“Be careful what you wish for” is the motto of The Curse, Channel 4’s excellent new retro sitcom/crime caper. Idiots trying to be big time criminals and messing everything up is a long-honoured trope of British comedy, and it has served a very lengthy stretch dating back from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, through minder and The Italian Job to The Ladykillers and beyond. The Curse is very much in that tradition, and adds a nice, novel twist, in that the rather valuable pile of 7,000 gold bars the thieves stumble upon during a routine warehouse raid carries a deadly curse, on a par with the one that befell Lord Carnarvon, who opened the tomb of Tutankhamun. So, just like with The Ladykillers or Goodfellaswe start making mental bets about who’s going to get whacked first.
It’s fun, then, and you can’t really cast a better group of fools than the crew from People Just Do Nothing, most of whom turn up here. We have Steve Stamp once again as the slow idiot, playing Sidney, the man on the inside in the warehouse; Allan Mustafa, the MC Grindah-style gobby but wimpish idiot; and Hugo Chegwin as the pretentious idiot, Phil, who wears a trilby as some sort of tribute to the Krays’ gang, drives a Ford Consul with an early car phone, and styles himself, absurdly, as “The Captain”.
The mixture is inestimably enhanced by Tom Davis, a man who can raise a laugh just by standing up. Never in the history of human comedy has a man deployed a beer belly to greater effect. Obscenely dressed in garish tank tops and, I think, using string to hold his trousers up, Davis is the supreme imbecile, the ultimate “ugly ape” to his fellow conspirators. Davis is also a co-writer, with James de Frond (who directs as well). The humor is less intensely driven than in People Just Do Nothing and more like Davis’s much-missed Murder in Successville, and has similar sharp wit.
But that slower pace just means you have a little more time to savor the superb period touches, themselves amusing – punters smoking Embassy Regal in the pub, the “firm” hanging out in a snooker hall, a Safeways carrier bag, beer mugs with handles , the Breville toasted sandwich maker, Bullseye, antique words such as “plonker”, plus cameo appearances by Mrs Thatcher and an unmistakable whiff of 1980s naked greed. The music is evocative – “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode and The The’s “Uncertain Smile” bring back some memories.
There is just one scene, of the robbery itself, that features realistic violence, thanks to our idiot criminal masterminds roping in a couple of genuine hard men (Abraham Popoola, Peter Ferdinando) who are only semi-idiotic. It all gets a bit testy, with shooters and everything, but gives the drama some necessary tension and usefully counterpoints the slapstick and wordplay.
Unlike the not-that-lovable rogues, the creators of The Curse They clearly have a very good idea of what they’re about, and their plan is seamlessly executed to highly amusing effect. They deserve a reward for recovering such an impressive haul of comedy gold.