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(Credit: Sightseers)

Film

'Sightseers' turns 10: Ben Wheatley’s folk classic remains the best British comedy of the decade

@TomTaylorFO

It is an unspoken law of the universe that should you pass an occupied caravan at any given time there will be people in there either ‘doing it’ or bickering—you can’t be sure which, but no intermediate state is known to exist. It is the Schrödinger’s principle of the ambulatory holiday. Inside those Fiberglass vacations, people will either be fighting or f—king. There might not be any proof but that’s a scientific fact. It simply fits both like Sunday’s frozen pitch fits a Thermos flask. 

Sightseers is abundant with unspoken laws of the universe: Those who walk with a stick at an age before it is medically necessary will inevitably be a tory wanker, hen-do encounters will always reap untold havoc, and, contrastingly, the rather more pronounced universal truth—violence only begets great violence.

These may well be perfectly realised pieces of observational comedy, but the film came at a point when the world realised that observing things in of itself is not a remotely funny pastime. Thus, these universal truths are subverted to an absolutely riveting extent. 

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There is a certain amusement to the fact that pitifully dower places like a pencil museum exist in a place that William Wordsworth likened to God’s own garden, but it’s far funnier to inhabit that observation with the surrealist sight of a woman penning a murderous note with a three-foot pencil. This is the triumph of the originality in Sightseers, and that is why it has endured enough to be crowned the best comedy of the decade ten years on from its release. 

You see, to get technical, when jokes become formulaic you get tired of the same set-up and response. Certain comedic tropes have been repeated so many times that they now seem like a dated pastiche. Without originality, observations and puns can land like a meal that has been reheated for the two thousandth time. However, you won’t find another gag about a caravanning couple cavorting with hand-knit crotchless knickers in movie history. 

Unlike music or more emotive forms of entertainment, comedy relies heavily on the surprise element of initial exposure. Sightseers never cease to amaze with its hilarious surprises that punctuate the utterly dull everyday realism of the trip like a chunk of scalp amid the dreary rear axle arrangement of the Happy Camper VX12 – each making the other funnier. 

This originality both in terms of idea and execution has kept Sightseers fresh and endlessly rewatchable. Thus, classic lines like, “There might be blood on the paws of that dog, but it was smug complacency that killed Ian,” “Report that to the National Trust!” and the term ‘Dingley Dell’ are all well and truly ingrained in the lexicon of any group of friends who have mutually enjoyed the masterpiece. This transcendent quality is what makes cult films the best; Sightseers might not be for everyone, but it is the best.

The only downside is we’re still waiting for Ben Wheatley to return from Hollywood to ride in the countryside of sui generis story and line writing with Alice Lowe and Steve Oram once more. 

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