I apologise in advance for what will be one of the most obscure posts you will ever read on this site. As we count down to Christmas with some of our favourite seasonal films, I cannot help thinking back to my childhood. When I was young Christmas was perfect. I had no concept of post-work do hangovers, January credit card bills, or deciding when to encourage your children to question the existence of Father Christmas, in the same way you encourage them to think of Jesus as being a more boring Harry Potter.
No, Christmas for me meant spending a few weeks off school, eating chocolate whenever my parents weren’t looking, and Christmas television. You see, this post is about a TV movie which was only ever shown once on British television in 1991. And it starred an idol of mine at the time. Lenny Henry.
Bernard and the Genie is a Richard Curtis-penned comedy starring Alan Cumming (who went on to roles in Goldeneye, X-Men, and can currently be seen in the excellent The Good Wife) as an art-dealer sacked (by Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder territory) just before Christmas for being too nice. To make matters worse he finds out that his fiancé is sleeping with his best friend, and he is left in his empty flat, all alone at Christmas. Cue Mud.
Luckily he’s been left with a lamp, which contains a genie. Played by Lenny Henry.
Some (well, just me) would argue that Robin Williams’s acclaimed voice-work as the genie in Disney’s Aladdin a few years later owes a great debt to Henry in this film. I’m pretty sure everyone else would tell me to shut the fuck up. Henry’s genie plays a little hard and fast with the rules though. For a start he appears to be one of these new-fangled start-up genies offering unlimited wishes, unlike the traditional three wishes the old genie business model has trusted in for centuries.
Henry is perfectly cast as the man lost out of time in early-90s Britain. In classic culture-clash comedy style he is easily confused by modern bathroom amenities (washing his hair in the toilet and cleaning his ears with a toothbrush)…and hilarity ensues!
Out in public he discovers ice-cream, Big Macs, and Terminator 2…and hilarity ensues!
He tries to fix Bernard up with an attractive young lady and brings up the subject of dowries and child-bearing capability…well, you get the picture.
I freely admit that I cannot be objective about this film. It is very much of its time and hugely dated – and, in this case, that’s why I love it. It reminds me so much of 1991 it hurts. That was the year I went to big school, scored my first goal for my local football team (complete with Roga Milla dance), and bought my first cassette with my own money (Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing). Bernard and Genie is constantly throwing out pop culture references of the time (a youthful Melvin Bragg and Bob Geldof appear in cameos, Terminator 2 and Thelma and Louise are showing at the cinema, and Kylie Minogue is the object of every man’s desires – well, some things are timeless), and I revel in these references like a pig in shit, but shit made of wonderful memories.
Even if you could track a copy of Bernard and the Genie down, unless you saw it at the time I wouldn’t bother. You wouldn’t understand. You weren’t there, man!
Bernard and the Genie has only ever been shown once on UK television. You may be able to find a region-free copy on DVD from eBay. Don’t tell anyone I told you.