Loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead trades Roman politicking and murder for a disastrous family party where everyone is yelling and no one is listening. It might lower the stakes somewhat from the original, but this by no means decreases the dread and discomfort – this is a Ben Wheatley film after all.
Colin (Neil Maskell), a financially successful husband and father, has rented out a lordly manor to host his dysfunctional family for a New Year’s party that serves to both bring the Bursteads together and less-than-subtly remind everyone that Colin is the head of the household.
What he hasn’t prepared for is his sister Gini (Hayley Squires) inviting his estranged, and equally wealthy, brother David (Sam Riley), who is looking to reconnect with his family and establish himself as its new king.
Colin Burstead is spectacularly well-written, Wheatley’s dense, rapid-fire dialogue packed with laughs and crafting a believable family dynamic. This is recognisably how families talk to one another, albeit laced with more venom than you’d want in reality, but it’s never mundane or boring.
A stellar ensemble cast – also including Charles Dance, Doon Mackichan, and many more – are more than a match for the material and share a horrible chemistry that suggests years of hurt and resentment. Generally sticking to a fly on the wall style, Wheatley also allows himself some flourishes befitting his source material. Renaissance music cues and regal camerawork break up the kitchen sink realism, and Riley in particular cuts a princely figure as he strides about the manor.
A couple of subplots get left by the wayside as Colin Burstead barrels towards its conclusion, but this is a small price to pay for a surprisingly emotional finale that places Wheatley’s film square in the Shakespearean context of overthrown rulers and prodigal children.
CAST: Neil Maskell, Sam Riley, Hayley Squires, Doon Mackichan, Bill Paterson, Charles Dance, Joe Cole, Sarah Baxendale, Sura Dohnke
DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley
WRITER: Ben Wheatley
SYNOPSIS: Colin hires a lavish country manor for his extended family to celebrate New Year. Unfortunately for Colin, his position of power in the family is under serious threat from the arrival of his estranged brother David.