Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution

Why is it that the only British comedies that seem to actually be funny these days are centred around the North or with Northern characters? Although Mrs Ratcliffe?s Revolution is set in East Germany (DDR), its central characters originally hail from Yorkshire, or, as the film?s tagline would have it, it?s the story of one man?s dream of transporting his family from the world of Marks & Spencer to the world of Marx and Lenin.

Based on the true story of Brian Norris, this is the tale of a family from Bingley, who defect to East Germany in the late 1960s so that they can live according to patriarch Frank Ratcliffe?s Communist ideals. Although wife Dorothy has her doubts, she suppresses them; 17-year-old Alex wants to rebel against everything; and 11-year-old Mary worships her father and his philosophy.

Once they arrive in the DDR, however, they discover that the realities of their life there aren?t quite what they envisaged. Increasingly isolated (and afraid her husband has succumbed to the charms of the glamorous Fraulein Unger), Dorothy strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young boy, unwittingly setting in motion a chain of events that lead her to becoming an enemy of the state.

For this tale of idealism betrayed and inner strength realised, the producers couldn?t have picked a better leading lady than Catherine Tate, whose comedy success makes us forget that she?s a much-in-demand dramatic actress, too. She embodies Dorothy?s growth from a rather oppressed but well-meaning housewife into a dynamic, take-charge heroine, all without sacrificing her sweetness and reality. Most of Mrs Ratcliffe?s comedy comes from sharp observation as well as the strength of the cast?s comedic delivery and timing, and here Miss Tate excels.

Iain Glen?for once in a sympathetic role?conveys Frank?s political obsession well, and, as the children, Brittany Ashworth makes a striking debut as the rebellious Alex, and Jessica Barden makes the most of a strong part as the eerily compliant Mary. Nigel Betts is wonderfully vulnerable and sweet as Dorothy?s neurotic fish out of water brother Phillip.

The German members of the cast also add great charm. Heike Makatsch seems to be cornering the market in seductive husband-stealers (she tempted Alan Rickman in Love Actually) and Alexander Scheer has a real gift for comedy.

But it?s Katharina Thalbach, as crafty neighbour Anna, who completely steals the film. You admire her guile and discover her sweetness and loyalty and the actress?s timing is simply flawless. And what an expressive face!

It may not be side-splitting, but Mrs Ratcliffe?s gentle humour will warm you as the nights draw in.