Back in the late eighties, a strange phenomenon emerged - a supposed child prodigy was revealed by Terry Wogan on national TV. James Harries was ten years old and looked like Harpo Marx (i.e. with crazy permed blonde hair), talked like a member of the Royal family and thought he was a genius. After his father was imprisoned for burning the family fancy dress shop down, the family tried unsuccessfully to sue the Conservative party - who were in power at the time. If you missed it all kicking off at the time and have absolutely no idea what I am talking about then you are in the same boat as me prior to watching this DVD - but don't be put off. This documentary is not really about one would-be celebrity: it is about a real-life family who are simply delusional and borderline certifiable. I am sure there are many out there who remember the strange little boy on TV in the eighties and some who may even already know what became of him, but for me it was a shocking eye-opener.
Keith Allen (a vastly underrated and underused British actor whose credits include Shallow Grave) initially narrates the archive footage but then he actually hosts the rest of the documentary, conducting interviews not only with the child prodigy - now grown and operationally transformed into a rather strange woman - but also her entire crazy family. Whilst it starts as a seemingly normal documentary where the host simply extorts information out of his victims, Allen takes a refreshingly fresh approach and goes straight for the jugular, tearing apart the family's myths and fantasies one by one with solid research and logical argument. Every family member has the same Masters qualification in Metaphysics - and it turns out that they are all, funnily enough, self-certified. In fact, all of the dozens of qualifications that they each profess to have are completely fabricated. They live their lives within a fantasy world that Allen infiltrates and then tears apart to expose the truth.
It is difficult to sell a documentary as a DVD purchase because these days movies simply do it better. Biopics and historical epics are all the rage at the moment and with the ridiculous reality TV boom that has submerged Channel 4 in mindless, lowest common denominator drivel, I have little time for any of their 'reality' offerings. But this is somehow different and I think that it is mainly because of the presence of the charismatic Keith Allen. He treats the subject matter the way a normal, average every-day person would treat it - asking all of the questions that you would want him to ask, irrespective of the trouble it gets him into. Aside from the unique insight into a deranged family that exists somewhere out there in Wales, we also get a breathtaking new approach to documentary-making that I hope eventually permeates through to all such Channel 4 productions. It made for refreshing, if fairly disturbing, viewing.
Our Review Ethos