After their latest heist goes wrong, hapless crims Jimmy and Rudy find themselves in clink. A musical production, however, seems to offer the chance to escape. But then Jimmy meets rehabilitation officer Annabel...
Yes, it's a film about an amateur musical staged in prison. But fear not, because while what might spring to mind is a vision of Ray Winstone warbling, 'Whooo's your daaaaddy noowww?', what Peter Cattaneo has in fact created is an utterly charming confection, as consistently moving as it is hilarious.
It's a fine return from the man who four years previously took the world by storm with the much adoredThe Full Monty. And while it's unlikely to reap the box office returns of the former (a more complex dynamic may put off the pants-a-go-go crowd), the result is more than worth the wait.
Bennett's screenplay is a deft blend of laughs, pathos and romance which, only 20 minutes from its resolution, seems as if it's forced itself into an implausible corner, only to tie up the numerous loose ends seamlessly. Cattaneo, meanwhile, once again shows his affinity with downtrodden characters with hearts of gold, and builds towards a frankly side-splitting final act. Trust us, the climactic 'performance' truly has to be seen to be believed.
As deft as he is with his touches (a candlelit dinner, a heartbreaking visiting time sequence), Cattaneo's biggest achievement is in compiling an exquisite cast. Plummer is a joy as the eccentric governor, as are Jimmy's fellow inmates, the tragic Cliff (Spall) and wonderful, upper class twit Roger (Nighy).
Best, though, is a flawless central triangle. Nesbitt and James riff with aplomb on their shared Cold Feet heritage, while the budding romance between the former and Williams' repressed Annabel positively fizzes, thanks to some oozing on-screen chemistry.
In fact, the pair are so good together - Nesbitt particularly dapper in his 'all new' eyebrows, forcibly trimmed by Cattaneo - that a return visit is surely not that much of an outside possibility.
It certainly meanders a little before finding its feet, but this is a genuinely touching, often rip-roaring and impeccably acted romantic romp with a genuine heart.