Between the Lines: How Comedy Tells a Story Throughout the ‘Hot Fuzz’ (2007) Screenplay

Between the Lines is a monthly column discussing everything around the craft of screenwriting: from in-depth breakdowns of screenplays to interviews with screenwriters.

Trilogies have become a huge part of cinema over the years, from trilogies comprising of direct sequels telling one large story, to trilogies more akin to anthologies that tell different stories but have thematic links. We have The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, Three Colours, Back to the Future and also The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, and directed by Wright, each film in the trilogy is a standalone genre film flavoured with comedy and British stereotypes. Wright has described before that each film is essentially a relationship comedy coated with a particular genre: Shaun of the Dead is a zombie movie, Hot Fuzz a buddy cop flick and The World’s End a sci-fi film. After being screened on ITV 2 more than any other film in existence, Hot Fuzz has finally made its way to Netflix; so this month we will be diving into the screenplay to see what makes it so popular even thirteen years after its release.

Edgar Wright films are recognised for their intelligent use of visual comedy and snappy editing styles, where Hot Fuzz is rich with both. Amazingly, all of his trademarks are clearly shown in the screenplay he penned with Pegg:

A group of Crime Scene Investigators dressed in white protective suits, face masks and goggles, work in a blood spattered room. A mobile rings. One of the CSI’s picks up.
JANINE: Hello.
ANGEL (O.S.}: Janine. It’s me.
JANINE: I know. I’m at work.
ANGEL (O.S.): I know. I’m outside.
JANINE turns to see ANGEL outside the window on his mobile.
ANGEL (CONT’C}: What’s the situation?
JANINE: You know the situation. We’ve been over this.
ANGEL: I meant here.
JANINE: Two people involved, distinct signs of a struggle. A complete mess.
ANGEL: You are talking about here?
JANINE: Nicholas, what do you want?
ANGEL: I need to tell you something and I didn’t want to do it over the phone.

In one of the earlier scenes, over-achiever, Sargent Angel (Simon Pegg), tells his ex-girlfriend that he is being moved to Sandford, out in the British countryside. The action lines and dialogue are extremely short and snappy, usually only made up of no more than two short sentences. This allows the writers to blast through the plot needed to push the narrative forward, and here it takes less than a page to introduce the audience to Janine (an uncredited Cate Blanchett), establish her relationship with Angel and explain what he is doing there. The comedy shines through thanks to this fast pace too; the miscommunication between the two characters land because the joke doesn’t drag on and it gets to the punchlines quickly.

ANGEL: I just wanted to tell you in
person. There’s no reason why we
can’t be civil with each other. It’s not so long ago that we were talking about getting married.
JANINE: Yes but you were already married to the force weren’t you?
ANGEL: We’re actually supposed to refer to it as ’the service’ now. Official vocab guidelines state that ’force’ sounds too aggressive.
JANINE: See that’s it. It’s only ever about the job. It’s all you care about.
ANGEL: That’s not true.
JANINE: No, you’re right, you do have that rubber plant.
ANGEL: It’s actually a Peace Lily.
JANINE: You just can’t switch off Nicholas.
JANINE whips off her goggles for emphasis. We are still no wiser as to what she looks like.

This style of delivering information and laughs quickly carries on throughout the rest of the scene. We learn more about the history between Janine and Angel, but Angel’s dry responses creates comedy that helps the audience understand his character and the main conflict of his character arc: he can’t switch off from working.

Later on in the script, we arrive at two intercutting scenes: Angel and his child-like colleague, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), are watching classic buddy cop flicks whilst a village resident is attacked by a cloaked figure:

ANGEL: You are pulling my leg?
MERCHANT is dragged by his feet and dumped into a kitchen chair...GLOVED HANDS empty beans into a pan... Bacon is fried...Gas taps are turned on full...Gas hisses...
Static hisses as the video flickers to life.
DANNY: This film is A-MAZING!

This method of seamlessly transitioning between scenes isn’t exactly a novel concept, but Wright and Pegg make it feel like it is part of their unique brand of writing that falls in line with the lively pace of the script. The comedy is in the juxtapositions presented at the beginning/end of each intersection; the wildly different tones of each sequence clashing with each other but making complete logical sense to us readers. The other benefit of this style, apart from getting some good laughs, is that there is a strong momentum to the scene. The plot keeps driving forward without re-establishing what is happening as the script jumps between two different sequences. 

Wright and Pegg also deliver punchlines that takes nearly 100 pages to get to after the set-up:

DANNY: There’s an amazing bit in ’Point Break’ where they jump over fences.
ANGEL: Is there now? 28.
DANNY: Yeah, Patrick Swayze’s robbed this bank and Keanu Reeves chases him through people’s gardens and then
DANNY (cont’d): Keanu lands really badly and breaks his leg off and he’s like ’aaaargh’-
ANGEL: 30.
DANNY: "and then he goes to shoot Swayze, but he can’t cause he loves him so much and he fires up in the air and he’s going ’aaaargh’-.
ANGEL: 30.
DANNY: Have you ever fired your gun up in the air and gone ’aaaarh’.

We first get the set-up when Angel and Danny are recording speeds of passing cars and Danny mentions a Point Break reference. Of course, the scene works on its own: Angel is trying to concentrate on the job whilst tolerating Danny’s outgoing personality as Danny excitedly tries to engage in conversation. The most important part, however, is Danny explaining the reference not just to Angel but to us: Reeve’s character can’t shoot Swayze because he loves him too much.

With that in mind, at the climax it is revealed that Danny’s father, Frank (Jim Broadbent), is behind all of the murders and we get this moment:

FRANK: I’ll tell you how this is going to end!
He points his gun at ANGEL. DANNY leaps on FRANK wrestling the gun from him. FRANK sprints off towards ANGEL’s car.
DANNY aims the gun at him and is about to pull the trigger.
He can’t. Instead he points the gun in the air and fires.
DANNY: Aaaaargh!
FRANK jumps in the car and peels off, wheels screeching.

The comedy comes from Danny mirroring an iconic moment that he and the audience recognises, but there is real dramatic weight here. Just like Reeve’s character in Point Break, Danny knows it is his duty to stop Frank, but his love for his father is too much. The comedy and dramatic tension seamlessly blend with one another and it works both in the world of Hot Fuzz and also in the real world of the reader.

Hot Fuzz is a modern classic thanks to Wright and Pegg managing to pull off what only the best comedy scripts can achieve: weaving the comedy into the story and characters. Just like any script, no matter the genre, it can only work if the narrative is strong. On a technical level, the slim dialogue and action lines deliver punchy jokes but also pushes the narrative forward at a brisk pace. The writers prove that the best comedy comes from the characters themselves and their arcs. We laugh at and with the citizens of Sandford, which makes Hot Fuzz all the more endearing. No wonder it keeps winning ‘Village of the Year.’

The Hot Fuzz screenplay can be found at: