Parting Shots

Parting Shots is a 1999 British dark comedy film starring Chris Rea, Felicity Kendal, Oliver Reed, Bob Hoskins, Diana Rigg, Ben Kingsley, John Cleese and Joanna Lumley. It was the final film directed by Michael Winner.

Parting Shots
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Winner
Produced byMichael Winner
John Blezard (assistant producer)
Timothy Pitt Miller (assistant producer)
Ron Purdie (associate producer)
Written byMichael Winner (story, screenplay)
Nick Mead (screenplay)
StarringChris Rea
Felicity Kendal
John Cleese
Bob Hoskins
Diana Rigg
Ben Kingsley
Joanna Lumley
Oliver Reed
Nicola Bryant
Gareth Hunt
Nicholas Gecks
Patrick Ryecart
Music byLes Reed
Chris Rea
CinematographyOusama Rawi
Edited byMichael Winner
Scimitar Films
Michael Winner Ltd.
Distributed byUnited International Pictures
Release date
  • 14 May 1999 (1999-05-14)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Upon release in the UK, the film gained controversy over its plot, and was widely criticised in the national press.[1] It has since been evaluated as one of the worst films ever made.


Harry Sterndale is diagnosed with cancer and has only six weeks to live. The following day, he meets his self-centred estranged wife Lisa, but when he tries to tell her of his diagnosis, she takes no notice and casually insults him. As Harry later looks through his photo album, he is reminded of the numerous people who have made his life a misery. Feeling he has nothing to lose, Harry decides to kill them.

Harry meets bartender Freda Armstrong to illegally buy a pistol. The next day, he visits Lisa and shows her his diagnosis report; Lisa's continued lack of tact prompts Harry to shoot her. He is visited by Inspector Charles Bass and DC Ray regarding her death, but neither of the two consider him suspicious.

Harry's next target is Gerd Layton, his crooked former financial advisor who lost Harry and Lisa's money. Visiting Layton at his house, Harry drowns him in his swimming pool. Jill Saunders, Layton's house keeper, catches him in the act, but is content with the murder, herself one of many to have suffered due to Layton. After sharing an intimate evening with Jill, Harry decides to leave her the money from his life insurance. Harry's best friend John Fraser informs him that Jill will inherit more money if Harry dies violently.

Harry takes Jill to a restaurant, where they are treated poorly by the staff. After expressing distaste for their food, they are viciously confronted and thrown out by owner Renzo Locatelli. Harry later returns to the restaurant and shoots Renzo. Bass and Ray discover that the same gun was used to kill both Lisa and Renzo; Harry's house is raided by the police, where they also learn of Harry's connection with Layton. Meanwhile, Harry hires hitman Jamie Campbell-Stewart to kill him.

When Harry returns home he is confronted by the police, but he points out they have no actual evidence and forces them out. Bass orders a 24-hour watch on Harry's house, but Harry leaves just as they arrive. Harry and Jill encounter Graham Cleverley, an old school bully of Harry's, who drunkenly disturbs them throughout the night, prompting Harry to shoot him the following day.

Harry's final target is Maurice Walpole; his former business partner who stole his ideas when they tried to go into advertising. Over night, he attaches a petrol covered rope to Maurice's car, and as Maurice drives to work the next morning, Harry sets it alight, blowing up the car with Maurice in it.

Harry phones Jamie to meet for the killing, but later suffers stomach pains, prompting Jill to call an ambulance. Both Ray and Jamie arrive at the hotel where Harry and Jill are staying just as Harry is taken away by the medics. It later turns out Harry had been misdiagnosed; he actually had a stomach ulcer. Jamie, who had followed the ambulance from the hotel, sneaks into the hospital to kill Harry, but accidentally shoots Ray in the arm. Harry and Jill escape back to the hotel whilst Bass unsuccessfully pursues Jamie.

Jamie arrives at the hotel to shoot Harry in the midst of an campaign targeted against a foreign dictator, President Zlomov, who is staying at the hotel. Jamie accidentally shoots and kills Zlomov. With the killing having happened amongst a large audience, Jamie realises that he has no chance of avoiding prison, and takes the blame for Harry's murders as well as his own. Harry and Jill get married and visit Jamie - who has received widespread praise for killing Zlomov - in prison. While there, they agree to kill a man whom Jamie hadn't got around to killing himself.



Winner came up with the basic storyline after a relationship of his had ended. Speaking to Tim Sebastian of the BBC in June 1999, Winner revealed: "We all have people we'd like to kill. Sometimes we want to kill them for a long time and sometimes it just lasts the few seconds that they're cutting you up, or being a nuisance. A girlfriend parted very nastily, and I thought 'I really wouldn't mind killing you' and five or six years later I thought, 'I still wouldn't mind.'"[1]

The majority of the cast was chosen personally by Winner, and included friends, those he had worked with professionally before, or other actors/actresses he wished to work with. Early discussions for the lead role suggested Neil Morrissey or Martin Clunes; however, when Winner met Chris Rea on a beach at Sandy Lane, Barbados, he was chosen instead.[2]

After filming had come to an end, Winner had told his personal assistant, Dinah May, that Parting Shots was likely to be his last film. Regardless, he had said working with Rea was "a real pleasure" and that he had enjoyed making the film more than any of his past ones.[2]

According to Peter Davison, John Alderton was offered the role of John. Alderton turned it down because of the violence, and the part went to Davison instead.


Parting Shots was not well received by critics, with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film an 11% of freshness while Total Film describes Winner's work as "offensive", "incompetent" and "bad in every possible way".[3] Andrew Collins gave a strongly negative review of the film: "Parting Shots... is going to set the course of British film-making back 20 years. It is not only the worst British film produced in this country since Carry On Emmannuelle (quite a feat in itself), it is a thoroughbred contender for the crown of Worst Film Ever Made".[4] In a hostile overview of Winner's films, Christopher Tookey claimed "Parting Shots is not only the most horrible torture for audiences that Winner has ever devised. It is also profoundly offensive, even by Winner's standards". Tookey added: "...not only does it lack a sense of humour. It's uniquely repellent. It's rather as Kind Hearts and Coronets might have turned out, had it been directed by Fred and Rosemary West".[5] Tookey also denounced Parting Shots as "the most tasteless, abysmal comedy of all time".[5] Interviewed about Parting Shots, Charlotte O'Sullivan, The Independent's film editor, claimed Parting Shots was "the worst film I've ever seen". O'Sullivan also took issue with the film for glorifying vigilantism: "It's Michael Winner and you know, he doesn't have any sense of irony. He seems to be saying it is okay to go and kill people".[6] The journalist Miles Kington later claimed "Parting Shots...was directed by Michael Winner and despite the glittering cast, was possibly the worst film ever made".[7] In its entry on Michael Winner, the book Contemporary British and Irish Film Directors claimed Parting Shots "makes a bold challenge for the hotly contested mantle of worst British film ever made."[8] British film historian I.Q. Hunter, discussing the question "What is the worst British film ever made?", listed Parting Shots as one of the candidates for that title.[9]

See also


  1. "BBC News - Entertainment - Michael Winner talks back". Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  2. May, Dinah (27 October 2014). "Surviving Michael Winner: A Thirty-Year Odyssey". Biteback Publishing. Retrieved 1 August 2017 via Google Books.
  3. "Parting Shots review". 14 May 1999. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  4. Andrew Collins, "How to Shoot a Real Turkey". The Observer, 28 March 1999. Observer Screen, p.6.
  5. Christopher Tookey, "Michael Winner's latest film is his most offensive yet". The Daily Mail, 11 May 1999, (p.11).
  6. "Winner's Turkey has a bad aftertaste." The Sunday Herald, 2 May 1999 (p.7)
  7. Miles Kington, "One or two plots to occupy my declining years". The Independent, 3 May 2005, (p.30).
  8. Contemporary British and Irish Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide, edited by Yoram Allon, Del Cullen, and Hannah Patterson. Wallflower Press, 2001, ISBN 1903364213 (p.353).
  9. I.Q. Hunter, "From Window Cleaner to Potato Man" in British Comedy Cinema, edited by I.Q. Hunter and Laraine Porter. Routledge, 2012. ISBN 0415666678. (p.154)
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