'Swede Caroline' Review: The Sort Of Movie Where You Need A Notebook To Write Down Quote After Quote
Credit: Belstone Pictures
The selection of films at Raindance this year was certainly enticing. But, when a film titled Swede Caroline appears, it must be attended to with haste. If there was an award for ‘best title’ then Swede Caroline would simultaneously win the award and end the prize category forever; how can vegetable-based puns ever be beaten? I won’t let the title overshadow the film, for Swede Caroline is also brilliant. It is the sort of movie where you need a notebook to write down quote after quote, in order to amass a cache of puns and pisstakes for general usage. Aside from its comedic achievements, Swede Caroline is surprisingly touching. The puns and quotes invite you in where you find your heart sufficiently warmed, almost roasted.
Swede Caroline follows Caroline (Jo Hartley), a competitive ‘big vegetable’ grower. Yes, take a minute to process that. Ready? Following a controversial judgement at the Shepton Mallet competition, Caroline begins work on her newest pièce-de-résistance, a giant marrow which is named Ricky. However, subterfuge, deception and dishonesty plague the world of competitive vegetable growing, leading Caroline and her fellow growers, garage conspiracy theorist Paul (Richard Lumsden) and cheerful-chappy Willy (Celyn Jones) into a seedy world of crime.
I know that sounds mad, and it is. In fact, it actually gets madder. Shockingly, the herbivorous chaos never gets out of hand. This is thanks to the glue that is Jo Hartley. Her performance is the centrifugal force of this film, sweeping up everything else in its wake. As a result, parody and pastiche, typically layered on thick in the mockumentary, are complemented, if not sidelined, by a massive helping of compassion. That’s not to say there aren’t other performance highlights. Richard Lumsden as the backyard conspiracy theorist Paul brings tenacious energy to the film, along with some excellent “dad” t-shirts. Meanwhile Celyn Jones as the affable Willy manages to bring depth to his character. Willy is not simply the idiot but the idiot with a heart of gold, another contributor to the absence of cynicism in this film. The mockumentary, as a genre, almost revolves around skepticism. So, to find a mockumentary that rejects that foundational principle of it’s own genre is a rare gem. In fact, to find any cinema which feels pure is a treasure; hold it close and don’t forget it.
The directorial debut of Finn Bruce and Brook Driver, Swede Caroline is clearly a passion project; one with a lot of phallic puns. This is evident in each character, all of which are loved in the way you might love your weird relative. Bruce and Driver’s attention to detail is another sign of the duos love for this project. Keen-eyes viewers are constantly rewarded with easter eggs in the frame, whether that be Paul’s t-shirts or an erroneous object in the set. My personal favourite is a Noel Edmund’s mug on Caroline’s mantelpiece. Who would have guessed I’d ever get so much enjoyment out of Noel Edmund’s face? Apologies to any Deal or No Deal fans out there. It’s clear that this nichest of the niche world of competitive vegetable growing has been long lived inside the heads of Bruce and Driver, long before any script was written.
As I watched a premonition piqued my filmic senses. Could a television series be on the cards? I hope so. Caroline, Paul and Willy’s escapades, vegetable related or not, would transfer effortlessly to the small screen. There’s a winning formula of character types in our three main characters, one which would be foolish not to expand upon. Whilst watching I could see endless reams of episodic ideas, one after the next, each one madder than the last. How would Paul fare at Thorpe Park? Does Willy succeed in the world of online dating? Will Caroline’s vegetable growing obsession leave her hating the greens she once loved so much? This is indulgent, I know, but one can’t help but get invested in these characters. It feels cruel to have such a short amount of time with them.
I can’t wait to see where Bruce and Driver go next. Something bigger or smaller, wherever it is, I’ll be there with a Noel Edmunds mug in hand. Lettuce just say, we are now going into un-chard-ed territory. (Forgive me).
Swede Caroline premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2022, and was shortlisted for Best UK Feature.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor