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John Cleese Promo Still
Film Journeys

John Cleese

By on August 14, 2015

Jonathan Theobald Archie Ringwald Cleese … bet you didn’t know those were his middle names did you? That’s because they’re not. He only has one middle name – it’s ‘Marwood’; but at least we got your attention!

A veteran of silver and small screen, with over 60 films to his name … but why are we looking at the career of Mr. Cleese this week?

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING is in UK cinemas from today and not only does this film have the unenviable and unavoidable tagline of ‘the last film of Robin Williams’, it also features most of the Monty Python team – if only in voice – as a group of super-galactic beings who decide the fate of planets for lunch. Space judges, if you will.

The UK 2 sheet poster for Absolutely Anything

The UK 2 sheet poster for Absolutely Anything

In the trailer Cleese gives us the basic premise of the film; which is that these aliens will rest the fate of the Earth in the hands of just one human who they will grant with incredible super-powers. If that human uses these powers for anything other than good, then the Earth is to be destroyed.

The film also stars Simon Pegg, (recently seen in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION), Robin Williams, (as a talking dog), and British actress Kate Beckinsale.

For our second film in this Film Journey for #JohnCleese, we’re going to suggest SHREK 2, from 2004.

There is an air of pomposity about Cleeses’ public persona, and more often than not, his characters too. So by the time a sequel to the animated family film SHREK went into pre-production and the casting agents started to think about how could play a king … it can’t have been that much later that they came up with John’s name.

The King, Shrek 2 as played by John Cleese.

The King, Shrek 2 as played by John Cleese.

The film starts off with the notion that the King and Queen, (played with noble grace by Julie Andrews), are somehow disappointed at their daughters’ choice of the ogre Shrek, (played by Mike Myers), as her fiancé. One of the first scenes we see with the four of them, (five if you count Eddie Murphy’s Donkey who, of course, has to tag along); focuses on what should be a happy family meal. However, the more they try to be civil to each other, the more things go a little awry.

This scene is both very funny but also a summation of everything we at #FilmJourneys have come to really despise in family films. There are a bunch of children who are stuck listening to bickering parents all over the world – why then, do filmmakers resort to bringing more of that dysfunctional family onscreen? Why can’t they create stories that take children away from that which they see every day? Shouldn’t cinema, at some level, be an escape?

As an aside – as well as playing the King in this family fantasy, Cleese has also, actually met the Queen in real life. He was standing in the waiting room at Buckingham Palace, talking with the assorted other guests when Her Majesty walked in. Cleese, being closest to the door was aware of her first and his first thought was, “I’ve seen you on the stamps”; although he has said, in interviews, that he didn’t actually say that to her.

Our final film for this time round is THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, from 1999.

Sadly, this film was the last James Bond outing for Desmond Llewellyn as Q and it was in this installment that we see the filmmakers, in a twist of fate, start to introduce a replacement character – ‘R’, as played by John Cleese. The final scene shot with Q is very poignant; as he says to Bond, “never let them see you bleed”, before descending into the ground on a secret ramp. In fact, it was only a few months later that Desmond Llewellyn passed away. Cleese returned again in the next Bond film, DIE ANOTHER DAY, this time named ‘Q’, but it just wasn’t the same.

Pierce Brosnan, Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese as Bond, Q and R in The World Is Not Enough (199)

Pierce Brosnan, Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese as Bond, Q and R in The World Is Not Enough (1999)

When Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, meets ‘R’ for the first time in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH Cleese starts his relationship off with Bond by trying to lord it over him. It’s undeniable that Bonds’ reputation has preceded him and ‘R’ thinks he knows just how to handle him; however it’s clear that ‘Q’ is still very much in charge and despite appearances, the relationship between Bond and Q is almost that of uncle and nephew – Q looks out for Bond. As good as Cleese is as ‘R’, this is something the filmmakers never got quite right between him and Bond.

Such a long and distinguished career can’t be left without some honorable mentions:

    • The Harry Potter series – playing the ghostly character of Nearly Headless Nick
    • Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle – not a great film overall, but he brings some great comic timing to the proceedings.
    • A Fish Called Wanda – which he also wrote and directed. This film also turned Cleese into somewhat of a sex symbol

 

  • And then there’s a long history of TV including:
  • Last Of The Summer Wine
  • That Was The Week That Was
  • Whinne The Pooh
  • Entrouage
  • Faulty Towers – or Farty Towels as their sign once read!
There was also this little-known comedy show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus… No, we’ve never heard of it either! *nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!*
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