Bowler hats, prudes and cod sauce: New Astérix film does little to challenge French clichés about Britain


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The Independent Culture

However much the island now governed by Davidcameronix may have changed over the years, the indomitable French clichés about Britain will always, and forever, resist.

At 5pm all Britons, even women giving birth, stop for tea. All food is served in mint and cod flavoured sauce. Men invariably wear bowler hats or berets with bobbles on them. Women always wear tweed skirts. Both men and women find it impossible to talk freely about sex - or anything else. On the other hand, London is energetic and trendy and makes Paris look like a theme park.

Every recorded French cliché about Britain is joyously served up – and then reheated and served again – in a new Asterix movie which appeared on French cinema screens today.

In Astérix au service de Sa Majesté (Astérix on Her Majesty’s Service), the indomitable Gaul and his gigantic buddy, Obelix, take their resistance to Roman rule across the Channel. They are called to the rescue by the besieged Queen of the “Bretons”, who is played with a delightful English accent by the queen of the French cinema, Catherine Deneuve.

As Queen Cordelia, Ms Deneuve wears bright orange or turquoise dresses with yellow accessories. No reference to any living British queen is intended. She displays a fiercely Royal or British lack of emotion. When a Roman missile crushes her pet dogs, she purses her lips and rings her bell for the servants.

Much of the fun – to a French audience at any rate – is to hear Ms Deneuve, and other members of a distinguished French cast talking in British accents and getting their words in the wrong order. Imagine ’Allo, ’Allo in reverse and set 2,000 years earlier. Pity the actors who have to dub the film into English.

Valerié Lemercier, actress and stand-up comedian, takes understated Britishness marvellously over the top as “Miss Mackintosh”, a spinster who falls in love with Obelix. Just as in the first three Asterix movies, the man mountain is played by Gérard Depardieu, who needs less and less artificial padding as the series progresses.

The director of the movie, Laurent Tirard, says that he intended to make an affectionate tribute to the “unpenentrable” character of Britain, not just a cliché-ridden mockery. Perhaps.

A “British joke” is told by Asterix as he rows across the Channel (with an illegal immigrant in the back of the boat). “Question: What do you call a good looking man in Britain? Answer: A tourist.”

The “Bretons”, just as in the original comic-book from 1966, have an inexplicable love of drinking warm water. The illegal immigrant in Asterix’s boat turns out to be an Indian, who happens to have a tea plant with him. When the Gauls’ magic potion is lost, the tea leaves are added to the warm water and a new magic potion is born.

When they reach a British pub, the emissaries from Gaul are served wild boar in mint and cod sauce. Obelix, who usually eats ten wild boar at a time, is unable to manage more than a mouthful. The script-writers have evidently never heard of “Jamieoliverix”.

On the other hand, “Londinium” is presented as a trendy, happening kind of city, which makes “Lutece” (Paris) look 2,000 years behind the times. The movie also mocks the French. Obelix and Asterix ask their stuck-up British guide what the “Bretons” think of the “Gauls”.

He replies: “We tend to think that you are arrogant, noisy, over-sexed, cowardly and smelly”. That just about covers it.