Film review: The English pub trilogy


Recently I watched three films in rapid succession: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013). Although they are all distinct films with different characters and the stories are unrelated, they form a trilogy in that all three were written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, were directed by Wright, and starred Pegg and Nick Frost who plays Pegg’s sidekick. They also featured appearances by Martin Freeman (all three films), Bill Nighy (two films), Steve Coogan (one film), and two ex-Bonds Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton (one each).

All three are comedies but with over-the-top violence and gore of a cartoonish nature. The first had Pegg as an everyman, a shop assistant, who finds himself suddenly confronted with a zombie epidemic in London. The second sees him as a straight-arrow police constable with a performance record so outstanding that he shows up the incompetency of the rest of the London force who conspire to ship him off to what seems like the most peaceful village in England but once there, he stumbles upon a series of gruesome deaths that to his amazement the locals, despite all evidence to the contrary, dismiss as accidents while being intensely concerned about the menace posed by street artists. The third film deals with Pegg as a total loser, a recovering addict who rounds up his more successful high school friends to return to his small hometown to complete what they failed to do just after they graduated and that is complete an epic pub crawl. In the process the groups discovers that their hometown has changed in a mysterious way.

The films are good fun although the fight scenes sometimes tend to go on a little too long.

One common thread through all the films is the English pub which is why gave the trilogy that name. (Another one is jumping over fences.) It seems to be the center of life for all the characters. It struck me that the pub seems to be to be a uniquely English institution, a place that provides people with a sense of belonging and camaraderie, a home away from home where people regularly meet and socialize. When I visit my relatives in England, they seem to have adopted the practice and insist on ‘taking me round to the pub’ when we could have just as easily spent the evening talking at home. When I visit my cousins in Australia or New Zealand, where English cultural influences are strong, that does not happen.

I don’t think that the coffee shops and bars in the US have that same quality of attracting their customers on a nightly basis. But since I am someone who never frequents bars and thinks that a good time is one spent quietly at home, maybe I am wrong. Maybe readers in other countries of the world could point to similar institutions.

Here are trailers for the three films.

Comments

  1. tso says

    Cornetto trilogy!

    I was pleasantly surprised by World’s End, and might believe it to be the strongest of the three. Bit too different than the others to say for sure. Very energetic; felt like it was less obviously paying homage to body snatchers /etc than the others.

  2. AnotherAnonymouse says

    My family’s favorite is Shaun of the Dead, because it best showcases the English way of downplaying the most ludicrous situations so as not to ‘make a fuss’ For example, when the zombies attack the pub, Shaun’s mum pulls down the window shade. There; problem solved. Or when Shaun’s step-father is bitten and slowly becomes a zombie before their very eyes, his mother comments that the stepfather “is feeling a little bitey”.

  3. MNb says

    ” It struck me that the pub seems to be to be a uniquely English institution, a place that provides people with a sense of belonging and camaraderie, a home away from home where people regularly meet and socialize.”
    The Netherlands and Belgium have this culture too, though it has declined last few decades.

  4. Alverant says

    What do you do at the pub and how much do you spend each visit? It seems to me it would be a tremendous amount of money over the month. I’ve heard of people “getting a drink or two” after work which would quickly add up to many hours and dollars spent even if done on a weekly basis. I’ve always been a “get your business done and get out” guy. I don’t linger around bars when I’m finished so maybe there’s something I just don’t get.

  5. Mano Singham says

    @Alverant,

    I am not a pub guy because I am not that sociable. But as far as I know, I think that many pubs have games like darts and they also serve food. Many of them seem to be family friendly so it’s a little different from the bar scene in the US.

    The cost can add up if you go regularly and some people do so almost on a daily basis but maybe not as much as we think. The custom is for each person to buy a round of drinks for the group. So if you meet with four people, for the cost of four beers, you can enjoy an evening with friends. I think drinking more expensive hard liquor is less common. I suspect that for many the appeal is a social one, creating an extended family of sorts.

    As I said, I have never lived in England as an adult or frequented pubs so my knowledge is entirely second-hand. I hope someone more familiar with that world will chime in.

    There was an enjoyable film with Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, and an ensemble of fine actors called Last Orders that centered on a group of pub regulars.

  6. Scott John Harrison says

    Where on earth did you get the idea that it was called the English pub trilogy? – it’s official title is “Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy” also known as the blood and ice cream trilogy.

  7. says

    Alverant@4
    Although there is a tradition for people who work together to go for a couple after work, this is exclusively on a Friday.
    We pop into the local pub to meet and converse with members of our local community, share stories and gossip.
    And yes it has become expensive as the government piles more and more tax onto alcohol.
    I think it was Voltaire (but cant be arsed checking) who pointed out that the English didn’t need a “public square” as they had the pub.
    Because of ever increasing above inflationary taxation on alcohol, coupled with the large supermarket chains being allowed to sell alcohol as a below cost loss leader for consumption at home, 18 pubs a week are closing in the UK. Some of us wonder if the government read Voltaire and didn’t like it.

  8. says

    oh! and just a quick and genuine question to Alverant who I’m going to assume is North American.
    My only experience of American “bars” comes from TV and films, but the depiction always seems to be of long dark tunnel like affairs with blacked out windows, the complete antithesis of a British pub which will have large wrap around windows, to both look out of on a quiet afternoon or advertise the welcoming atmosphere to those passing by.

    The fact is these bars, and of course I don’t know if this is just a Hollywood depiction, remind me of nothing other than a sex shop, where the interior activities are considered so shameful that the innocent passer by must be protected from viewing them and the denizens identities protected.

    Do North Americans consider the goings on in a bar in such a shameful way?

  9. sumdum says

    If you like these you should also see Paul. The two guys go on a roadtrip in the USA and pick up a runaway alien.

  10. Dunc says

    Pub games are a good deal less common than they used to be… In fact, pub culture as a whole is suffering, due to rising prices, changing living patterns (more people living in suburbs and commuting by car), and an increasing tendency to drink at home instead.

    What do you do? Drink, talk, read the paper, do the crossword… Socialise in a sort of general, non-specific kind of way. I’ll often pop in to the local at the end of my working week (I work a slightly strange week, ending on Thursday, so unfortunately it’s less sociable than it might be). The pub I use for this has an ever-changing selection of guest beers, so I’ll have a pint of the most interesting-looking new beer on the bar, read a paper or two (these are provided for customers), and chat to the bar staff or anybody else who seems interested. Maybe do a crossword or a Sudoku. Crosswords can be quite social, as people will collaborate to try and solve clues they can’t get themselves. I’ll normally stay for no more than a pint or two, which takes around an hour to an hour and a half, and costs somewhere in the region of GBP4 – GBP6.

    If you’re going out for a longer “session” with a group of friends, you can easily spend an evening out for around GBP20 each.

  11. doublereed says

    I preferred Hot Fuzz, which I thought just had a better story and jokes. But they’re all totally hilarious and funny films.

    But in America it’s not that uncommon for people to go to Happy Hour every now and then after work. Seems to be the same concept. It should be noted that America has more people that abstain from alcohol than Europe and Canada. Remember, America is a country that passed a constitutional amendment banning alcohol. It’s not surprising that we don’t have as much of a ‘pub culture.’

  12. says

    Thanks Reginald, although not entirely what I was getting at your link did illustrate the point.

    The only bar in the 12 photographed that had a window was in Hong Kong if I remember the film correctly.

    Its not what goes on inside that I am wondering about , but the fact that one cant see inside an American bar from the street. Again I only get this from TV but think of Mo’s bar in the simpsons, no outside windows at street level, or the Drunken clam in Family guy, again no windows looking out into the street.

    Is this usual? and does it indicate that drinking in America needs to be done “behind closed doors?” Is there a street drinking culture for example, where pubs and local licensing authorities allow customers to take their drinks outside and enjoy the all too rare sunshine while drinking?

  13. MNb says

    “What do you do at the pub …..”
    What I did, but absolutely not on a regular base, was hanging around with some acquaintances and play cardgames the entire night. Plus drinking beer. The few times I did it was immensely fun.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    Speaking of the End of the World…the last pub crawl I went on was about 30 years ago, in Leeds. Fuzzy memories of walking through an area in which all the buildings had been demolished, except the pubs. A tolerable Apocalypse, that.

  15. lochaber says

    America is weird about it’s alcohol. It seems to flip-flop twixt peer-pressure frat-boy competitive binge drinking attitudes and puritanical temperance attitudes.

    I’m currently in an urban area, so most of the building spaces are long and narrow, with a small opening on the street, which usually has only a door and a couple windows, so a relatively windowless bar kinda makes sense due to architectural constraints. Then again, when I’ve lived in rural or suburban type areas, Most bars generally lacked windows, or only had them up above head height. Not sure if this is just sorta customary, or if it’s something like windows at normal level are prone to getting broken, or perhaps security measures, or something else. Maybe it’s just to keep things dimmer during daylight hours?

  16. coragyps says

    I think – no proof – that at least some states in the USA have (or once had) laws requiring near-windowless bars. After all, if you could see in, poor innocent little children might see alcohol being consumed!! That would be nearly as horrific as seeing people dancing!

    And yes, Anson, Texas, 60 miles from here, had ordinances against both beer and dancing until quite recently.

  17. says

    lochaber and coragyps thanks for the replies.
    It made sense that the urban bars that I’d see in police procedural and Scorsese films would have limited windows because of the architecture, but then I would watch a film with a scene in a bar that appeared to have no reason not to have windows, and it made me wonder if it was a cultural thing.

    Windowless pubs are the antithesis of the British experience. Arthur Smith, a British comedian once said “there is no greater pleasure in life than a good book in a quiet pub”, and I agree, but for the pleasure to be complete one needs to be sat at a window seat to occasionally stare thoughtfully out at the world passing by.

    I wont overly congratulate ourselves though. About 10 years ago when I was hip enough to hang around in hip bars in Shoreditch, London, I was caught up in a raid of bars that were accused of allowing “rhythmical movement to music” against their licensing conditions. The Dutch guys I was with couldn’t stop laughing as they were interviewed by the licensing authorities.

  18. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    but then I would watch a film with a scene in a bar that appeared to have no reason not to have windows, and it made me wonder if it was a cultural thing.

    I think a lot of that may be down to the LA/NY based entertainment industry “writing what they know,” but we do have both bars and pubs here on the west coast at least (although you can’t always judge by the name.) There are plenty of narrow, windowless, dimly-lit “dive” bars (more suited for nighttime revelry or day-drinking misery), but any decent sized town will have one or two well-lit establishments with window seats and decent food. The latter may or may not serve hard liquor, but will certainly have a good selection of microbrews, and may very well have their own brewery.

  19. Reginald Selkirk says

    I think – no proof – that at least some states in the USA have (or once had) laws requiring near-windowless bars. After all, if you could see in, poor innocent little children might see alcohol being consumed!! That would be nearly as horrific as seeing people dancing!

    I was in an establishment in Utah, and they had a display of wine bottles up above the bar. I mentioned something about it, and the barkeep informed me that it was a fake disaplay, and all the bottles were empty, and this was somehow necessary to comply with Utah law. (Utah is famous for Mormons, who are nto supposed to drink)

    Considering the city in which i live, many bars have windows through which people can see in or out.
    Street drinking is discouraged in many places, but that’s down to local regulations.

  20. says

    Thanks guys, as you say its down to the media representation then. I’m glad its possible in America to sit in a window of a quite pub and nurse a drink, while watching the world go by.

    It really is one of the great pleasures in life.

  21. says

    Mano,
    I think the closest thing we can find (to the British Pub experience) in Cleveland is the Barking Spider Tavern (behind Alumni House on Juniper Road.) They have live music every night and many regular patrons. It is popular with Case Faculty and Staff as well as people from the local museums. I have a group I meet with there on a weekly basis. I think the appeal is that it is the kind of place that encourages thoughtful conversation between people from different backgrounds. It also has an outdoor patio where people meet others simply by sharing tables. I guess the reason it most feels like a British pub is that it has developed a sort of niche – it appeals to music fans and to freethinkers. As an introvert I feel comfortable there because I know I’m going to run into people with similar attitudes. They also only serve beer and wine (no hard alcohol) which keeps away the heavy drinking party types. It still might not be your scene, but it does have more of the living room vibe than most bars.

  22. Mano Singham says

    @Heidi,

    You know, I have never been into the Barking Spider and keep forgetting about its existence even though it is so proximate to the campus. It seems invisible since it does not have street frontage but is buried in the back yards of other buildings. I always wonder how it manages to attract customers and stay in business. I should check it out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *