Friday, April 08, 2011

Paper Mask

British cinema's hidden gem.

This little-known British noir is testament to the fact that inflated Hollywoodian budgets are irrelevant when it comes to quality.

Unfortunately though, Paper Mask is also evidence that, no matter how good a film, without marketing machinery there's no chance of making it beyond -at best- a Channel Four 11 o'clock slot.

And that's how I first came across Christopher Morahan's hidden gem. It must have been at least fifteen years ago, late night at home while flicking through the channels only minutes away from hitting the sack.

I don't know what in particular, but Paper Mask grabbed my attention straight away. Mysterious without being contrived, minimalistic without being arty, chilling and disturbing without ever going over the top. Within a moment, I was hooked.

It's the story of a frustrated hospital porter (glib-tongued Martin, the excellent Paul McGann of Withnail and I fame) who, in a moment of madness, decides to steal the identity of a recently passed away surgeon.

The thing is, said doctor had just applied for a job elsewhere, meaning that it was the perfect chance for Martin to burn bridges and start with a clean slate, a door to prestige and riches that a lowly orderly would only be able to dream of otherwise.

Needless to say, however, Martin is heading for collision course. Aside from a vague familiarity with hospitals, the guy just isn't a doctor, which means a succession of wincing mishaps are constantly round the corner.

Yet his charming ways help him cajole nurse Christine (Amanda Donohoe, from Nicolas Roeg's Castaway) which, for Martin, would prove a godsend. At least for the time being.

Paper Mask guarantees suspence from start to finish. While the viewer is constantly wondering what is going to happen next, the concept is so subtle and original that you may even end up sympathizing with such a manipulative and dislikeable protagonist.

Alas, chances are you've never heard of this film.

Twenty years after it came out, there are rumours of a forthcoming DVD release which, if true, would finally hand one of the best thrillers to ever hail from the UK a belated chance to be enjoyed by the wider public.

A must-see if you can manage to grab hold of it.