The Show review – Alan Moore brings vaudevillian dazzle to Northampton noir

Moore has created a Chandlerian shoal of red herrings, drawing viewers into a dark and dense mystery set in the very centre of England

Northampton, the magical potency of fiction, eternalism … Alan Moore, recovering graphic novelist and screenwriter of The Show, gives his longtime preoccupations a vaudevillian twirl in this cinematic outing that – unusually – is not based on one of his comics. He gives himself a twirl too, cameoing in this Northampton noir as a ghastly light-entertainment throwback with hair and beard styled into a crescent moon.

The Souvenir’s Tom Burke plays Fletcher Dennis, a private eye dispatched to the dead centre of middle England by East End hardnut Bleaker (Christopher Fairbank) to locate the lover who fatally battered his daughter and recover a Rosicrucian pendant stolen from her. But digging around Northampton, the detective – via a plummy dame (Siobhan Hewlett) admitted to the hospital on the same night as the now-deceased lothario – uncovers a string of weird coincidences. Notably, why all leads point towards a burned-down nightspot in which Metterton and Matchbright, a pair of seedy Pete’n’Dud-style comedians, perished in 1973.

The plot is a Chandlerian shoal of red herrings but, like Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, no detail is accidental: from the pun-strewn flyposters to Fletcher’s Dennis the Menace red-and-black sweatshirt. The film’s oppressive web of tales and fictions, so inherent to the detective genre, steer Fletcher’s course towards a dark dream realm where he will end up “fishing with the sleepers”. Down there is the presiding spirit Metterton (meta – geddit?), played by Moore, who declares open war on less purposeful amusements: “What I’ve got is a plot. A good old-fashioned word, a gunpowder plot. Although, frankly, Guy Fawkes couldn’t plot to save his life, just like a modern film.”

This film isn’t without weaknesses. Moore’s logorrheic style has its reasons – reinvesting in the word in an age of visual decadence – but it can be fatiguing, as well as relegating director Mitch Jenkins to something of a magician’s assistant, supplying hoary expressionism by way of misdirection while the characters get sucked into the film’s deterministic scheme. But if The Show does occasionally feel inert, it’s capable of eerie feeling, when its players seem aware of being under the lights, repeating lines that have been in eternal preparation. In the face of that kind of cosmic realisation, all else is light entertainment – and this dense but witty film is never caught short for a flourish.

• The Show is available on digital platforms from 18 October.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Dreamland review – distasteful dystopian noir
Juliette Lewis plays an unhinged diplomat’s wife and party animal in this pulpy thriller about sex-trafficking gangsters

Cath Clarke

08, Apr, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Profile: Alan Moore, the man with a graphic vision

The Observer profile: This reclusive Englishman looks like a figure from one of his hugely influential comic series

Vanessa Thorpe

01, Mar, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
The Brother review – bold London noir thriller
Arms dealers are the bad guys in Ryan Bonder’s respectable crime drama which unfolds to a northern soul soundtrack

Mike McCahill

22, Sep, 2016 @9:45 PM

Article image
Earthquake Bird review – psych-noir with aftershocks
Wash Westmoreland’s crime-mystery about a love triangle turned obsessive, starring Alicia Vikander, delivers a few real tremors

Peter Bradshaw

01, Nov, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
N for Northampton: Alan Moore celebrates his hometown with a 1,200-page fantasy
For his epic new novel Jerusalem, V for Vendetta author Alan Moore has turned his imagination to a town better famed for Errol Flynn, fetish gear and a lift-testing tower

Mark Lawson

15, Sep, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Interview: Alan Moore talks about Watchmen, Hollywood and pornography

Novelist, magician and 'guru of the graphic novel' Alan Moore talks to Steve Rose about Watchmen, the dark side of Hollywood and the morality of pornography

Steve Rose

16, Mar, 2009 @2:27 PM

Article image
The Devil All the Time review – Pattinson is plausibly icky in violent gothic noir
Robert Pattinson’s florid preacher is one of a gallery of geeks and grotesques in this grisly smalltown tale

Peter Bradshaw

16, Sep, 2020 @5:00 PM

Article image
The Beasts review – unsettling rural noir is a Euro-arthouse twist on Straw Dogs
Middle-class incomers to a remote village in Spain’s ‘wild west’ expose fear, resentment and nationalism in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s disturbing true-crime drama

Peter Bradshaw

22, Mar, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Blood Simple: Director's Cut review – Coens' debut is an ingeniously horrible noir masterwork
A gloriously repellent performance by M Emmet Walsh is one of many highlights of this thriller – a drum-tight gem that launched a film-making phenomenon

Peter Bradshaw

05, Oct, 2017 @2:30 PM

Article image
Yardie review – Idris Elba brings precision to London crime classic
For his directorial debut, Elba mixes cliche and social complexity in this adaptation of Victor Headley’s novel about a young Jamaican in 80s Hackney

Mike McCahill

29, Aug, 2018 @1:00 PM