The film begins in the aftermath of a car accident. A vehicle lies on its roof, smoke streaming from its upended bottom on a dark, street-lit road. A moment or two go by before you realize someone is climbing their way out of the car. From the ski mask he’s wearing and the gun in his hand, it’s very easy to identify him as “the bad guy”. But then he stands up, grabs a heavy black bag presumably full of loot, and attempts to blow up the car by shooting at it, gangster-movie style. When the bullets bounce harmlessly off the side of the car, he grunts in frustration behind the mask and hobbles off – in a comically un-gangster way. As he does so, jaunty music begins to play.
This scene rightly sets the tone for the rest of the film, which plays along the fine edge of serious drama and absurd comedy. And, in my opinion, filmmaker Christopher Granier-Deferre pretty much nails it.
The premise: middle-aged English school teacher Mike (played by Jamie Parker) has booked a cottage in Normandy – just across the English Channel – for a weekend getaway with his new, young lover. Inexplicably, while preparing to go and pick her up from the ferry dock, he stops by a hardware store to pick up a shovel and a pickaxe. When she calls him mid-shopping to let him know she had arrived at the Portsmouth ferry (12 hours early, due to a miscommunication in his instructions regarding arrival time), you realize that his new lover is really young – she’s his 17-year-old student, Trish (played by Kirsty Oswald).
Her understanding of this weekend getaway is as a celebration of them becoming “official” – he had promised to leave his wife and this was the culmination of that process. But as it turns out, he has quite different plans.
En route to the cottage, they pass by a pair of French gendarmes (played by Bernard Blancan and Didier Vinson) inspecting the car wreck from the first scene and discussing between themselves as to where the missing man might have gone with the gold after killing his two associates in the car. They catch sight of Trish peering out of the car in curiosity as they drive by, and seem to take a mental note.
Mike and Trish get to the cottage, discover that the ski-masked figure from the accident is slumped in their cottage bathroom, and simultaneously discover his bag holding over half a million pounds worth of gold coins. Trish’s first instinct is to call the police, but Mike – who paid for the rental car, the tools, and presumably the cottage in cash – is not about to risk having his secret rendezvous exposed. He convinces her that the money is the answer to all their problems, and all they have to do is bury the man whose body is upstairs, take the money and start a new life. So, they go out to the fields in the back, and begin to dig a hole for the body. Meanwhile, upstairs, the eyes behind the ski mask open and the man wakes up.
What follows is a series of eventful happenings laced with dark humour where each character’s motivations come to light, and you begin to realize that certain loyalties lie in the most unusual of places.
Vincent, the notably handsome young criminal (played by The Returned’s Pierre Perrier) offers Trish the glamorous globetrotting life she desires in a bid to get her to double-cross Mike. Not long after, Mike – ignorant of this – attempts through alternate threats and coercion to get Vincent to take care of his own problem for him, Trish – the reason he came all the way across the Channel to a remote cottage in the French countryside.
No spoilers here, because Mike’s not-so-noble intentions coupled with his innate cowardice are made clear early on in the film. However, the real surprise in this film comes with the triple cross that turns the whole situation on its head. Meanwhile, the two police officers just keep mysteriously popping up at unexpected times, revealing through their conversations with each other that they know far more about the situation at hand than they let on.
For a movie involving murder, double-crosses and dark (but evocative) thriller-like cinematography, this film had me laughing out loud and rooting for the character that appeared the most fragile but turned out to have the steeliest spine.
Dirty Weekend is a fascinating and funny tale of hubris, corruption, crisscrossing fates, and the lengths some people will go to in order to preserve the status quo of their lives.