Like a Greek hero of yore, Marcus Markou is taking on the economic crisis single-handedly with Papadopoulos & Sons, his fleecy, feel-good, culture-clash comedy.
Down And Out In Piraeus And London by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s a sad betrayal of its millennia of civilisation, but there’s no escaping the fact Greece is now an unfortunate byword for the European crisis. And it’s a tragedy that Anglo-Greek director Marcus Markou has capitalised on with Papadopoulos & Sons and its tale of a rich Greek entrepreneur who loses it all and is forced to seek solace, solidarity and salvation in the bosom of his community. Marcus Markou has even navigated his own slew of Heraclean labours to get his low-budget British feel-good movie made – writing, directing, producing and even distributing his debut feature himself. He’s even remortgaged his house in order to bring the Thessaloniki Film Festival Audience Award winner to the UK’s screens, aiming first for ticket returns from the UK’s Greek community before selling like hot loukoumades to the wider world beyond.
And with an all-star cast including Stephen Dillane, Georges Corraface and Ed Stoppard, the making of Papadopoulos & Sons, if nothing else, is a very cinematic story of one plucky Argonaut risking it all on a golden fleece of Greek comedy. It could, of course, all end in tragedy, in a metanarrative echo of Harry Papadopoulos and his family’s fate. For Harry is the CEO of a multi-million pound corporation manufacturing Greek dips, awarded European Entrepreneur Of The Year and reinvesting his fortune in Papadopoulos Plaza, staking his taramasalata and hummus empire on his grand designs for a property portfolio. He lives with stuttering, green-fingered eldest son James, fashion-victim daughter Katie, stockbroking child prodigy Theo and plain-talking housekeeper Mrs Parrington in a mansion on billionaires’ row. But suddenly bankrupt, Harry agrees to sell off his assets in order to buy his business back at a bargain price, with little else to do in the meantime other than reopen a fish and chip shop with estranged brother Spiros.
For the most part Papadopoulos & Sons is a fish-out-of-water comedy, with Stephen Dillane putting in a brilliantly browbeaten performance as the Greek god fallen from grace. He’s lumbered with free-spirited Spiros and a long-forgotten Greek heritage of dancing and singing, but as the fish and chip shop is dusted off, so too are memories of his late wife and the childhood trauma that created a rift between the brothers. And as emotions and memories come flooding back, son James also starts to stammer less, also nourished by his new life of gardening, filleting fishes and family. But it’s Dillane senior that casts star quality over the film, petulantly refusing to say the silly word “chamois” and childishly bemoaning his fate, “I’m not opening a fish and chip shop!” Markou’s dialogues have all the cockney simplicity of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and the script occasionally veers into whimsy, but it’s a warm-hearted coming together of a community working hard to put themselves back above the breadline.
Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes. Except in Greece where it’s just death. So says brother Spiros. But in Papadopoulos & Sons where the Greeks fall despite paying their taxes, Markou spins the Greek tragedy into comedy, the Papadopoulos downfall becoming an ill-fitting, whitewashed analogy of the Greek recession. It aims at a completeness with Greek-Turkish relations rendered in a surf-or-turf war with the local Turkish-run doner restaurant, but the film’s Darwinian precept of survival of the fittest walks a fine line between capitalism and community. Harry is overleveraged, ready to be bailed out by the banks in a sinister plot hatched by wily, devilish financier Rob. And it’s only through reconnecting with his family, his roots, working hard with his community that he’s able to make an honest success of his fledgling business and in so doing, earn the love of a good woman. But Markou wants it always, redefining success, in Harry’s park-bench conversation with Rob, not as money, but as feeling alive and engaged.
At times heavy-handed, with its psychosomatic stammering, its traumatic backstory and textbook references to King Lear, Papadopoulos & Sons is a Trojan horse – a feel-good salve for the Greeks. Not only does Marcus Markou create peace in the world with his high-street syrtos, uniting Greeks and Turks in dance, he also solves the economic crisis, with Theo (the future generation) idly racking up £22 million on his hobby stocks portfolio. It’s at times hackneyed, its plot turning on convenient twists such as the death of Spiros, hampered by stale devices like the immobile photo slideshow indicating the passage of time, and its comic punch is rather undersold by stolid editing. But nevertheless Papadopoulos & Sons is a daring example of entrepreneurial film-making, as inspirational as its story of rising again from the ashes.
Papadopoulos & Sons is released on 5th April 2013 in the UK