‘Get Duked!’ Hilariously Pits Modern Wayward Youths Against Bloodthirsty Aristocrats
“Get Duked!” cheerfully turns class warfare into a literal showdown in the Scottish Highlands. Movies about buddies stuck in the wilderness, facing off with some psychotic threat, have been endless sources of popcorn fun. But this one, with its satirical edge, is both a guilty pleasure and a radical statement. Hearing director Ninian Doff tell it, he was having a blast writing and making the movie. This is Doff’s feature directorial debut after a career focused on music videos, and it has the energy of a filmmaker ready to make entertaining trouble.
“The literal genesis of it was two ideas that popped into my head,” Doff told Entertainment Voice. “They came at the same time. I wanted to write a revenge movie for the next generation, the one I don’t know (laughs). Then I had this idea about kids doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which is a real thing!” Established by the Duke of Edinburgh himself (that’s Prince Philip for you fans of “The Crown”), the youth program, which is essentially a wilderness trek, is the starting point of the movie’s plot. Three misfits, Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), are ordered to participate in the Award to atone for blowing up the toilet building of their Glasgow high school. Led by the stern Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris), the group is also forced to take in model student Ian (Samuel Bottomley). Off they go into the gorgeous Scottish vistas, smoking hash and making ragtag bombs, and then someone starts taking shots at them. It turns out an actual Duke (Eddie Izzard), wants to cleanse the land of social outcasts who don’t fit in with, well, the kind of people a Duke fancies.
“Get Duked!” is the kind of movie “The Hunt” should have been. Its teen heroes are likeable for just how misguided, aloof, and oddball they can be. Duncan’s brain barely seems to function, Dean could be something if he just tried, and DJ Beatroot lives in his own daydreams of future rap glory. But we cheer for them against the Duke and his evil mate, the Duchess (Georgie Glen), who both want to kill them off for no reason other than coming from the lower classes. Also, two that are a great fun to watch are Kevin Guthrie and Kate Dickie as two local cops hunting down a bread thief, as well as a possible pedophile and terrorist, without realizing their misguided sleuthing will lead them to our three heroes and their plight.
“In traditional horror films teenagers are always running for their lives,” said Doff. “But teenagers should, and they kind of do, turn around and think, ‘hey it’s four of us, we can chase the bad guy.’ I sat down to put it down to paper and it was so exciting.” The moments when the four heroes are pulling themselves to make it through the Duke of Edinburgh trek hit close to home for Doff. “I did do it. Obviously, the movie is not biographical entirely but I was with a bunch of friends stuck in the Highlands of Scotland, and we did get lost, and we had these wild conversations. It was a little tamer than the film (laughs).”
Doff contrasts all the zany antics of the trekkers as they take intoxicants, hallucinate, or try to get nice Ian to loosen up, with the famously green and picturesque Highlands. “It’s funny because on paper I thought, ‘oh this is really easy, it’s a small cast outdoors, easy, cheap.’ Then, of course, it’s easy on paper to write ‘ext. field,’ but when you come to shooting it, you realize that you’ve written 98% of your film outdoors in Scotland. This is shot midsummer in Scotland, which looks like winter in most countries. We got every weather on Earth except the sun. We probably had one day of sun. It was my first film, it was an intense shoot. You get Sunday off, but you don’t really get Sunday off. We had night shoots with torrential rain, the ruined village where they find themselves was real, we had to get up there on jeeps through muddy mountain roads. There were these mosquitos that could eat you alive. But what you get is the most production value of the Scottish Highlands. I told my DP, don’t shoot this like a comedy, shoot it like a drama, because then it’s much funnier. Our reference images were from ‘Macbeth,’ you know, Shakespearean references for someone hallucinating off rabbit droppings!”
The writing crackles with a down to earth simplicity, which makes the material even funnier when the story goes off the rails with the psychotic Duke. Casting was infinitely important. “Only when the film entered pre-production did it dawn on me that I had a teenage cast in nearly every single scene of the film. There’s nowhere to hide, they are the film. We had a whole casting process all up and down the U.K., and Ireland as well. People sent in tapes, we met people individually. Finally close to the wire we found our four leads. I’m really excited about people seeing these performances. Some of the actors, this is the first time they’ve ever been in a film at all. I’m so excited about their futures. There’s no weak link. And, of course, Eddie Izzard is a complete pro.”
“Get Duked!” has a sharp satirical subtext. It’s a wilderness dark comedy, a survivalist thriller, but in many ways a movie in the classic tradition of British satire. A Duke hunting down working class kids, then telling them to their face they don’t belong in his vision of society, is almost a perfect metaphor for a post-Brexit, post-Trump world. “It was written post all of those events,” said Doff. “I was feeling angry and heartbroken over the generation inheriting this environmental, economic, social, whatever you want to call it, situation. The establishment, for lack of a better word, are kind of not giving a shit of what they’re leaving in their wake, as long as they get rich and their friends get rich. I was feeling upset and I wanted to write this revenge story yet package it in a way that’s very fun and entertaining.” Eddie Izzard’s Duke talks with such a honeycombed voice as he and the Duchess even dabble in strange rituals to cast out the poor from their zone.
“While the U.K. will always sit in this weird echo of class, it’s changed from Victorian times in some sense, but class is very real in the U.K., there are pockets of society that will just never mix with each other,” reflected Doff. “The Duke is like the arrogant, shut up and accept your fate arrogant type of people and then the kids are like the people getting shat upon going, ‘maybe we shouldn’t accept things the way they are.’ It’s as if the aristocrats do this annual hunt to get rid of the vermin for the good of the herd. There’s been leaked documents, leaked WhatsApp chat groups, I bet you what they say in the movie has all been said!”
“Get Duked!” begins streaming Aug. 28 on Amazon Prime Video.