My Dinner with Herve, review: Peter Dinklage saves this sketchy biopic of tortured star Villechaize

Peter Dinklage as Villechaize in My Dinner with Hervé - © 2018 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Peter Dinklage as Villechaize in My Dinner with Hervé - © 2018 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A few years ago the BBC went through a phase of dramatising the lives of the stars. With Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Shirley Bassey and sundry more, the theme was always the price paid for being funny or fabulous. My Dinner with Hervé (Sky Atlantic), though more expensively assembled, sticks to the formula as it picks over the rackety career of Hervé Villechaize, the French dwarf who starred as James Bond villain Nick Nack in The Man with the Golden Gun and as Tattoo, the lovable sidekick in Fantasy Island. 

The feature-length drama is half-based on an interview Villechaize gave shortly before taking his own life. Hervé is a wild Rabelaisian role for Peter Dinklage, whose clout as a star of Game of Thrones eventually greenlit the film. He swims in female flesh, sloshes down wine, goes on joyrides, brandishes knives; he cackles and howls and even gets to recite some Hamlet. What he can’t quite do is point a light into Hervé’s tortured soul.

An early vignette set in France sketches in his mother’s rejection. But once he gets to America, the story mutates into a familiar tale of corrosive celebrity. Hervé’s short stature doesn’t seem to figure as a root cause of his boiling rage. Whisper it softly, he just comes across as a bit of a self-pitying prat.

Even his rabid womanising isn’t explored as a pathology. The script shoves Hervé’s women aside – his first marriage isn’t even mentioned, nor his compulsive prostitute habit during the Bond shoot.

The interviewer (played by Jamie Dornan) is called Danny Tate. A beefed-up version of writer-director Sacha Gervasi, he has been given his own issues to play with – alcoholism, a broken marriage and job uncertainty – which are granted a status equal to the grander disaster that is Hervé’s rise and fall. But however much Dornan throws himself into it, who in the end cares about a fictionalised journalist’s petty problems? 

Gervasi’s co-writer is Sean Macauley, who scripted the ski-jumping odyssey Eddie the Eagle. That story, which also had a tortuous gestation, was hugely moving as well as funny. Though greatly animated by Dinklage, My Dinner with Hervé doesn’t quite answer any of its own questions.