Bingo has reason to feel a little hard done by given the amount of time its casino brothers and sisters – in other words, poker, blackjack and roulette – have enjoyed on the big screen. But a little-known film called House took an early 2000s opportunity to give this old classic a cinematic outing.
I see Bingo everywhere these days. I thought the game was a goner. But a favourite of a bygone era has had a resurgence in the era of the internet-based casino and online bingo sites are witnessing a new, younger clientele emerge, in part, by giving the game a dash of modernity to bring it back to life. I’m one of the converted. I’ve always got my digital dabber ready to go.
It’s why, when I came across Julian Kemp’s House, a smile came across my face. Was this the first real bingo movie? Some will point to scenes such as Johnny Knoxville’s trip to the bingo hall in Bad Grandpa; the endearing Irving Zisman rustling the feathers of the regulars or the perhaps surprising bingo reference in Hotel Transylvania when the usual bingo balls are replaced by skulls, I’m don’t think there’s ever been a film in which the game has played such a key role (like poker in Rounders or blackjack in 21.)
Starring Kelly Macdonald, the film centres around a small bingo establishment threatened by closure when a glitzy new bingo centre is readied for opening nearby. Mixing fantasy and comedy, House tells an engaging story using bingo as the backdrop. Our heroine – a twentysomething young woman – is representative of bingo’s 21st century audience in the age of online bingo.
Macdonald’s Linda, an ambitious young woman, is the one sets out to save the bingo hall. She’s senses the unique appeal it brings to the community and its role in encouraging friendship and promoting social inclusion. What’s nice to see in the film is a young protagonist, giving the game’s newly found fans someone they can genuinely relate to.
Indeed, there are around 3.5 million active players in Britain today with the largest majority being between 25-34 years of age (according to a YouGov poll). We’ve also seen a new craze in “event” bingo nights with, for example, the Dabbers Social Bingo operators seeking more venues to showcase their mix of the game with a modern party atmosphere. There’s also been the “bingo rave” recently where confetti cannons were used to reveal the numbers. And every week in North America nearly $100 million is spent by dabbers hoping to be able to shout “house”!
Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa might have been heard calling “That’s a Bingo!” in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, The Wog Boy might have seen its protagonist earn a living at a bingo hall, and King of the Bingo Game might have seen a New Yorker in depression-era America find solace in the game, but no film has really celebrated bingo in the same way as House.