Director: Jason Wingard
Screenplay: Jason Wingard, David Isaac
Starring: Antonio Aakeel, Jack Caroll, Asim Chaudhry, Johnny Vegas
Duration: 95 min
BBFC Certification: 12A
Eaten by Lions is a charming, heart-warming British comedy centred around the journey of two siblings, one of which is in search of his real father. Director Jason Wingard’s second feature length film, based on his short film, Going to Mecca (2014), is full of laughs and touching moments and rather like your granny’s birthday gifts, its not perfect but it is delivered with love and consideration.
Watching Eaten by lions is much like watching your favourite sitcom from eras past, which is not surprising when you consider it was co-written by David Isaac, who’s writing credits include; Citizen Khan, Not going Out and Coronation Street. Some moments make you cringe, whilst others melt your heart.
I have got to admit this film was not what I expected. Having first seen the trailer whilst watching another film at the cinema some months ago, I expected a much more over the top ridiculously childish comedy. Although the film is indeed littered with larger than life characters and over the top moments, it is essentially an exploration into the family unit, its flaws and its attributes.
The film follows the journey of two half-brothers, Omar who is of mixed race and his half-brother Pete who has a walking disability. After their mother and Pete’s father die in a bizarre accident involving lions in the local safari park (hence the name of the film, although its meaning is much more a metaphor for the boy’s journey), Omar and Pete spend most of their childhood living with their much-loved gran who sadly dies.
The film opens with views of a typical council block of flats, run down, grey and foreboding, two teenage boys, Omar (Antonio Aakeel) and Pete (Jack Caroll), walk solemnly along the terrace, Omar carrying the urn containing their dead grans ashes, all he has left of his biological family. After spending a short time with Pete’s father’s racist parents Ellen (Vicki Pepperdine) and Ken (Kevin Eldron), Omar decides to leave the relative comfort of his under the stairs, Harry Potter style abode in search of the father he never knew. Not wanting to be left with the uncaring grandparents, Pete convinces Omar to take him with him.
Their journey takes them to Britain’s answer to Vegas, the northern town of Blackpool, where after losing their luggage in the sea, Omar and Pete are kindly rescued by the candyfloss haired, Amy (Sarah Hoare). Feeling sorry for the pair who appear to be two fish out of water, Amy takes Omar and Pete to her uncles somewhat less than luxurious bed and breakfast. Here we meet the sleezy, larger than life Ray (Johnny Vegas) who ultimately tracks down Omar’s father.
Once the boys arrive at the residence of the man believed to be Omar’s biological father, a series of strange stories and misconceptions, eventually leads to the discovery of Omar’s true father, Irfan (Asim Chaudhry). It is clear from Omar’s reaction that Irfan is not the father Omar had hoped for. Nevertheless, after much encouragement from Irfan’s family, Irfan attempts to build a relationship with Omar. In the end, there is a sense that this is not the end of the story, but just the beginning.
As the two main characters in the film, Aakeel and Caroll both deliver believable performances. There is never any doubt that the relationship between these two characters is that of siblings. Aakeel portrays the lonely orphan not just in the dialogue he delivers, but in his looks and stances, whilst Caroll’s witty one liners are excellently delivered to be both cringeworthy and funny. Asim Chaudhry plays the immature, oblivious father with great comical timing, but does also manage to pull off some of the more serious moments of son and dad bonding (as far as a son can with a middle-aged child for a father).
Many of the characters and cameos throughout the film simply work as a means to comedy. They are often nothing more than a stereotypical representation of a character, there to make us laugh. This is not really a criticism, just an observation. For some people this may detract from the true essence of the film which is essentially the relationship between two siblings. However, without these moments the film would be more desperately pessimistic.
Some of the funniest performances come from those short, almost out of sequence sketch characters such as Ray (Vegas) the bed and breakfast owner, Ellen (Pepperdine) the over bearing, racist Grandmother and my favourite the Fortune Teller (Tom Binns). Let’s face it, isn’t he showing exactly how a fortune teller works? However, one of the best comic performances is that of Natalie Davies as Parveen, the mute daughter of Malik (Nitin Ganatra) and Sara (Hayley Tamaddon) who’s lustful and wild tendencies drag even Pete (known for shoplifting and lying) out of his comfort zone.
Despite the over the top, larger than life characters who add considerable comic moments to this film, there is still an underlying sense of loneliness and loss. We know from the start that the boy’s gran was an important part of their lives and that her death hit both boys hard, her death knocking Omar down further as he faces a life with no known living blood relative. At least Pete has his biological grandparents even if these are less than desirable family.
This loneliness is often amplified by the cinematography of Matt North who shoots many wide angled shots of Blackpool’s deserted beach and pier. But through this there is also a sense of beauty. Blackpool has never looked so good. We see little of the lively, vibrant arcades and tourist attractions and more of the natural beauty of the beach, sea and sand dunes. In a way this too mirrors the life of Omar perfectly as he begins to accept the natural beauty in his new (somewhat dysfunctional) father.
In this film, Wingard looks at some of the most prevalent political agendas of our time, but in such a way that the film enlightens the audience as to what it truly means to be British. Issues of racism and homosexuality are delivered through stereotypes in a way that mocks those people who hold such archaic views. Ellen’s blatant racism towards Omar and ‘his kind’, is in strict contrast to the true meaning of being British, represented perfectly by Omar’s biological father’s multicultural family.
Eaten by Lions is much more than a comedy, and as such proves an enjoyable film. The story is simplistic but involving. Although some scenes are disjointed from the main plot, their addition adds light-hearted moments to what might otherwise be a much more serious film. Definitely worth a watch.
EATEN BY LIONS is released in UK cinemas by Mecca Film Developments Ltd. & Munro Films 29th March 2019