VOD film review: Downhill
Ivan Radford | On 22, Jun 2014
Director: James Rouse
Cast: Jeremy Swift, Richard Lumsden, Ned Dennehy, Karl Theobald
Watch Downhill online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Eircom / Virgin Media / EE / TalkTalk
Nobody likes catching up with old school friends. It’s awkward, full of unbelievable claims and not very entertaining. Credit should go to Downhill, then, for staying true to tradition.
The film follows four men as they attempt to walk from one UK coast to the other. It’s the usual bunch of motley types to go through a midhike crisis: Gordon (Lumsden), the leader, who likes itineraries and schedules. Steve (Swift), the bumbling nice guy. Keith (Theobald), the quiet, anxious one. And Julian (Dennehy), the perve.
Things start off pleasantly enough, with pretty landscapes caught amiably enough by director James Rouse. But, inevitably, the happy memories of teachers and girls soon descend into bickering. Things are made worse by the arrival of Caroline and Jen, who tag along with the team – much to Keith’s annoyance, and Julian’s pleasure.
Ned Dennehy is strong as the sleazy womaniser, hitting on both women simultaneously despite having no hair left. Slurping wine and spouting Shakespeare, he quickly becomes the hated one of the group, replacing Keith as the outsider. It’s Karl Theobald, though, who steals the show. After his work on Twenty Twelve and Green Wing, his understated comic timing combines with a serious earnestness to confirm him as one of the most unappreciated British talents around.
“I just wanted this to be us!” he tells Gordon, before launching into a drunken confession to the entire party. It’s these moments where Downhill gathers momentum: shot, ostensibly, by Gordon’s son, you feel like you’re watching a genuine group of friends gradually fall out.
Torben Betts’ script nails that balance between uncomfortable amusing, brought to live by the low-key, improvised ensemble. Even our gimmicky narrator comes into play towards the end in a surprisingly effective display of affection.
Is it enjoyable? Not always. The animated sequences that link each stage of the journey are cute, but sometimes feel a little forced, while the conflict-resolution structure can be seen ambling towards you from a mile away. The cast, which mostly stem from the world of TV, add to a small-screen atmosphere that the movie never really leaves behind.
But the quartet quarrel with a realism that works, right up to the point where you wish you weren’t in the room with them. Getting an audience to laugh at your cast is hard, but it’s no easy trick to make the audience think they’re actual people. Downhill is a quietly accomplished piece of character building; a road trip that doesn’t break ground, but walks the path well trod with a skillful spring in its step.
Nobody likes catching up with old school friends. Credit should go to Downhill, then: it may be awkward, but it’s always believable and, for some of the time, entertaining too.