Peter Richardson (C4’s Comic Strip, Stella Street) directs a riotous Hollywood style rewrite of the Battle of Britain in which Churchill is an American and Hitler plans to marry the young Princess Elizabeth. The hit and miss humour is boosted by a plethora of British comedians including Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Leslie Phillips, Phil Cornwell and Miranda Richardson as a dashing Eva Braun.

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Here, LondonNet talks to Christian Slater (an American Winston Churchill), Neve Campbell (a young Princess Elizabeth),Mackenzie Crook (the cheeky Irish cockney Jimmy Charoo) and Peter Richardson about the Hollywood side of history.

What was your first reaction on reading the highly irreverent script Neve and Christian?

N.C.: I thought it was hilarious. I grew up in Canada watching Monty Python, etc. I just read it on my own and asked my manager to call Peter (Richardson).

C.S. I remember in the early 80s hearing the Python’s spam song and it changed my life really (…smiles). And Peter’s timing was perfect. But I’m an American and I live in Hollywood so when I read the script I thought it was a true story! So by the time I got over here he could do whatever he wanted with me. Being an actor I read the script, read lots of books on Winston Churchill and prepared emotionally, mentally and physically for the role. Then I came over here and they handed me my little white vest and I thought well, obviously we’re going in a different direction here, sort of Die Hard, Bruce Willis style…

Presumably you didn’t need any explanation Mackenzie?

M.C. I grew up with the Comic Strip, so I was aware of the style. Obviously I had a much smaller part (than Slater and Campbell) but there were some fine British comedians and actors there, so it was great.

How long was the film in the planning stages Peter?

P.R. Not long really. There’d been a series of films in which the Brits were the bad guys, the Irish the good guys and Americans the heroes. I thought Churchill was the right subject to send these up.

Christian, what was it like working with British comedians?

C.S. When I first got here I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first scene I shot was with Vic (Reeves) and Bob (Mortimer) when they were trying to drug the Princess. When I saw their outfits and wigs and Vic’s glasses it kind of gave me a good sense of what direction we were going in.

And for you Neve?

N.C. I got hold of tapes of the Comic Strip, Stella Street and as much of the other artist’s work as possible. I watched one episode of The Office (featuring Mackenzie Crook as a discipline obsessed loner) and liked it so much I ended up watching them all.

Peter, why was the Queen Mother (then Queen) not present in proceedings?

P.R. We felt the comedy worked better with Harry Enfield (playing the King) having to cope with two young daughters all on his own. If the Queen was there it would have thrown it out of balance somehow.

The film has received a hefty cut compared to the original screening version. Why did you feel that this was necessary?

P.R. Comedy has to be paced right to keep people entertained and laughing. Originally it was just too long and we felt it worked best when it was tight and pacy. There was a little re-shooting but mainly it was editing.

C.S. In the original version there was a film within a film that became rather distracting, plus it was a little darker, more cutting.

How did you find the lower budget here compared to your Hollywood stuff?

C.S. About a hundred million dollar difference!

M.C. Well I had a trailer! We weren’t slumming it by any means…

N.C. Actually I do a lot of independent productions so I prefer it creatively, because you get more on top of each other and everyone is more connected.

Do you think your involvement in this film will cause any problems when you appear at future Royal Premieres in London?

P.R. Well I’ve invited the Queen to the premiere of Churchill, The Hollywood Years but I haven’t heard from her yet…!

– Peter D. Clee