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Gothic Manchester Festival screens Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers

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By Jacqueline Grima

This week, guests at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Gothic Manchester Festival were treated to a screening of the 2012 satirical British horror comedy Sightseers. The film was directed by Ben Wheatley and was written by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who also star in the lead roles.

Manchester Met Lecturer in Film Studies and American Literature Dr Sorcha Ni Fhlainn spoke to Humanity Hallows about why the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies chose the film as part of the festival. She said, “We chose Sightseers because it is a contemporary exploration of the bleak and nihilistic dark heart of the Gothic North. It looks at places that have typically been left unexplored and untouched by the gothic but that are still gothic.”

The film tells the story of aspiring writer Chris who takes his adoring girlfriend Tina on a caravanning holiday around the north of England. Living in the shadow of her domineering mother, played by Eileen Davies, Tina is excited about the holiday, determined to assert her independence and spend some quality time with her new beau. Before the couple even arrive at the caravan park, however, things begin to go horribly wrong when Chris knocks down and kills a fellow traveller when they visit the National Tramway Museum, a man with whom he has incidently argued about littering. The incident thus sparks a series of frightening and violent events that plague the holiday from grisly beginning to horrifying end.

When the couple arrive at their destination, Chris’ dark side soon becomes apparent when successful writer and fellow caravanner Ian and his wife Janice quickly become the focus of jealousy and rage. Ian is on his third novel, has an immaculate, environmentally-sound caravan and is doting owner to his dog, Banjo, all aspects to the character that soon get under Chris’ skin and lead him to some terrifying action. Not quite as horrified by her boyfriend’s actions as perhaps she should be, Tina soon takes a if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em attitude to the crime spree in which she seems to have become embroiled and sets about kidnapping Banjo, whom she christens Poppy after the dog she lost some years before.

As the holiday continues, Tina’s attempts to act as Chris’ literary muse and to keep herself and her lover as happy as she dreams of them being soon lead to a dark, almost farcical week of barbarism that climaxes dramatically on the wild, vast and isolated landscape of North Yorkshire.

Northern Gothic locations explored in the film include the Crich Tramway Village, the Cumberland Pencil Museum and Fountains Abbey. The film closes as the couple climb the famous Ribblehead Viaduct, located in the valley of the River Ribble in North Yorkshire.

Certainly not for the faint hearted, Sightseers had the Gothic Manchester Festival audience laughing out loud in some places and hiding behind their hands in others. Dark, violent and yet scarily funny, the film was just a small part of the celebration of all things Gothic that took place over the weekend.

For more information about the Gothic Manchester Festival, visit the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies website.

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Jacqueline Grima

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