British Films to Soothe the Soul: Revisiting the Cornetto Trilogy

(Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Working Title Productions)
(Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Working Title Productions)

During this stressful time, I think we’re all looking for something to take our minds off the world outside, something comforting and familiar. So what did I seek out to bring me a few hours of calm and happiness amidst such a time of uncertainty? A zombie horror movie, a buddy cop conspiracy picture, and asci-fi body invasion flick, of course.

While any one of these cinematic genres may seem to be the antithesis of soothing, the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy features some of my favorite British actors and the type of dark humor I enjoy. Plus they bring back fond memories of experiencing each one with my (at the time) teenage son.

For those who have never had these movies on their radar, the movies Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End make up a critically acclaimed and beloved comedy anthology. Each film in this trilogy is directed by Edgar Wright, written by Wright and actor Simon Pegg, and stars Pegg and Nick Frost. A number of actors pop up in more than one of the films in supporting or cameo roles including Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, and Rafe Spall.

Other elements that appear across all three films are ubiquitous pub culture, quirky soundtrack choices, funny fence jumping sequences and a protagonist mired in the routine of a more or less adolescent lifestyle. However, when extreme circumstances intervene, our hero emerges, breaking the chains of the mindset that were holding him back.

Now let’s take a look at each film individually:

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Synopsis: Shaun’s life is in a rut and his girlfriend Liz is fed up with him. His only ally is his best friend Ed who enables and encourages his inertia. Just as Shaun decides to win Liz back, a zombie apocalypse descends upon London. Our protagonist must spring into action to save those he cares about most. And he’s positive that the best place to ride out the catastrophe is the Winchester, his beloved local pub.

Cast: Pegg plays the titular Shaun with Frost as Ed, Shaun’s slacker best friend; Penelope Wilton and Nighy as Shaun’s mother and stepdad; Kate Ashfield as Shaun’s girlfriend Liz; Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran as Liz’s friends Dianne and David and Peter Serafinowicz as Pete, Shaun and Ed’s grumpy roommate.

Memory of my first viewing: My middle-school-aged son was home sick from school so as we were picking up his prescription, we stopped by the video department to find a movie to watch together. I let my horror fan child make the selection and he chose Shaun of the Dead. From then on “Pow Supermum” was an inside joke for us.

Where to watch it: On Hulu or Amazon with a Cinemax trial or add-on

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Synopsis: Nicholas Angel is the absolute ideal of a Metropolitan police officer so, naturally, in recognition of all his hard work he’s shipped off to the sleepy village of Sandford. Once at his new post, Angel is appalled at the lack of the force's professionalism, particularly in his well-meaning, but childish new partner Danny Butterman. But when a series of gruesome “accidents” plague the village, Angel is convinced that Sandford holds some dark secrets and he and Danny must team up to get to the bottom of the murder spree.

Cast: Pegg plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, with Frost as his partner PC Danny Butterman; Jim Broadbent as their boss, Inspector Butterman; Olivia Colman, Paddy Considine, Spall and Bill Bailey as members of the Sanford Police Department; and a various number of colorful villagers which include Timothy Dalton, Anne Reid, Rory McCann and Lucy Punch.

Memory of my first viewing: As all three films in the trilogy are rated R, my son couldn’t take his girlfriend to see Hot Fuzz in the theater because they weren’t 17 yet. So I gladly agreed to accompany them to see the movie. I think I even paid for the tickets, but I did offer to sit in a different row.

Where to watch it: On Hulu or Amazon with a Starz trial or add-on

The World’s End (2013)

Synopsis: Two decades after a disastrous pub crawl attempt, eternally immature Gary King drags his childhood friends back to their hometown of Newton Haven to undertake the Golden Mile challenge once more. As the five men try to reconcile their past estrangements and present problems, they slowly realize the town and its inhabitants have become bizarre and unrecognizable. Turns out the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but all of humankind's.

Cast: Pegg stars as troubled alcoholic Gary King; Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, and Paddy Considine play Gary’s estranged childhood friends; Rosamund Pike as Sam, the love interest of two of the friends. Cameo appearances include Pierce Brosnan, Michael Smiley, Reece Sheersmith, David Bradley, Mark Heap, and the voice of Bill Nighy.

Memory of my first viewing: To celebrate the release of the final chapter of the Cornetto trilogy, some theater chains offered a screening of all three films in order for one night only. This coincided with the summer my son graduated from college, so he happened to be home for the event. We spent well over eight hours (intermissions included) watching the dynamic duo of Pegg and Frost with fellow fans. The biggest downside was that by the time The World’s End was shown, I was quite tired of sitting and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first two.

Where to watch it: Most on-demand platforms have this one available to rent or purchase – YouTube, Amazon, Google Play, etc.

Before I wrap this up, I realize I should explain a couple of things.

What is a Cornetto? It’s a frozen ice cream dessert cone similar to the Drumsticks we are familiar with in America. They come in a variety of flavors including strawberry, mint, and the original vanilla topped with chocolate swirls and nuts in a blue wrapper.

Why is this anthology of films called the Cornetto trilogy? Because purportedly director/screenwriter Edgar Wright used to eat Cornettos as a hangover cure in college and so he included it in the first movie as an inside joke and it stuck.

 

If you’re familiar with the Cornetto trilogy, which one is your favorite film? If not, what movies have you been watching that take you to a happy place? Share your recommendations in the comments!