It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but Get Duked! – which was titled Boyz in the Wood until a few weeks ago – is much better than it initially seems. What begins as a stilted culture-clash comedy – three misfit city kids are dispatched to the wild Scottish Highlands to complete their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – turns out to be an inventive and politically-charged blast.
Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) – spoiler: his real name isn’t actually DJ Beatroot – arrive in the Highlands with their uptight teacher Mr Carlyle (Good Omens‘ Jonathan Aris) to atone for their bad behaviour at school. Once they get off the minibus, they realise they’ve been joined by Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a pompous home-schooled kid who has a touch of Will from The Inbetweeners about him. Geeky Ian is as enthusiastic about taking his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as the other boys are ambivalent. Actually, they don’t even know who the Queen’s husband is.
Mildly creepy Mr Carlyle leaves the awkward foursome to make their own way to a campsite several miles away with only an old-fashioned map to guide them – they’re gutted to discover there’s no 3G in the Highlands. At this point the uninspired crude humour of the film’s opening stretch gives way to something more surreal as the boys are shot at by a posh oddball Duke (Eddie Izzard) and his equally freaky Duchess (Georgie Glen). Wearing bizarre masks that make them look like a cross between Tubbs and Edward from The League of Gentlemen and a demonic Mrs. Doubtfire, they’re major snobs on a mission. Every summer, they treat “common” DofE students as “vermin” to be culled when they show up hoping to hone their orienteering skills.
Though Get Duked! relies on a few tired comic ideas– wannabe hip-hop star DJ Beatroot turns out to be a middle-class kid from a leafy London suburb – it generally manages to transcend them. In his debut feature film, writer-director Ninian Doff injects a welcome hint of sweetness to proceedings and gives Dean a final-act opportunity to make a political speech that isn’t exactly subtle, but should resonate with younger viewers nonetheless. Doff, who’s previously directed music videos for Run the Jewels, Royal Blood and Kasabian, also displays his visual flair in some hilarious trippy action scenes. Playing a local farmer who shows the boys how to “put the high into Highlands”, Braveheart and Game of Thrones legend James Cosmo nails his extended cameo.
Get Duked! was dubbed a “future cult classic” when it won an Audience Award at SXSW last year. That’s a big prediction, but in the meantime, there’s no denying that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has never been this much fun.
- Director: Ninian Doff
- Starring: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, James Cosmo
- Release date: August 28 (Amazon Prime Video)