Soft Top Hard Shoulder was Peter Capaldi’s second screen play after Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life which he also directed. Although it hasn’t quite got the magic of Bill Forsyth’s best work, which it is clearly inspired by, Soft Top, Hard Shoulder has bags of charm and is a lovely way to spend and hour and a half.
In the film Capaldi moves on from his innocent turn as Danny Oldsen in Forsyth’s Local Hero to play someone more cynical, the struggling artist and ice-cream heir Gavin Bellini, and the flashes of temper which occasionally appear give a hint to what was to come in his masterful performance as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and In The Loop.
But it’s Capaldi’s real life wife Elaine Collins who is the star, perfectly cast as the unlikely hitchhiker Yvonne. It is unthinkable that such a likable screen presence has been involved in so few films. I presume this was by choice, but her absence is TV and cinemas loss. Some folk might remember her from the first series of BBC Scotland’s late 80’s sitcom City Lights where she played the frustrated girlfriend to Gerard Kelly’s likable loser Willie Melvin, but she has appeared in little since Soft Top, Hard Shoulder.
Also involved are pre-Victor Meldrew Richard Wilson, the lovely Frances Barber, Jeremy Northan, Simon Callow and the always excellent Phyllis Logan. However they are only passengers, this is Capaldi and Collins film and their chemistry is obvious from the off. There are shades of Hepburn and Tracy, or Robert Donet and Madeline Caroll in The 39 Steps, and although you know where things are going the warmth of the leads, and the direction of Stefan Schwartz, ensure that you enjoy the ride.
The film itself takes the form of an Odyssey, with Gavin racing to get home and being way laid by all sorts of characters and his own failings. The variety of cameos stay on the right side of easy stereotypes, and the film shows long forgotten parts of the countryside as they travel the b-roads of England and Scotland. A particular pleasure for those Glaswegians of a certain age (you know who you are) are the final scenes in the city, including some in George Square from a time when it had beautiful trees and grassy areas. The councillors who decided to wipe the square clean should be tarred and feathered for making The Dear Green Place slightly less so.
But I digress. Highly recommended, with a wonderful supporting cast, Soft Top, Hard Shoulder is one of those rare films that appears every now and again; a British comedy that is genuinely funny.Here’s the video for the theme tune. Warning: Contains scenes of a Chris Rea nature (I presume Mark Knopfler was otherwise engaged):