The words "Ray Winstone" and "east end" in conjunction with each other have a real habit of making me cringe, even more so when they form the basis for the concept of a film. Throw in ‘gangsters’ and ‘the sixties’ and the effect is compounded. So despite my utter dread, and with huge trepidation I sat down to watch The Hot Potato, expecting the worst, and yet I was, mostly, pleasantly surprised.
The Hot Potato is the story of Kenny, who owns the local metal works in the east end, and Danny his former apprentice, who brings a mystery box to Kenny that he has acquired from a government facility after an explosion. Kenny examines the metal, and they eventually discover they have been exposed to uranium. Shocked, they take it to local gangsters Bill and Ben (twins), who attempt to find a buyer for the ‘hot potato’, which leads them on an adventure all over Europe in an attempt to sell the stolen uranium.
Although from the synopsis The Hot Potato may sound more like a drama than anything else, it is very much pitched as a comedy caper. The sprawling adventure of Danny, Kenny, and Kenny’s assistant Carole, as they meet various potential buyers in Germany, Belgium, and Italy have the feel of the 1960’s carry on style romps, only without the cliché bawdy sequences which made Carry on such a unique franchise. It has a light humour to it, which makes it an easy film to watch and it is very well laid out, with a logical linear story throughout, even despite the inevitable twists and turns.
Winstone shows a surprising versatility in The Hot Potato. My expectations for him were admittedly low, especially given the genre, but he is surprisingly effective, and brings a suave debonair quality to Kenny, as he transforms from a gambling, everyday local businessman to international man of mystery. He is the heartbeat of the film, and the character easiest to relate to. Colm Meaney and Jack Huston provide good supporting turns, while Lois Winstone is convincing in her fairly one dimensional role.
However, despite excelling far beyond my preconceived fears, The Hot Potato does have a number of flaws, most noticeably in terms of the logic of the plot. While the audience is always going to have to suspend its collective disbelief to an extent, it is difficult to ignore the convenience of the plot. Surely the British government was, even in 1969, not so lackadaisical that they didn’t notice a large lump of uranium was missing, and even if they didn’t it is hard to believe that Danny is able to just sneak out a huge case from a government facility without anyone even noticing. It seems incredibly illogical. Although not as illogical as the idea that Ray Winstone is married to Louise Redknapp, which feels an odd fit considering the age difference and, without being offensive towards Mr Winstone, that she is far more attractive than he is.
Still, the biggest gripe I have by far with The Hot Potato is the lack of laughs. For a comedy, there is a genuine shortage of humorous moments, which is a shame because the story is highly engrossing, and a few knowing gags could have put it more into the same realm as the sort of films it so desperately wants to be, and so almost succeeds in being. Unfortunately, it falls just short, and never quite fulfils its potential, despite being an enjoyable, if not somewhat flawed nostalgia trip through a long lost genre.
EXTRAS ★ The theatrical trailer; cast and crew interviews.