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Friday Film Review: Bernard and the Genie

Bernard and the Genie (1991 BBC TV)

Genre: Holiday

Grade: Very cute

While trying to decide on the next movie of this holiday season, I realized we were getting a bit top heavy with animation films. So a few are just going to have to wait until later. But what to review next? I wanted something a little offbeat and finally remembered that I had bought a copy of this film, sight unseen, after I discovered its existence while rooting around IMDB last year. I love Alan Cumming and Rowan Atkinson so a quick trip to ebay later, I had a DVD on its way to me. Took me until now to actually watch it but it’s darling.

The story opens with a mad wizard, with a huge torch, hunting for someone through rooms full of no doubt highly flammable diaphanous draperies. Once the miscreant has been found, he gets a 2000 year opportunity to redecorate the inside of an oil lamp. Zoom forward to modern London and milquetoast Bernard Bottle, (Alan Cumming) who works at Krisby Auction house, realizes his boss Charles Pinkworth (Rowan Atkinson) doesn’t share Bernard’s sense of fair play when Pinkworth fires Bernard’s “little philanthropic ass” after Bernard dares to suggest adequately compensating the previous owners of an expensive painting the house just sold.

Bernard returns to his (surprisingly plush) flat looking for a shoulder to cry on but discovers that his fiancee and best mate have been shagging and planning on moving in with each other. After she strips the flat of almost everything except the dust and takes off, Bernard is left with little but a dirty old oil lamp she had given him last year. He decides (conveniently for the plot) to give it a polish. Now he’s suddenly got a tall, transvestite Genie named Josephus (Lenny Henry) swinging at him with a scimitar, yelling stuff, and saying “Beware, oh short one! You smell of peppermint and it’s time to die!” Bernard backs him up a bit and demands an explanation of the “stuff” which turns out to be that Josephus has to grant any wish Bernard makes. After Bernard makes a few wishes and freaks out at the results – demanding “Have you just injected LSD into my bottom?” – he wishes that Josephus would stop trying to kill him. Bernard begins to see that this might be the answer to all his problems – or might be the worst problem he’s ever had.

This was a TV production and probably made on an amazingly small budget. Or perhaps it just looks and, especially, sounds that way. Regardless, once I settled in and got caught up in the story I didn’t notice that so much anymore. What I did keep noticing is the wide variety of in-your-face product placements. Hope those involved got some lovely swag for all that. There are also lots of references to period items such as Ah-nold’s latest movie – which amazes Josephus with its kick-butt action sequences, a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle, and (in a song) a mention of Princess Di.

Alan is just as cute as a bug’s ear and through the whole movie, I just wanted to pick him up and hug him. And then listen to his accent some more. He makes being a milquetoast sexy. He also makes me truly believe that Bernard’s heart is in the right place with his final wish for Josephus. Rowan Atkinson is definitely channeling Blackadder and is delicious in his portrayal of Pinkworth’s complete self absorption and absolute greed. He’s given wonderful lines – “That’s a good point, Bernard. That’s a fully-fledged bastard of a good point.” And says them with true Atkinsonian smiling relish. “Bugger ye off.” Denis Lill has a delightful cameo as Keppel the doorman who has a way with the truth and who can get a stuck lift on its way again.

Comedian and actor Lenny Henry is wonderful as Josephus. He shows us the Genie taking to modern life with a zest and enthusiasm that is a joy to watch. “I feel fantastic! And I look it too!” But he’s also got words of wisdom for Bernard’s initially out of control wishing. “Say the words “I wish” with the caution you would normally reserve for “Please castrate me.” However he’s not all wide-eyed gung-ho and can show us a more meditative and layered Genie who misses his girlfriend, his mother’s cooking and his two kittens – now all long gone and lost to him.

Still this is a holiday feature and I was wondering how – beyond Christmas trees and tinsel everywhere – it was going to deliver. The way the writers have chosen ends up being inventive and is a great commentary on a lot that is wrong with the way Christmas is celebrated today. You see, it turns out that Josephus actually knew Jesus Christ and was there at several pivotal events mentioned in the Bible. It was his brother’s wedding in Cana that ran out of wine and Josephus was there when Jesus got mad about selling in the Temple.

Genie: One day I was in the Temple when they tried to turn it into a supermarket; Jesus went in there and kicked ass!
Bernard: Like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Genie: Yes, but with smaller pectorals.

It’s after Bernard and Josephus observe, discuss and critique modern commercialism that they decide it’s time to mete out some holiday justice. It might wrap some loose ends a bit tightly but it’s still satisfying to see those who have wronged Bernard get a taste of come-uppance – and on national TV too. Once that’s done and Bernard is “happier than Michelle Pfeiffer’s underpants,” he realizes that giving is greater than receiving and makes one final wish for his new friend.

I like that the ending isn’t completely complete. Bernard might have a chance at a new romance with a pretty holiday “store elf” in hot pants and who knows what Josephus will get up to with the loot he decides he can’t live without and the knowledge of the taste of “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” With a roughly 70 minute run time, it’s a fast and cute way to laugh and reflect a bit on what truly is important during the holiday season.

I couldn’t find that this has been loaded on youtube but there are clips there to give you a taste for it and DVDs and VHS tapes for sale on ebay.



I’m going to be taking a break from film reviews for a couple of months to recharge my batteries and do more book reviews.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. AnimeJune
    Dec 22, 2012 @ 00:08:59

    PLUCK OUT MY EYEBALLS AND FRY THEM IN GINGER! I love love LOVE Bernard and the Genie! It’s a precious holiday tradition in my house to watch this! We love the actors, we love the lines – sure, some of the references are obscure and dated but the general humour’s the same. I’ve always been hesitant to recommend it to friends because it’s so obscure and hard to find now!

    My favourite scene is when they take over the Santa station at the mall and give the children EXACTLY what they wish for – with decidedly mixed results (like the exploding baby carriage – “Don’t worry, that was just a warning”).

  2. Jayne
    Dec 22, 2012 @ 08:01:54

    @AnimeJune: Goodness, I was wondering if anyone else here had seen it or not. It has such high ratings at IMDB I was sure someone must have. I was smiling almost as soon as I started watching it the first time. I just wish it had subtitles so I could catch everything that’s said.

    There was a good number of DVDs and VHS tapes for sale on ebay so it can be found.

  3. deanne
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 04:59:26

    I have not seen this movie since early 90’s & have been hunting for an original copy since. Please let me know how to get a copy

  4. Jayne
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 10:50:00

    @deanne: I went to ebay. Right now, there appear to be several copies of the DVD and a few VHS tapes but they all appear to be region 1 (US/Canada) coded. Check to be sure they would play were you are.

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