Rent The Great McGonagall (1974)

2.7 of 5 from 56 ratings
1h 25min
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Starring legendary Goon heroes Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, this cult British comedy is set in Victorian Britain and sees William Topaz McGonagall (Milligan), as an unemployed Scottish weaver who decides to devote his life to poetry. He falls in love with Queen Victoria (admirably played by Sellers), to whom he devotes his major poetic work and, despite rejection from her, he dreams of one day becoming Poet Laureate.
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Joseph McGrath, Spike Milligan
Fabulous Films
British Films, Comedy, Drama
Release Date:
Run Time:
85 minutes
DVD Regions:
Region 2
Aspect Ratio:
Full Screen 1.33:1 / 4:3
  • Audio commentary from Robert Ross and co-writer/director Joseph McGrath
  • Cast and crew biographies
  • Interactive menu
  • Scene access

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Reviews (1) of The Great McGonagall

Plan Nine From Bonnie Scotland - The Great McGonagall review by Count Otto Black

Spoiler Alert

This is one of the most baffling films ever made! "Cult" as in "totally obscure, very cheap, and bizarrely inept", but not "cult" as in "lots of people love this movie to bits", it has almost everything wrong with it. And yet, it's not quite like anything else you'll ever see. Loosely based on Spike Milligan's chaotic stream-of-consciousness "novel", which in turn was VERY loosely based on the life of William McGonagall, the Ed Wood of poetry, and, though it's hard to believe after watching this film, a real person, the movie combines real incidents, such as McGonagall's epic trek from Dundee to Balmoral Castle in the utterly delusional belief that Queen Victoria was a huge fan, and his disastrous stage appearance as Macbeth, with sheer fantasy.

A vaguely racist Victorian music-hall song turns, with no transition whatsoever, into a real battle between Zulus and British soldiers, one of whom is McGonagall's only fan, who sends him his only sincere fan-letter ever, unfortunately getting killed in the middle of writing it, which doesn't stop him finishing and posting the letter. Queen Victoria is married to Hitler because all Germans are Hitler; therefore several more Hitlers (wearing kilts) join Price Albert for a musical number while the Queen shows mildly pornographic magic lantern slides. The stage of a (real) Victorian music-hall represents anything from the Scottish Highlands, with minimalist scenery that wouldn't cut the mustard in a school play, to the actual stage of a Victorian music-hall. Almost everybody in the cast plays at least 6 barely distinguishable characters. Tiny bits of gratuitous nudity pop up randomly, apparently to prevent the film being classed as childish whimsy, getting a U certificate, and being shown to bewildered infants by mistake. When Spike fluffs his lines, they just keep rolling through several retakes. There's even an interval in the middle where the cast and crew are shown having lunch!

Completely and utterly out of control, with the actors sometimes obviously improvising, an out-of-nowhere shift from slapstick comedy to (historically inaccurate) tragedy in the last act, and gleeful disregard for all the conventions of film-making, not to mention an apparent budget of whatever was down the back of Spike's sofa, this is a spectacular failure on every level. Yet at the same time, Peter Sellers, the only person involved who seems to genuinely know what he's doing, is unforgettable in his fairly small role as Queen Victoria. And you have to admit that as terrible no-budget "cult" films go, it's different. If you're trawling the so-bad-it's-allegedly-good end of the cinematic spectrum and you're getting bored with all those cheap rubber space-monsters , you might find this oddity strangely refreshing. I can't honestly give it more than one star because there's so much wrong with it, yet it does have entertainment value of the "I can't believe they actually made this film!" variety. Recommended to connoisseurs of bad films who fancy seeing something that doesn't appear on all the usual lists for a change.

2 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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