Benjamin: Simon Amstell’s dry depiction of the London art scene

Review: Fans of Amstell’s previous work will find plenty to savour in his latest film

Phénix Brossard and Colin Morgan in Benjamin

Film Title: Benjamin

Director: Simon Amstell

Starring: Colin Morgan, Anna Chancellor, Phenix Brossard, Jessica Raine, Joel Fry

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 85 min

Fri, Mar 15, 2019, 05:00

   

Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is an anxious young film-maker hoping that his second feature will be as successful as his Bafta-winning first. “Ideally, I’d have made that film,” he says of his debut, “and died”.

His producer Tessa (Anna Chancellor) consoles him with the notion that audience reactions aren’t important, as everybody who sees his film is going to die at some point anyway. Benjamin has friends, notably a depressed comedian (Joel Fry), but there’s a sadness about him that manifests in late-night ice-cream and Oreo binges.

When he meets the enigmatic young French musician Noah (Phénix Brossard), it’s an unimaginably cringe-making encounter. (“That was horrible,” hisses a friend). Several missed social cues, some porridge, and a quantity of magic mushrooms later, and Benjamin, whose film concerns his own inability to love, is smitten. But will his insecurities sabotage the blossoming romance?

Simon Amstell first came to prominence as the prickly provocateur helmer of Pop World and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the music-themed quiz show that saw him tease Ordinary Boys’ Preston into storming off the set.

He has subsequently crafted fine stand-up sets from mining his own struggles with depression and crippling anxieties. Fans of those routines or of Amstell’s quasi-autobiographical TV sitcom, Grandma’s House, will find plenty to savour in Benjamin.

The earlier, goading Amstell is still evident in the film’s dry depiction of the contemporary London art scene. Meet Harry (Jack Rowan) a pretentious, promiscuous actor, who “paints his feelings”. See the paper folding installation.

Under the satire, there’s an authentic sense of emotional uncertainty. Director of photography David Pimm provides an equally authentic London backdrop. Colin Morgan, who is best known for his work in Merlin, is a brilliantly quivering mess who charms, even as he blurts out the wrong thing to say.  

Opens March 15th.