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A razor-sharp but criminally ignored British satire from respected under-achiever Peter Cook.
Cook's professional status has continued to rise since his death in 1995, until it seems a
point of honour for every British comedian attempting to push the envelope to admit to have
dedicated a shrine to him.
Written by Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and director Kevin Billington, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer, did not receive an artistic release in the USA, and was the last film distributed by the Warner's subsidiary Seven Arts. It was possibly just too British, concerned with the intricacies of our class and political system, to have fared well in the USA; given a few years of course and the mere cameo appearance by John Cleese would have sold it on its own.
To a catchy jangly score by composer John Cameron (The Road To 9/11) we observe as the fresh-faced Michael Rimmer (Cook), armed with a clipboard, inveigles his way into the floundering advertising agency run by Ferret, played by Arthur Lowe at his most slippery. Ferret is more interested in eyeing his pneumatic secretary Tanya, played by cult TV and movie actress Valerie Leon (Blood From The Mummy's Tomb), to question Rimmer's credentials.
Among the rest of the staff, Pumer (Cleese) is teaching himself Latin American dancing, and Dederman is operating as a bookmaker. Rimmer appears to be performing a time and motion study, but within days has his own office, has reduced Ferret to an unpaid help, and has launched a particularly filthy advertising campaign on behalf of the humble humbug. Rimmer follows this up with a national sex survey, that gets him media coverage on Stephen Hench's TV chat show, and introduces him to Peter Niss (Denholm Elliott, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade), who works for a rival polling company. Rimmer persuades Niss to join him, and sabotages the rival company's poll on religion by planting his own people in Nuneaton to make it appear that the prevailing faith there is Buddhism.
Successfully predicting the outcome of a by-election, by the expedient of polling everyone in the constituency, Rimmer garners himself massive credibility, acquires a trophy wife (Vanessa Howard), and finds himself wooed by the leaders of both main political parties. Rimmer and Niss ally themselves with the opposition Conservative leader (Ronald Fraser), and Rimmer reveals some political ambitions of his own. Rimmer's rise is inexorable and, despite the slavish obsequiousness suggested by his name, he gets where he is by plainly stating the truth, for example stating to a member of the clergy that the British discomfort with organised religion is mainly due to the presence of God.
There is enough broad comedy amongst the satire to appeal to most tastes and most of the jokes work rather well. One scene jars, when the Shadow Home Secretary opposes Rimmer's suggestion that the Conservatives play the immigration card, he is attacked by a West Indian in a side street and ends up in a wheelchair. Clearly Rimmer is behind the attack but this is never established for the viewer. Perhaps the scene is intended to shake the audience's own liberal views, in any event there is a sharp sequence following, where the Minister is wheeled past a police line-up, containing only one black man, in an attempt to identify his assailant.
There are clever little sequences placing the film in its cultural context, Rimmer and Niss acquire the services of a Tariq Ali type activist to disrupt the Conservative party conference, and Rimmer 'drops in' on the Conservative victory banquet by helicopter, like Mick Jagger for his moral 'summit talk' with Malcolm Muggeridge and the Archbishop of Canterbury (if memory serves me right). Needing to boost the economy, Rimmer orchestrates a raid on Switzerland's gold reserves, which the Conservative government then passes off as the discovery of a 'gold field' in the North Sea. Celebrating the 'find', Tory leader Fraser falls to his death from the North Sea platform, and TV pundit Hench (playwright and actor Harold Pinter), now firmly in the Rimmer camp, is able to interpret the latter's push as an attempt to save the Prime Minister. Installed as the new PM, Rimmer pledges to consult with the British public on every issue, by means of referenda, and when the British public baulk at the remorseless demands for their opinions he holds one more poll to inaugurate himself as President, and take the decision-making out of their hands for good.
The audience never find out who Rimmer actually is, or what his plans for Britain might be. It has been suggested that the satire is a portrait of TV pundit David Frost, but that seems just to be a play on Jill Craigie's famous remark that Frost appeared to rise 'without trace'. Broadly speaking, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer works on whatever level the audience wishes it to, as a satire on media manipulation, the British class and political system, and British political apathy, and more simply as an extended joke at the expense of our institutions, using a variety of comic characters played by popular character actors in situations both sophisticated and vulgar. It is also very funny.