Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 short story The Overcoat has had a great deal of influence over Russian literature, and no wonder. In the space of relatively few pages Gogol tells a story that is both comic and truly tragic. It’s a story about bureaucracy, social status and ambition – and the toll the three can take when they collide. This short film adaptation, with a stellar team behind it, is both true to the original text with a couple of lovely modern twists.
Christopher Cobbler (Watkins) works for the government, on its lowest possible tier. He’s good at his job, correcting mistakes and observing errors that ‘most people forget after primary school’. Not that anyone notices him. In fact, Christopher is so unimpressive that it actually takes a great deal of effort to notice him – so nobody bothers. Until the office teasing over the poor state of his overcoat gets too much and he pays to get a new one paid. It takes every penny in his pocket and consumes his every waking thought. His new coat is so well made it, and he, begin to be greeted with an endless array of new admirers. Popularity begins for this former social outcast, but it’ll be tragically short-lived.
Tonally, and rather oddly perhaps, the first point of comparison that sprung to mind whilst watching was of the wonderful gone-too-soon tv series Pushing Daises. That, like this short film, had a blend of the past but modern quirks in terms of visuals and aesthetics. It also had knowingness in the storytelling; here we have a literal storyteller in the form of Tim Key. He tells the story with warmth and genuine pity for the social outcast of the story, allowing for the film’s overarching tone of regret yet reluctantly accepted inevitability.
Watkins does a terrific job of playing the main role. His downtrodden everyman is immensely believable, carefully portraying a life of routine that allows Christopher to feel safety living within its strict confines. This routine is showcased beautifully by the editing and cinematography. The former lets us experience it with him, emphasizing the mundane, whilst the later lets us feel the beauty (of sorts) within it. Turley makes some lovely choices with the framing , with even the most brief or unimportant-seeming shots, such as of Christopher’s bland meals, allowing for all manner of meanings. Within each location Christopher resides in, the true imposing nature is found and revealed.
These factors, along with some well –chosen fourth wall breaks and great choice in music, allow the film to be a very authentic adaptation along with being an excellent film in its own right.
Dir: Patrick Myles
Scr: Nikolay Gogol (story), Patrick Myles (screenplay)
Cast: Tim Key, Alex Macqueen, Dominic Coleman, Jason Watkins, Vicki Pepperdine
Prd: Mark Puddle, Kate Turner
DOP: Tom Turley
Music: Alex Baranowski