In the summer of 2008, at some point between the release of The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk, assembled critics in a London screening room caught their first glimpse of Irina Palm, a British-German-French-Belgian-Luxembourgian co-production (mm, smell that Europuddingy goodness!) co-written and directed by the sometime actor Sam Garbarski. The film features Marianne Faithfull as a respectable Yardley Hastings matron - a veteran of raffles and bridge nights, friend to Jenny Agutter - obliged to become a professional masturbator at a Soho knocking shop's glory hole in order to pay for her poorly grandchild's operation. (Presumably Tesco wasn't hiring that month.) Among this singular film's many extraordinary developments: under the pseudonym Irina Palm, Faithfull's Maggie becomes so popular among her clientele she develops "penis elbow"; Kevin Bishop, late of Channel 4's The Kevin Bishop Show, has a wild, unintendedly comic flip-out in a front room once he discovers what his mum's been doing with her afternoons off; and Faithfull herself gets to deliver the now-immortal lines "It's my grandson, he's dying. He's dying, I'm wanking."
Suffice to say, the reviews weren't great: "a gobsmackingly awful British film - awful in the way that somehow only British films can be," according to our own Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. The box office was hardly stunning either, the opening weekend take precisely 582 of your English pounds. And yet something about Irina Palm stuck, serving to encapsulate in the minds of those few of us who saw it every last failing of the British film industry's lower-budget sector over the past decade. How on earth did this - essentially, a film about wanking, made by wankers for wankers - get made? How did anybody read this script without falling about with laughter, let alone agree to hand over actual money to see it produced? The film was, in its own way, a revelation; a parting of the waters. As we clutched our sides, helpless with accidental mirth, the scales fell from our eyes. You might even call the experience inspirational - like seeing the Sex Pistols at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in June 1976. It didn't quite encourage the upstart punk critics among us to take up arms and make our own films, but it did force us to band together in another way: from now on, we would have a new benchmark for inept, ill-conceived or just plain rubbish British filmmaking. The Irina Palm d'Or - a new, annual award for non-achievement in British cinema, as named by Independent on Sunday critic Nicholas Barber - had been forged.