Film preview: Numbskull

The launch of Brum producers Compact Cinema’s new film is a bittersweet affair, following the recent death of its beloved star. John Kennedy looks ahead to Numbskull. Photo: Richard Shakespeare.

If Philomena Cunk’s recent TV odyssey celebrating the Bard’s life – “Maybe he was more than a just bald bloke who wrote plays with a feather?” – has whet your thespian appetite, then Numbskull is the film for you.

The work of Birmingham production company Compact Cinema, it is with added poignancy that its launch follows the recent death of Brum’s Paul Murphy, who was intimately bound up in the film’s long genesis and final cut. Troubadour, esoteric journeyman, songwriter, musician, poet, playwright, novelist and more, many people will remember Paul for myriad reasons, and the unifying bond (apart from possibly owing them money – or more likely charming their girlfriends giddy) was his inexhaustible generosity of spirit. His boundless enthusiasm for whatever projects he was currently involved in was complemented by his ferocious imagination and ravenous curiosity. Paul lived to see several private screenings before his untimely death. He was immensely proud of it.

Shakespeare’s tombstone was marked with a curse. Conspiracy theories abound as to the whereabouts of the Bard’s skull. 200 years later, local myth has it that it was stolen by two unlikely local lads, who after misfortunes abandoned the skull in a crypt somewhere near Birmingham. Now it is the turn of the elderly Spud and Nev to lay the curse to rest and see the skull returned to its rightful owner. Not so simple as it seems, as they soon discover – unlike the skull’s owner, the curse is very much alive. Perhaps the mysterious “Dark Lady” hovering above their clandestine activities will help keep them likewise?

Folk tales and mythical explanations generate ever more labyrinthine self-feeding fantasies. Numbskull describes itself as a “contemporary, compelling, dark and trippy continuation of those myths”. Think Banquo’s ghost gatecrashing a Stratford chippy. Picture the Three Witches queuing in Primark. Imagine –  the horror, the horror – Titus Andronicus for vegetarians! Hamlet’s uncle slaughtering chickens – “he did murder most foul!”

Compact Cinema suggests we “don’t be a Numbskull – be at the launch!”

Numbskull launches at the Mac on Tuesday May 24. For more information, visit



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