David Thewlis (3 stars)

The Late Hector Kipling (Picador)

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David Thewlis

BLACK COMEDY

When Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker came up with Nathan Barley on Channel 4 a couple of years back, many people were perturbed that its main sticking point was in poking fun at a group who seemed no longer ripe for satire. Surely ripping apart the leftfield end of the style mag revolution was just too 1997? So, when David Thewlis' main characters discuss the work of the Britart crew and namedrop the likes of the Chapman brothers, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, a similarly self-satisfied and rather pointless exercise in media-baiting appears to be looming. Well yes, and, actually, no. For Thewlis has an eye for grotesque minutiae and, unsurprisingly for an esteemed actor, a real for feel for dialogue and wordplay.

Hector Kipling is largely a frustrated artist, jealous of his friend Lenny's success in getting a place on the Turner Prize shortlist and scathing about most of his peers' work. When his most valuable creation is demolished in a freak accident and another contemporary announces that he has little time left on this planet, things don’t look as though they could get any worse for Hector. But they do, viciously and bloodily. The shift in tone from amusing resentment to terror-laden malice is slightly jarring while the artistic context isn't beefy enough to ease this diversion on its way. However, the latter moments of tension are aided by Thewlis' deft handling of his characters inevitably miserable fates.

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