Bernard And The Genie is a highly enjoyable festive comedy which has the ability to evoke the feeling of Christmas in an instant, it is a great example of British Christmas Television done right. Back in 1991, the BBC aired this hugely funny TV Movie, but despite the fact that this was one of the greatest Christmas Films ever made, it has sadly never been aired on British TV since.
The film follows the misfortunes and fortunes of Bernard, an Art Dealer who is given the sack from work and whose girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. When his girlfriend Judy moves out of their flat and takes her belongings, Bernard finds a lamp amongst the empty shelves and out comes a Genie who grants him unlimited wishes. Alan Cumming plays the lead of “Bernard Bottle”, and in my opinion gives his best comedic performance to date. Rowan Atkinson is always hilarious, but he is absolutely fantastic as the evil money-grabbing Boss “Charles Pinkworth” (who has some of the best lines in the film), and Denis Lill is wonderful as the tall-tale-telling Elevator Operator “Frank Kepple”. Lenny Henry is marvellous as the Genie “Josephus”, and outside of The Lenny Henry Show from the 80s, this is probably the funniest and most entertaining thing he’s made. All in all the cast is great, and the plot which incorporates adventure, revenge, love, religion, and time travel, makes for a delightfully charming and witty TV Movie which has yet to be matched by the BBC some two decades later.
Watching Bernard And The Genie more than 20 years after it first aired, gives anyone from the 90s a sense of nostalgia, but the fact that it still successfully entertains today, makes this film a classic. Other than Not The Nine O’Clock News this is probably the best thing Richard Curtis has ever written, and despite both Blackadder and The Vicar Of Dibley being shown on the BBC this Christmas, once again, Curtis’ masterpiece Bernard And The Genie is missing from the schedule.
People on British TV seem to go on and on about Morecambe & Wise or The Office Christmas Special. They seem to continually bring up these so-called “classics” on various lame countdown shows, but unfortunately everyone from the decision makers down to the TV personalities themselves, seem to forget this particular Christmas gem, and this year marks yet another occasion when Bernard And The Genie goes unaired on British television.
Since its initial VHS release over two decades ago, Bernard And The Genie has yet to be released in any “modern” format, at least officially. Currently you have two options if you want to purchase this TV movie…
You can buy the German PAL DVD released by Pidax, as long as you don’t mind the titles being an amateur overlay job (the opening titles read “Bernie und der Weihnachtsgeist” over a paused frame of the lamp and there’s another huge title alerting you to the fact that it’s 2000 years later when Bernard is picked up by the limo). There is an English audio track but the scenes set in the past (the beginning and end) have no subtitles so you don’t know what’s being said by Josephus and the Wizard. There’s also a strange, small watermark in the top right-hand corner of the video, almost as if it was recorded off the telly. But, having said all that, this is the best quality version you can currently buy.
The second option is buying the inferior quality, obvious bootleg NTSC DVD from America, it too looks like it was copied from an analogue source, most likely a VHS tape (there’s static or tracking lines on the video which makes for a much worse viewing than the German version). Okay, so this version at least features English titles but the poor quality picture outweighs this small positive. Another issue for UK viewers is there’s a differing Barry White song playing during one of the scenes (different from the original UK broadcast that you may remember). In my opinion the quality of the American DVD is so awful that the third option is watching it on YouTube and saving your money. Of course this video might get taken down at some point so my recommendation is sticking with the German release for now (both DVDs are available on Amazon, just search “Bernard And The Genie” or “Bernie und der Weihnachtsgeist”).
God only knows why the BBC have never aired Bernard And The Genie since 1991, or released it on DVD (or Blu-ray for that matter). It is a travesty that companies like BBC, Attaboy, Talkback (now part of Freemantle) have collectively dismissed and forgotten about their greatest festive achievement. Can someone at the BBC get their finger out and either release it officially or air it on TV? I’m sure the viewers at home would rather watch Bernard And The Genie than crap like The Choir: Military Wives or Strictly Come Dancing this Christmas.