Golden Oldie: Bernard and the Genie (1991)

Newcastle Univerity's Rowan Atkinson stars in this 1991 BBC TV film. Image: YouTube

Most people are saying ‘what?’ but the few who’re aware of this lost BBC television film are saying ‘yes!’. An early work of British film giant Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually) starring Lenny Henry, it lifts from the Arabic folk tale ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ and follows Alan Cumming’s titular Bernard as he faces a lonely Christmas – until a twist of fate brings Henry’s two thousand year old genie into his modern (well, early ‘90s) world.

Hilarity ensues and whilst the production values are early-’90s TV low the talent involved make this a forgotten Christmas classic.

The film exhibits the talent of young Lenny Henry and Alan Cumming – a showcase that charmingly foreshadows two storied careers. The fish out of water story depends heavily on Henry’s deadpan comedy but he’s totally capable and like all good Christmas films it is loaded with goodwill and heart – an ideal antidote to the current debauched festive fodder (looking at you Daddy’s Home 2).

What really makes the film great though is its limitations; it’s made for TV so at a length of just over an hour, with a budget to match its platform and runtime, but the razor sharp script compensates for the low production value and the weight on the lack of budget for ensemble cast is eased by brilliant support (Rowan Atkinson) and hilarious cameos (take a bow Bob Geldof).

Still making me laugh twenty years after first watching it (recorded onto VHS direct), Bernard and the Genie is a Christmas classic and criminally forgotten work in the filmography of a British great. Fortunately a dodgy copy is available on YouTube – it *is* a wonderful life after all!

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