Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5   User Rating 5 out of 5
Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? (1999)
15

Peter Hewitt's comedy uses a late 70s setting to poke fun at the fads and foibles of the time. The leading character, Vince Smith (Michael Legge) is a junior clerk in a Sheffield solicitor's office, who fancies the lovely Joanna (Laura Fraser) but lacks the nerve to ask her out.

He has an odd family - his father, Harold (Tom Courtenay) spends most of the time watching TV, while his much younger wife (Lulu) likes her nights on the tiles and will climb in through upstairs windows, while his brother Ray (Matthew Rhys) fancies himself a magician. However, it turns out that Harold, inspired by Uri Geller's spoon-bending on TV, discovers he has a gift for telekinesis and is invited to do a mind-reading act at an old-folks home.

In the mean time Vince falls for a punkette and decides to go punk himself, but fails to realise that his girlfriend and the demure Joanna are one and the same. She too has a strange home life and is at loggerheads with Peter, her pompous university lecturer father (Stephen Fry).

As a rational man of science Peter examines Harold the telekinetic after the nursing home show, expecting to find a charlatan, but instead becomes convinced that the powers are genuine, triggering an absurd media circus that engulfs the town.

Although Hewitt's film has many original touches, the British comic antecedents hark back even earlier than the 1970s setting. The general attack is perhaps a bit too broad for an Ealing comedy, and is more reminiscent of the Boultings' wilder moments. There are some excellent digs at television's enduring capacity for trivialising serious issues.

Best of all, however, is the hilarious way in which Stephen Fry's punctilious professor delivers a sex education lesson to his precocious nine-year-old daughter. Alongside her mother, who remains in her bra and panties, he reveals himself au naturel to the girl. Solemnly, without turning a hair, she jots down penile dimensions and other vital information in a notebook.

End Credits

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writer: Ben Steiner

Stars: Tom Courtenay, Michael Legge, Laura Fraser, Stephen Fry, Charlotte Roberts, Amanda Root, David Thewlis, Matthew Rhys, Lulu

Genre: Comedy

Length: 96 minutes

Cinema: 1999

VHS: 12 March 2001

Country: UK

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