‘A Family Affair’ Review: Maybe Hotel Comedies Should Be Left in the 70s

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A Family Affair (2024) © Fishcake Films
A Family Affair (2024) © Fishcake Films

Warren Fischer’s attempt at a hotelier comedy shows that maybe the genre should be left in the 1970s, as Joe Wilkinson bumbles along for the ride.

★☆☆☆☆

John Cleese has made many comments in recent years about how the comedies that made him could never be made today. And while for considerably different reasons than Cleese states, A Family Affair only proves his point that the Fawlty Towers approach to storytelling may be a relic of a former age.

In Warren Fischer’s hotel comedy, the hapless hotelier is Edward (Joe Wilkinson), whose attempts at running a silent meditation retreat clearly aren’t working. The property has been threatened with being sold, and as is always the case in these sorts of things, the public property auction has coincided with a visit from Edward’s in-laws Margaret and Walter (Jane Asher and Michael Maxwell), his recently widowed father Albert (David Sherwood), and Albert’s young carer Jessica (Jazzara Jaslyn) with whom he has a questionable relationship. And of course, the fact that they may lose the hotel is unknown to Edward’s wife Helen (Laura Aikman). 

Like all good British slapstick comedies, a lot of factors come into play to make the weekend chaotic: a guest has a heart attack, Jessica mistakes Walter as having money and tries to seduce him, there’s some casual accidental drugging, Edward has silly plots to try and save his business. But these well-worn tropes feel just that: worn. There is nothing new in this story, nothing fresh infused into the narrative to compel viewers’ attention. The jokes are all ones we’ve heard before, the characters ones we’ve seen a million times on our TV, but never in real life.

A Family Affair (2024) © Fishcake Films

Leading man Joe Wilkinson has built a brand of humour that toes the fine line of being remarkably silly but incredibly dry. While this makes Wilkinson a great comedian, he leans too much into the latter with this script. His fight for his hotel feels half-hearted, and he hasn’t got the over-the-top eccentricity that made Basil Fawlty, the figurehead of the genre, so loved back in the 70s. 

Laura Aikman is warm and likeable as Helen, but we don’t get shown enough of the relationship between her and Edward to be invested in it. She bears the burden of her husband caring more for his hotel than he does her,  but Aikman plays this frustration in such an understated way that the threat of her leaving him never feels as if it could actually be followed through. 

There are moments of genuine emotion scattered throughout the film, but it would have been better served by leaning into these more human moments; whether that’s the central relationship between Edward and Helen, or the shared grief between Edward and his father Albert, or even the completely relatable experience of struggling to impress your in-laws.

A Family Affair (2024) © Fishcake Films

This is not to say that all comedies need to be relatable to be funny, but if you’re going to rely on conventions that we’ve all seen before, there needs to be an incentive for people to remain on the journey with the central protagonists. 

In theory, A Family Affair had the potential to become a nostalgic reminder of classic British comedy, but its execution leaves very little to be desired. It’s a shame, because proving John Cleese right is never enjoyable. 

The Verdict

While its heart is in the right place, A Family Affair never actually displays that heart to its viewers. It’s a stale comedy that relies on stories we’ve already seen played out, and underutilises two leads who are usually pretty good at what they do. 

Words by Rehana Nurmahi

A Family Affair is available on digital platforms now.


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