As I’ve mentioned before (see In praise of: Billy Connolly) I have a great admiration for Billy Connolly, and I see he was recently confirmed as the No1 stand-up comedian in Channel 4’s 2010 update of their 100 Greatest Stand-Ups list, which I think is a fair reflection on the importance of his impact on comedy and the regard he is held by his contemporaries. I know these lists are popularity contests, but there does seem to be a genuine warmth towards the man from other comics.
But it reminded me that I recently saw, for only the second time, his most successful attempt at straight acting. In 1999 The Debt Collector, an Edinburgh set thriller, saw Connolly play Nicky Dryden a thinly veiled on screen version of Jimmy Boyle. (Very) closely based on the later life of the convict turned artist, the film was accused of being overly violent but is a film that asks interesting questions about revenge, second chances and Scotland’s strange and harmful obsession with, and glamorisation of, the ‘Hard Man’. It is has unfairly been forgotten as it is one of the best Scottish films of the 1990s.
Alongside Connolly there are great performances from Francesca Annis, Ian Robertson and has a couple of ‘look who it is’ cameos from Ronnie Ancona and Ford Kiernan. But it is Ken Stott who steals the film. If Brian Cox is Scotland’s greatest living film actor, Stott is his TV counterpart. Perhaps best known today as Rankin’s Rebus, wiping out the memories of John Hannah’s attempt (one of the most spectacularly examples of mis-casting this side of John Wayne as Genghis Kahn), Stott is superb as the bitter policeman Gary Keltie who arrested Dryden, and devotes his life to ruining Dryden’s apparently idyllic new life post prison.
Unfairly accused of stereotyping urban Scotland, the film was in turn condemned by many who never saw it. I recommend you track it down as it is so much better than it may appear at first. Here’s the trailer:
Over the years Connolly has quietly built himself a quirky, diverse and fairly impressive film CV. Starting out in Peter McDougall plays such as Just Another Saturday and The Elephant’s Graveyard it wasn’t until he had his own US sitcom in 1990, simply called Billy, that he began to get regular work. Even the films that were not successful, such as Still Crazy, The Man who Sued God and Timeline, were of interest, but films like Mrs Brown, The Boondock Saints, The Impostors and, of course, Muppet Treasure Island, would look good on any one’s filmography.
One of the latest addition to this list is the recently released on DVD zombie comedy Fido. Connolly takes on the title role as the Robinson family’s ‘pet’ zombie. Set in an alternative 1950’s America the film is just one of the glut of zombie movies around if you like that sort of thing. But if you only watch one zombie film this year, make it Fido. See trailer below for what to expect: