From nobodies to household names to has-beens and back again, 2004's British TV biopic Not Only But Always... (written and directed by Terry Johnson) charts the rocky, love/hate
relationship between Peter Cook and his comic duo partner Dudley Moore, but it is firmly centered on the former, exploring his neuroses as much as a 100-minute running time allows.
Ironically, Cook is the least likeable figure in his own biography. Strange, wry, and unbelievably sure of himself, Cook's star first rose with the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe (co-starring Moore), but it was Moore, not Cook, who was offered a BBC television series. Condescending towards Moore before the offer, Cook was consumed with jealousy and depression and became outright vindictive and cruel. His comedy club and movies failed, and growing alcoholism and affairs helped to end his marriage long before he was divorced. Later, Cook and Moore's raunchy "Derek and Clive" albums reinvigorated his career for a time, but by the third one, Cook could barely mask his resentment towards his more successful counterpart.
It might seem easy at this point to wonder why Moore would bother being friends with this abusive, self-pitying, self-loathing drunk, and in fact for many years the two didn't speak at all. They had a nuanced relationship, though, and underlying the animosity there was a deep mutual understanding and admiration that Cook could only accept toward the end of his life. His respect for Dudley made it hard for Peter to hate him, because deep down he knew that each deserved everything they got.
Unfortunately, Johnson perhaps goes overboard in his zeal to show the blow-ups between the two, and even though they're often painfully funny, other times they're just painful. In other words, there are only a handful of moments in the film where the two actually seem to enjoy each other's company, and at times it's a bit too much.
Blameless in this, however, are Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as Peter Cook and Aidan McArdle (Ella Enchanted) as Dudley Moore. Ifans' performance is especially uncanny; his voice, gaze, and body language are effortlessly dead on, as if he's channeling Peter Cook from beyond the grave. It's really got to be seen to be believed. McArdle also does a fantastic job, and is definitely able to hold his ground in his scenes with Ifans, a compliment given my previous gushing. Being that the movie covers about 35 years, the rest of the cast comes and goes (including relatively brief appearances by Alan Cox as Alan Bennett and Jonathan Aris as a hilariously self-absorbed Jonathan Miller), but there are no complaints about any of them.
Not Only But Always... is presented in anamorphic widescreen, but it was made for TV and looks the part. Edges are somewhat indistinct and the film as a whole is fairly grainy. That's not to say that it looks bad; it's fine for a TV production. Just don't expect it to knock your socks off or anything.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track isn't terribly overwhelming, either, but it does its job adequately enough. There's also a commentary
track by writer/director Terry Johnson, but it's not quite riveting. Between long stretches of silence, Johnson sort of drolly dispenses with dry and technical facts about the shooting, with very little insight into the creative process behind it.
Not really anything to be excited about, here. Besides the commentary, "Pete and Dud Together: Some Works" lists Cook and Moore's collaborative projects. There are also filmographies for Rhys Ifans and Aidan McArdle.
Peter Cook had a singular wit, but his life was a downward spiral until just before the very end. Although we only get a brief glimpse of who he was before the credits roll, Not Only But Always... hits enough of the right notes that fans of he and Dudley Moore should pick this disc up if they haven't already. Even if you haven't ever heard of Cook, the performances alone are worth a rental at the very least. Recommended.