Film review: the Johnny English trilogy

Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again prove ideal brainless festive watching

“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari Desert carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of sherbet lemons”

I don’t believe in any of my pleasures being guilty, if something makes you smile then who is anyone else to dictate whether that’s acceptable? The Johhny English film trilogy – Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) – holds a special place in my heart (well, the first two do) as they formed the backdrop to a couple of great family holidays and several of the funnier lines have snuck into the family vernacular.

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English is an amusing entry into the series. Rowan Atkinson’s English is a hapless MI7 employee whose bumbling sees their top agent accidentally killed and then all their other agents massacred in a bomb at his funeral. As the sole agent left, he has to thwart a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and decipher John Malkovich’s comedy villain French accent.

It is constantly silly but frequently chucklesome through his interactions with partner Angus (Ben Miller) and mysterious INTERPOL colleague Lorna (Natalie Imbruglia). For me though, the series hits its heights with Johnny English Reborn. Directed this time by Oliver Parker with Hamish McColl’s screenplay from William Davies’ story, something here just clicks that much better, not least a fantastic supporting cast including Daniel Kaluuya, Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson and Dominic West all having the time of their life.

Set seven years later, this film sees English trying to uncover a secret cabal with ties to intelligence agencies across the globe. But unsurprisingly, the plot really isn’t that important as it is just the spine on which some genius comic shenanigans play out. The interrupted showdown in the men’s bogs, the wheelchair chase, the lipstick stuff and best of all, the scene with the office chair which is so simple but just sublimely done.

It is thus not that big of a shock that 2018’s return to the franchise – Johnny English Strikes Again – doesn’t live up to comparison. Written by William Davies and directed by David Kerr and bringing back Ben Miller’s Angus as his partner, it just doesn’t hit anywhere near the comic marks for me as the film retreads familiar ground but with diminishing returns. It remains amiably watchable though – now set the sat nav for Switzerland and let’s kick some bottom.

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