Looking at Rotten Tomatoes’ ranking of 2023’s best releases, it isn’t until #71 that you get to a film with a score lower than 90%. Yes, this has been an incredible year for film with some magnificent performances and incredible films – including new masterpieces from Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan among others. Who would’ve thought that my personal favourite film of the year so far would be a little documentary about Cromer Pier?
Filmed in glorious, nostalgic 16mm, Seaside Special is a fly-on-the-wall look at the charming locals of Cromer in 2019 as they prepare for their annual end-of-the-pier show – the last of its kind in the UK, and indeed the world. Both a time capsule to a bygone era and a love letter to a town keeping tradition alive, Seaside Special is a warm hug of a film. The film’s German director Jens Meurer subtitled the film “A Love Letter from Europe”, and that feeling is certainly felt throughout. The film is full of affection for its subject.
Seaside Special is endlessly charming, and if you told me it was an elaborate mockumentary, I’d almost believe you – some of the individuals onscreen are so wonderfully quirky and quintessentially British that they could pass as well-observed comedy characters in a satire. I was reminded throughout of Theater Camp, especially in the behind-the-scenes production of the pier show. But there’s so much love here that the people of Cromer are not presented as the butt of any joke, but as oddly endearing and loveable people. It’s inspiring to see so much love and joy, and the film is without a doubt the best Britain has ever looked on screen – maybe not always visually, but certainly in feeling. It certainly made me feel proud.
There is a lot here about Brexit – many of the interviewees share their thoughts on the controversial subject, and which side they voted. One humorous, albeit frustrating, moment features a young dancer complaining about Brexit being voted in before admitting she didn’t even vote because she’s an “anarchist”. But the film remains neutral and doesn’t get too politically-charged, thankfully. One sequence which could almost be seen as meta sees a planning meeting for the pier show discuss that Brexit should only be lightly referenced at best, and performers certainly shouldn’t “take a side”.
The film is certainly at its best when not focusing on the political, which indeed puts the film into a very specific timeline of 2019, and instead the passion of the people of Cromer and their pride. There is a somewhat sad coda to the film – one of the people we have been following throughout the film is revealed to have passed shortly after production, and of course there is a sadness in knowing Covid-19 was soon going to rear its head and close the country down. But on the whole, Seaside Special is an uplifting and inspiring reminder of the power of community, tradition, and showbiz.
I absolutely adored every second of Seaside Special – from the glorious 16mm visuals that lend to the film’s nostalgic approach to tradition and the seaside, to the great number of loveable people we spend the film’s 90 mins with – the film is heartwarming throughout. It made me feel proud to be British (which is a rare pride indeed), and I cannot recommend it enough.
SEASIDE SPECIAL comes to UK & Irish Cinemas from 10th November
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