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Happy New Year, Colin Burstead - Film Review (MINI British Film Festival 2019)

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
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The family reunion from hell
It sounds pleasant enough. A rented seaside mansion. Long-lost family members reunited. Plenty of food and drink. New Year's Eve. A special celebration. What could go wrong?

In British filmmaker Ben Wheatley's new movie, nearly everything goes awry. The film's titular character Colin (Neil Maskell) has organised a party, inviting the extended Burstead clan to share New Year's Eve together at a beautiful oceanfront estate. But before they even get there, hints of discord among the family surface. Colin disconnects a phone call with his sister, feigning interference on the line. When Colin's mother Sandy (Doon Mackichan) injures her leg after taking a tumble on the front steps of the mansion, Colin coldly shows no compassion.

When the rest of the family arrives, nearly everyone gripes about the four-hour drive and remote location. Colin's father Gordon (Bill Paterson) seems the natural fit as the leader of the family but it soon becomes apparent that alcoholism and/or poor financial decisions have seen him cede the role. At the party, he quickly corners Colin and asks for money. Colin refuses outright.

But even more discontent soon appears. It's in the form of Colin's brother Dave (Sam Riley) who swans into the party with his gorgeous girlfriend. Dave's been on the outer since he left his wife and kids. Ginni invited him to the gathering and immediately begins taking flak from everyone. A showdown between Colin and Dave looms, egged on by Gordon who is too meek to confront Dave himself.

There's a lot going on here. The cast alone is sizeable. The many little subplots they bring to the party larger still. Sham (Asim Chaudhry), the son of Burstead family friends, rocks up uninvited to try and win back an old girlfriend. His performance as a nervous, fast-talking loser is a major highlight, both funny and sad in equal measures. Charles Dance as Uncle Bertie is another high point. He is possibly dying of something (he makes vague remarks about not being around next year) and for the party puts on high heels and earrings without explanation.

Shot largely with hand-held cameras that often seem to be hiding in the nooks of the mansion, the film's fast cuts give it a manic, jumpy feel. Often we only get snippets of conversations. It's disconcerting at the beginning, especially when trying to piece the family together, but it all becomes clear eventually - and there's much fun to be had as the party devolves into recriminations.

But Colin's not really having fun. He's assumed the role of head of the family but is ultimately too flawed to pull it off successfully. A new year beckons, but it's unlikely to be happy for Colin.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is playing nationally as part of the MINI British Film Festival 2019.

Find information on session times, locations and tickets on the festival's official website
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Why? For a family reunion
When: 29/10/19 - 24/11/19
Where: Palace cinemas nationally
Cost: Varies
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