Movie review: Spud (+trailer)

By Peter Calder

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There is little to learn from old-school boys tale, Spud. Photo / Supplied
There is little to learn from old-school boys tale, Spud. Photo / Supplied

The book this film adapts is described as "the best-selling South African novel of all time", though I'm picking it didn't fly off the shelves in Soweto. The story of a young boy's coming of age in a single year at a very English boys' boarding school in Kwazulu Natal, it oozes a rugger-and-blazer style that would not have felt modern to a filmgoer in the 50s: the headmaster's surname is Glockenspiel and the cricket master says that "most of you have more chance of falling pregnant by wind pollination than becoming decent cricketers".

Material about the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela's release, clumsily wedged in, dates it much later, though the references to toilet-dunking and boot-blacking of genitalia belong to a much earlier era than the 1990s.

Soon after arrival, John Milton (the wide-eyed and angel-faced Sivan) is nicknamed Spud by the other boys, an apparent but impenetrable reference to his sexual prematurity. His gang, with monikers like Rambo, Gecko and Mad Dog, tease him mercilessly and he seeks solace in the company of his English teacher Guv (Cleese, trying to pay off debts), an alcoholic depressive who plies him with cheap plonk and rich literature.

His coming-of-age includes an on-stage triumph in a suspiciously polished school production.

This will probably amuse those with happy memories of private-school education, but others may mistake it for a ethnographic documentary about a lost tribe.

Stars: 2.5/5
Cast: Troye Sivan, John Cleese
Director: Donovan Marsh
Running time: 107 mins
Rating: M (sexual references)
Verdict: Jolly japes


- NZ Herald

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