The Parole Officer: a forgotten British comedy with the most brilliant cast
The Parole Officer

Featuring Oscar-nominated icons, Game Of Thrones favourites and comedy greats, Blackpool and Manchester flick The Parole Officer had quite the acting line-up

Exactly 15 years on from its August 2001 release, you’d be hard-pressed to find any critic or film buff taking the time to salute the virtues of forgotten British comedy movie The Parole Officer.

And yet, looking back, there’s something really rather special about it.

The 2001 movie, set in Blackpool and Manchester and starring Steve Coogan as the bumbling, nerdy probation worker of the title, had a neat premise.

Coogan’s hapless character Simon stumbles upon a murder by a corrupt copper, and must call upon a lovable rogues’ gallery of former crook clients to help him clear his name, and ensure justice prevails.

It combines the whole ‘getting the gang back together’ formula with a fun heist caper. And though it’s hardly high-brow fare (highlights include Coogan throwing up on a Pleasure Beach rollercoaster, and accidentally snapping off a statue’s penis), the movie was a lot of fun, and relatively well-received on release.

Yet it also sank without trace soon after, and you rarely here it discussed now. It never really became a household Brit-Com, nor did it achieve status as a cult film.

But the movie’s extraordinary, eclectic cast is definitely something to write home about.

Heavyweight players

Coogan, who has himself gone on to flex his dramatic acting chops in the likes of Philomena, is joined by an enviable roll call of veteran supporting names.

Omar Sharif, the late, legendary star of such classics as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, cameos as a mysterious master-thief.

Omar Sharif

Jenny Agutter, iconic actress of beloved ’70s flicks The Railway Children, Walkabout, and Logan’s Run (not to mention 1981’s American Werewolf in London) has a memorable scene as the hi-tech criminal’s wife.

And then there’s Om Puri, one of India’s greatest all-time performers, and star of countless Bollywood productions, who you may recognise from various Hollywood roles and another Lancashire movie, the wonderful East Is East.

The North-West really did play host to some serious greats when this was in production.

Game Of Thrones connection

Fans of a certain popular fantasy show will recognise these two, for sure.

On the left we have Stephen Dillane, The Parole Officer’s chief antagonist, and a man now best-known as iron-willed would-be-king Stannis Baratheon in Game Of Thrones.

On the right we have Lena Headey who, long before providing one of the most fascinating, complex figures in the world of Westeros, charmed audiences here as a much more likable police presence – and a witty romantic foil for Coogan’s buffoon.

She’s been knocking it out of the park as Cersei (and her turn as the villainous Ma-Ma in Dredd was truly memorable), but The Parole Officer provided an early mainstream vehicle for her comic talents.

Comedy talent

Parole Officer

Speaking of which, there’s a keen smattering of humorous faces to further heighten proceedings.

As well as Coogan, who provides the beating heart of the film, you have Ben Miller – prime-time sketch partner of Alexander Armstrong, former star of Death In Paradise and general all-round charming comic – serving up a winning performance as a turned-straight crook who requires liberating from a life of eternal IT boredom.

Oh, and Simon Pegg, now a major Hollywood figure thanks to his turns in the Mission Impossible and Star Trek movies, also pops up briefly here as ‘Deflated husband’  – alongside the magnificent Julia Davis, no less.

Pegg would soon take another minor role alongside Coogan as a journalist in Madchester biopic 24 Hour Party People (the funeral scene, in case you’re wondering).

As casts go, it’s quite the fascinating mix. And The Parole Officer really benefits as a result.

The Parole Officer is available on DVD

More:

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Top 5 unsung Steve Coogan performances