ChickLit (2016)

British comedy ChickLit is director Tony Britten’s satirical take on the popular publishing phenomenon.

50 Shades of Dakota Blue

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

ChickLit is a film rooted in its local community – Alan Partridge’s patch of North Norfolk. It’s shot in an idyllic setting where life centres on the traditional village pub, the Hunny Bell, the kind of place where four local men can meet up in the bar every week to play dominoes together. But when their weekly session is threatened by the pub’s closure, it spurs their British can-do spirit and they come up with an ingenious ploy to raise the £300,000 needed to save it.

Director Tony Britten has gathered a host of British acting luminaries to enliven the caper. Local newspaper editor David (Christian McKay, recently in Florence Foster Jenkins), independent bookshop co-owner Marcus (comedian Miles Jupp), headmaster Justin (David Troughton, on TV recently in Grantchester) and pub manager Chris (Tom Palmer, Live at the Electric) decide that they’ll get together to write a ‘mummy porn’ bestseller (not actually chicklit) along the lines of 50 Shades of Grey and thus come up with the money they need to save ‘their’ pub. But until the book comes to fruition, it’s a secret project that they use all kinds of subterfuge to keep from their nearest and dearest – David’s lawyer wife and enthusiastic ‘mummy porn’ reader Jen, Caroline Catz (Doc Martin), and Marcus’s partner, both business and personal, James Wilby (to be seen in soon in The Sense of an Ending.

ChickLit is a feel-good movie so naturally the manuscript the amateur writers come up with, punningly titled Love Let Her, is an immediate hit with the first literary agents they approach. Both are veteran stars are clearly enjoying their cameos: John Hurt is boozily hiding behind a walrus moustache and Eileen Atkins is formidable as Bonar and Law, two old-style cash-strapped literary agents who see a golden goose and grab the opportunity to milk the phenomenon for as much champagne and foie gras as they can before the bubble bursts.

As the publicity machine takes off, the four undercover conspirators need to come up with an author – a front woman they can pass off as their female pen name. As luck would have it, Jen’s sister Zoe (Dakota Blue Richards, The Fold) is a struggling actress who fits the bill perfectly and who’s more than happy to play the role of author for a fee – shades of the recent documentary release Author: The JT Leroy Story – until it all starts to get too much for her and the publicity bandwagon starts runs away out of control.

ChickLit paints a picture of a cosy, idealised, Ealing Comedy Britain, where nice, slightly stylised middle-class people are trying to preserve the status quo. The initial premise of four blokes in a pub co-writing a female-oriented erotic shocker is fun, although the Shades of Grey moment of notoriety may already have passed by now. The film is amiable and pleasant, though the denouement unravels rather too quickly. Everyone involved does a good job, there are some funny lines inserted in the script (co-written by Tony and Oliver Britten) by Miles Jupp and it is – as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy described the planet Earth – “mostly harmless”.

Chick Lit is released on 2 September 2016 in the UK.

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