Dir: Julian Kemp. UK. 1999. 90 mins.
Prod co: Wire Films. Int'l sales: Victor Film Co (+44 207 494 4477). Prod: Michael Kelk. Exec prods: Christopher Figg, Adam Sutcliffe. Co-prod: David Ball. Scr: Jason Sutton based on an idea by Eric Styles. DoP: Kjell Vassdal. Prod des: Kit Line. Ed: Jonathan Rudd. Mus: David Alldridge, Craig Blake-Jones. Main cast: Kelly Macdonald, Jason Hughes, Freddie Jones, Miriam Margoyles.
Sweet-natured and sincere, House! is yet another attempt to revive the proud British tradition of Ealing comedy. Doffing its cap in conscious homage to Alec Guinness classics and 1950s charmer The Smallest Show On Earth, its underdog sympathies, jaunty tone and carefully cast ensemble make an endearing combination. An army of bingo fanatics provide a ready-made target audience in its home territory but it lacks the polish and substance to distract them in sufficient numbers from the lure of a full house or a jackpot pay-out. Internationally, the parochial subject matter and absence of star names make theatrical prospects slender but not unlikely.
A dilapidated bingo hall in a rainswept Welsh town, La Scala, is the David to the Goliath of a 15-acre bingo arena about to open on its doorstep. Despite the sterling efforts of avuncular family owner Mr Anzani (Jones), closure seems inevitable. The parlous state of La Scala is mirrored in the financial woes and romantic travails of loyal worker Linda (Macdonald). Salvation arrives in Linda's discovery of strange powers that permit her to predict winning numbers in advance.
A Tarantino-like opening in which four old dears stride purposefully towards their beloved bingo emporium sets the tone for a cheeky, generally pleasing affair. Unfortunately, the nostalgic longing for the entertainment industry's glory days and jibes at the soulless world of modern conglomerates sit uneasily with the more whimsical, soft-centred plot strands of Linda's psychic skills and family history. The result is too lightweight to measure up as the next Full Monty but it is helped enormously by the enthusiastic performances of Jones, Macdonald and a bouncy Jason Hughes as the saucy, silver-tongued bingo caller who lays siege to Linda's heart.