USA/UK 2000

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Brighton, the present. Gangster boss Bruno Maitland orders the killing of his double-crossing accountant. Bruno hopes to recruit con artist Leo Garfield to run his casino. Leo is reluctant to take the job. He and his wife Lily are planning their own scam: Leo has been hired to murder Gloria by her husband, businessman Julius Harvey. But Harvey has double-crossed Leo: Gloria isn't his wife after all. He begins to blackmail Leo, who is already in trouble with psychopathic local bookie Troy.

It turns out that Gloria was the girlfriend of Bruno's bodyguard Moose. Distraught at her disappearance, he chases Leo into a Brighton hotel and is about to kill him when he realises Gloria is still alive. Leo staged the killing to hoodwink Harvey. Meanwhile, Lily's ex-boyfriend, Elmo Somerset, has come to Brighton to kill her. (Years before, she abandoned him mid-heist.) It turns out that Harvey is Bruno's new accountant and they are plotting against Leo together.

Everybody seems to be double-crossing one another. Leo and Harvey appear to be working in cahoots to swindle Bruno. They've managed to embezzle millions from him. There's a final shoot-out during which Leo and Harvey kill Bruno and Lily. They escape. Leo drugs Harvey and abandons him. Leo goes to the station to leave town. Waiting for him there is Lily. Her death turns out to have been faked.


"Don't trust any of these clowns," reads the tagline for Circus, an enjoyably awful Brighton-set crime movie which touts itself as a British answer to The Usual Suspects. It's a warning worth heeding. From the very first scene in which a criminal boss (rather improbably played by comedian Brian Conley) chews off a victim's ear, the film teeters on the edge of self-parody. The presence of Conley's fellow comedian Eddie Izzard (a loveable psychotic who enjoys going skinny dipping near Brighton Pier) reinforces the sense that we're not watching a proper gangster movie at all - rather one of those Comic Strip Presents spoofs which Peter Richardson, Keith Allen et al used to make in the 80s.

The film-makers blithely invoke every gangster movie cliché available. Conley may dress for much of the movie like Nehru, but he performs as if he is parodying Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday. The setting rekindles memories of the seedy Brighton written about by Patrick Hamilton and Graham Greene. There are plenty of nods in the direction of film noir, a few bows in the direction of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and even one or two murkily lit Cincinnati Kid-style gambling sequences.

One character, Conley's gigantic but simple-minded minder Moose, seems to have been taken directly from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Lily, the double-crossing femme fatale, is presumably intended as a counterpart to the equally hard-boiled dames played by Barbara Stanwyck and Lauren Bacall, but she's lumbered with some woeful dialogue. ("I love you, you slinky, short-arsed Scotsman," is not a line Bacall would ever have uttered.) Circus is full of such bizarre juxtapositions. Fred Ward, as craggy and imposing as character actors come, is well cast as an American hoodlum, but is then lumbered with the sort of saucy scenes you used to find in Dick Emery or Benny Hill sketches. And Peter Stormare's gawky, vaguely sinister accountant is even more mannered than his John Lennon-soundalike in The Million Dollar Hotel.

Howard Hawks famously observed that he never really understood the labyrinthine plot of The Big Sleep. He would have been totally baffled by Circus. David Logan's screenplay is so full of twists and reversals that the film-makers themselves seem bewildered by it. Certain characters, for instance Izzard's bookie or Amanda Donohoe's vamp, simply vanish. It is not clear how somebody as resourceful and cunning as Leo ever managed to get into hock to a low-life like Izzard's Troy Cabrera in the first place, nor how certain characters die in one scene and are miraculously resurrected in the next. The plotting is more tricksy than ingenious. The facile humour (pitbulls running themselves to a standstill on exercise machines and the like) undercuts any air of menace or tension. Still, the Simon Boswell soundtrack lends at least the illusion of urgency to the storytelling and the entire project is eccentric enough to qualify for cult status.


Rob Walker
James Gibb
Alan Latham
David Logan
Director of Photography
Ben Seresin
Oral Norrie Ottey
Production Designer
James Merifield
Simon Boswell
©Columbia Pictures Industries Inc
Production Companies
Columbia Pictures presents a Film Development Corporation production
Executive Producer
Alberto Ardissone
Production Supervisor
Ron Purdie
Production Co-ordinator
Diane Chittell
Unit Manager
Simon Crook
Location Manager
Casper Mill
Post-production Supervisors
Jay Coquillon
Steve Harrow
Assistant Directors
Richard Hewitt
Toby Sherborne
Matthew Penry-Davey
Andrea Slater
Script Supervisors
Sarah Garner
Layla Lee-Curtis
Michelle Guish
Camera Operator
Peter Cavaciuti
Special Effects
Tom Harris
Paul Kelly
Art Director
Peter Wenham
Set Decorator
Gina Cromwell
Scenic Artists
Dereck Cowie
Alister Plant
Paddy Hamilton
Magnus Irvine
Helen Gillilan
Costume Designer
Anna Sheppard
Chief Make-up/Hair
Pam Haddock
Make-up/Hair Artist
Alison Davies
Alison Bell
John Cormican
Title Sequence
Richard Morrison
Dena Johnson
Main Title Design Effects
The Moving Picture Company
Rhythm Programmer
Gregg Wilson
Music Supervisor
Iain Jones
Geoff Foster
"12 Hole Shoes", "Breathless", "There Is a Way" by The Alex Heffes Trio; "Dirty Tricks" by Overdog; "Deep Depression" by Simon Boswell; "That's Life" by Hinda Hicks; "You're the One That I Want"; "Big Spender"; "House of the Rising Sun"; "R.E.S.P.E.C.T."; "The Monkees"; "Another Bites the Dust"
Sound Mixer
Bill Dodkin
Re-recording Mixers
Aad Wirtz
John Falcini
Supervising Sound Editor
Campbell Askew
Dialogue Editors
Ross Adams
Andy Shelley
Bill Trent
ADR Editors
Ross Adams
Andy Shelley
Bill Trent
Andie Derrick
Paula Boram
John Bateman
Bob Gavin
Stunt Co-ordinator
Peter Brayham
Animals Handlers
Animals Okay
John Hannah
Leo Garfield
Famke Janssen
Lily Garfield
Peter Stormare
Julius Harvey
Brian Conley
Bruno Maitland
Tiny Lister
George 'Moose' Marley
Amanda Donohoe
Fred Ward
Elmo Somerset
Eddie Izzard
Troy Cabrera
Ian Burfield
Caspar Glit
Neil Stuke
Michael Attwell
Jason Watkins
Christopher Biggins
Lucy Akhurst
Louise Rolfe
Hinda Hicks
Rob Walker
old tramp
Marcus Heath
Christopher Tune
boy racer
Louis Hammond
Evelyn Duah
jeweller's assistant
Steve Toussaint
Julie Saunders
hotel receptionist
Che Walker
nightclub worker
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
8,592 feet
95 minutes 28 seconds
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011