they won’t.