In a time where we’re told by various client media that an essential Britishness is under threat from various insidious forces, they’re never really able to define exactly what that actually means. It’s surely an impossible thing to pin down. But then a film like Swede Caroline comes along and a lightbulb goes on, for this is a comedy that could only be made here. Finn Bruce and Brook Driver‘s very silly but very heartfelt mockumentary may draw on the American format pioneered by Christopher Guest and assorted players with This is Spinal Tap and Best in Show, but there’s an unvarnished eccentricity, celebration of mundane people with their mundane obsessions, and the kind of darkness lurking in quaint villages, that also speak to the likes of Hot Fuzz, Wallace & Gromit, and Midsummer Murders. Stuffed with familiar comic talent, it’s a hilarious quotefest, but also a surprisingly satisfying lowkey mystery.

Caroline (Jo Hartley) is being followed by a documentary crew led by Kirsty (Rebekah Murrell) whose report on pesticides has tangentially uncovered controversy among the ‘large veg growing’ community that compete each year at Shepton Mallet (a perfectly quintessential choice). Caroline is hoping her prize marrow can win top prize after she was disqualified the previous year. However, her produce is stolen. Enlisting her ragtag pals Paul (Richard Lumsden) and Willy (Celyn Jones) – both of whom harbour unrequited feelings for our heroine – she sets about trying to track down the missing marrow, but uncovers something more sinister than horticultural sabotage.

All the usual aspects of the mockumentary format are present and correct in Swede Caroline; knowing looks to camera, shaky handheld action, deathless non-sequiturs delivered with terminal lack of self-awareness. But debut filmmakers Bruce and Driver aren’t content with a simple rehashing of a formula that pretty much reached  perfection in genesis with Nigel Tuffnel and his custom amps. Its staging suggests a British spin on Best in Show, which no doubt would have been perfectly fine, but Swede Caroline has more depth than you would expect, more intricate plotting, and a lot more heart. The mystery takes in local corruption, kidnapping, mysterious Russian femme fatales a la Anna Chapman, and swinging private eyes played by Aisling Bea and Ray Fearon, At its centre is a tremendous performance from the ever-reliable Jo Hartley, building a fully realised, believably human from a cascade of granular moments. Caroline has the form of one of those intricately assembled Alan Bennett monologues transported to conventional narrative and she’s a fantastic creation.

She’s supported by great work from all involved, including the likes of Fay Ripley, Jeff Bennett, and Neil Edmond as rival growers, a scene stealing cameo from Alice Lowe, and cult comedian Mark Silcox, the bewildering career of whom we can’t help but feel just a little responsible. As with any such comedy that relies on a constant deluge of gags, it occasionally spins its wheels and there are moments when you feel that at least 5 to ten of its 95 minutes could have been trimmed for tightness, but Swede Caroline can go toe to toe with the best of Guest and Co. It’s a difficult feat to make this format feel fresh, but Finn Bruce and Brook Driver have produced something as impressive as anything on display at Shepton Mallet.

In selected cinemas from Fri 19 Apr 2024