Review: British Arrows more than make their point

Tom Long
The Detroit News

It starts out simply, with a young girl bouncing up and down on her bed at nighttime.

Cut to the girl’s backyard, where her father has just installed a trampoline with a Christmas bow on it. The little girl is going to be so happy in the morning.

Then, with the family fast asleep, a fox emerges from the hedges and climbs onto the trampoline. He starts bouncing gleefully. Soon there are two foxes, a skunk, raccoons, squirrels, all bouncing for joy. And watching them, from behind a sliding glass door, is the family’s dog, a boxer.

Come morning the critters are gone. The parents bring their daughter to the sliding glass door and she spies the trampoline, squirming with excitement. They open the door to let her run to it.

And the boxer races past her, leaps on the trampoline, and begins bouncing up and down, jowls flapping in ecstasy.

This is only one of the dozens of award-winning commercials featured in this year British Arrows collection, playing at the Detroit Film Theatre in multiple showings Tuesday-Thursday. The Arrows are awards — given out in bronze, silver and gold categories — for the best British commercials of the year.

Some of these go far beyond what Americans might think of as commercials. There’s a long road trip starring Kevin Hart and David Beckham that’s more like a celebrity comedy short. There’s a whirlwind biography of Thomas Burberry that stars Domnhall Gleeson, Lily James and Sienna Miller that’s a slice of history.

And there’s a great deal of inventive silliness. In one, a young man throws candies at the upstairs bedroom of a girl to get her attention; turns out she’s catching them in her mouth. And then her father, mother, grandmother and all manner of people show up and start catching them. In another, a soccer star and a young fan collide so hard that each ends up in the other’s body; the boy’s suddenly a star, the star’s suddenly a boy. And then there’s a scary space alien invasion that comes to a crushing halt.

Some are ethereal (a 50-year-old ballerina dances gracefully alongside a projected image of her 19-year-old self). Many are touching, such as when a Holocaust refugee and a young Syrian boat refugee tell their stories side by side. Another commercial imagines a young British girl fleeing chaos and becoming a refugee herself.

The topper, earning Commercial of the Year honors, is a musical-sports extravaganza promoting the Paralympics in Brazil. The singer rolls about in a wheelchair, the piano player has no fingers, the drummer plays with his feet, the dancers are one-legged. All the musicians and athletes have obstacles to overcome and all shine.

It is one of the most exhilarating things imaginable. And it’s a commercial. Imagine that.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

British Arrows 2017


Not rated

Running time: 80 minutes

At The Detroit Film Theatre