The curse of the “Great British Movie”.
Don’t get me wrong – I liked this film. It was fun, moving in parts, well acted and lovingly constructed. It was just that it has been, like so many British films of its ilk, oversold. I never really found Four Weddings all that either. Fortunately, my expectations were sufficiently realistic that the slight sense of letdown was just that, slight, and I could get on and enjoy the film for what it was.
It sits in that peculiarly British vein of comedies set against a gritty, realistic backdrop that observes the harsh realities, stays within the plausible and believable and yet manages to be escapist and romantic at the same time, incorporating some of the most hackneyed of Hollywood cliches.
Recession Sheffield and Gaz (Robert Carlyle) is out of work and separated from his wife, who has taken their son, Nathan (William Snape), and set up a new home with a new man. Gaz owes maintenance and is going to be forbidden to see Nathan unless he can raise the money. Gaz, always ready with ideas if not with prospects, is reduced to trying, rather ineptly, to trying to ‘salvage’ steel to sell from the closed-down factory with his friend Dave (Mark Addy). Foiled in this, and even more desperate, Gaz is inspired by a poster advertising celebrated male strippers The Chippendales (a real troupe) to form his own group and appear, just the once, at a local club to try and raise money. Auditioning at the factory Gaz brings in fellow desperate men, including their old supervisor Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), willing to appear near-nude, not out of vanity but out of desperation.
There are a couple of scenes which have, out of context, become iconic for the film, most of all the dancing-in-the-dole-queue one so cringe-worthly restaged with Prince Charles joining in (no, really). These scenes work much better, though occasionally still making me wince, when restored to their narrative context.
The film covers several themes quietly and not too bluntly – the damage done to communities and families by recession, men’s self-esteem and how it is so often tied to economic value, homosexuality in macho, working class cultures, and how men and women often talk past one another. And yet, none of this really matters in terms of the film; it’s just a backdrop for the real point, which is basically a “let’s stage it right here!” setup for the denoument of Carlyle and buddies taking their kit off in front of a raucous crowd of women.
So, a good film and great fun, but not the great film it’s sometimes made out to be – at least, not to this viewer.