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Swede Caroline ★★★★



Released: 19th April 2024

Director: Brook Driver/Finn Bruce

Starring: Jo Hartley, Celyn Jones, Richard Lumsden

With the perpetual doom and gloom that comes with national news. We are often left digging a little deeper for ludicrous stories to brighten up our day, that just happen to be not far from our doorstep.

Directorial duo Brock Driver and Finn Bruce have clearly understood this assignment with mockumentary ‘Swede Caroline’, planting the seeds for a wickedly funny West Country whodunnit to develop. That for all its modest mystery, ultimately comes across as a light-hearted celebration of British eccentricity and the unconventional pastimes that grow dear to us.

Rooting its story in the market town of Shepton Mallet. We immediately enter the highly competitive world of vegetable growing, boasting under its tent an obscene level of phallic symbolism to rival an episode of Bake Off. She may craft elaborate tales about her deceased(?) ex-husband, but it’s those close to Caroline (Jo Hartley) that are truly ‘taking the cake’.

Embroiled in controversy the previous year. Caroline’s aspirations to bounce back and emerge victorious at the annual National Vegetable Championship, begin to wilt when her dear marrow is robbed from her greenhouse before the contest. To say her support network to uncover the truth is quite peculiar, would be an understatement. When not being a keyboard warrior via Facebook, Paul (Richard Lumsden) surveys the scene like he’s auditioning for Columbo. Supermarket own brand champion Willy (Celyn Jones) seems content to just be a humdrum friend with benefits. Meanwhile the super discreet pairing of Lawrence (Ray Fearon) and Louise (Aisling Bea) bring a whole new meaning to private detectives.

‘Swede Caroline’ does a sweet job at selling its knowingly wacky premise. Directors Driver/Bruce utilising dramatic zooms to capture priceless reactions as matters escalate. Coupled with the impeccable comedic timing of the deadpan anecdotes delivered by its ensemble, are utterly believable in fuelling the hysteria and inflated sense of self that creeps into these small towns when crime occurs. But for all the dirty tactics on show to muddy a fellow competitor’s reputation, there’s an earthy communal spirit that really shines through in this world too.

Not dissimilar to the conspiracy theories Paul entertains. ‘Caroline’s plotting as it looks to expand its action beyond the allotments, does perhaps get knotty in its final stretch. Yet any minor deficiency is swiftly balanced out by the sheer consistency of its comic zingers. Who knew boxing would be such a happy hunting ground for naming marrows!? Golden Age Hollywood? Less so.

Not one to overplay to the cameras. Jo Hartley as Caroline fully embodies the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mantra, displaying wonderful subtlety in her dissatisfaction of those around her. Leaving the larger-than-life antics to the likes of Richard Lumsden’s Paul, often hysterical in his explosive outbursts and how he quickly embraces a nonsensical claim. Skittish and seemingly punching above his weight in the beginning as Willy. Celyn Jones soon matches Lumsden rather gleefully in the outlandish stakes, with a revelation that leaves you baffled as to why he’s living the life he is.

To fittingly steal the surname from the man whose classic song is playfully referenced here. ‘Swede Caroline’ is a Diamond in the rough and is far better for it.

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