An Accidental Studio: The Story Of Handmade Films review

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A documentary on HandMade Films – a film company born out of necessity.

Certificate: Not Rated
Directors: Bill Jones, Kim Leggatt, Ben Timlett
Cast: Richard E Grant, Michael Palin
Release date: TBC
Reviewer: Simon Brew

One of the most famous independent British film production companies, HandMade Films was a firm born out of necessity. It infamously stepped in to fund Monty Python’s Life Of Brian when the finance for that picture fell apart at the last minute. In turn, that started a small British filmmaker phenomenon, a company that would be responsible for movies such as Mona Lisa, Withnail & I, Time Bandits and The Long Good Friday. HandMade was formed by former Beatle George Harrison and Denis O’Brien. Harrison wanted to make movies he wanted to see, and would agree to fund projects he liked without the umpteen stages of scrutiny that a modern studio would insist on. O’Brien, meanwhile, was the business brains, and history positions him very much as bad cop in the tale.

HandMade’s story, after all, has also been told compellingly in book form, thanks to Robert Sellers’s Naughty Boys: The Amazing True Story Of HandMade Films. This documentary covers similar ground, with the added bonus of fresh interviews with many involved, and a generous collection of archive footage too, allowing Harrison’s side of the story to richly come across. It’s a conventional documentary, pulled together by directors Bill Jones, Kim Leggatt and Ben Timlett. But it’s an effective one, serving as a good potted history of HandMade, and a look back at some of its films. You get access to some unusual material too, such as behind-the-scenes stories of the very troubled Shanghai Surprise, and speeches from HandMade’s tenth birthday party.

At the core of the studio, but not always the film, is the chalk and cheese of its owners. Harrison, sadly, is no longer around to tell his side of the story. O’Brien, however, is, although given that he lost a court case for damages to Harrison in the mid-90s, it’s perhaps understandable he’s not on the invite list. What we thus get is a collection of people praising Harrison, and heavily criticising O’Brien. By most accounts, that’s a fair reflection of how things were, but it does make the film a little lopsided.

The double bill to go for is this film, which is well worth seeking out, and Sellers’s book. Both look at HandMade with very understandable affection, and tell its story with that in mind. They still leave gaps, but they tell as much of the story as we may be likely to get. A compelling story at that.

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