Joanna Lumley

Finding Your Feet


It’s tempting to imagine the kind of think-tank meeting that might well have preceded this film.

‘OK, guys, we need to create a movie that appeals to the silver-haired brigade. You know, another Exotic Marigold Hotel. That made millions!’

‘Great. Well, first of all, we’ll need a few National Treasures in the cast. Imelda Staunton, perhaps? Check! Timothy Spall? Excellent! Of course, we’ll have to get Celia Imrie in there somewhere and… oh, yes, Joanna Lumley! And we’ll need to give them something to do. You know, something a bit naughty. Smoking pot, perhaps…. knocking back malt whisky and… dancing! Yes, let’s have them dancing…’

And so on. The inevitable effect, unfortunately, makes Finding Your Feet feel like a cynical exercise in box-ticking. Which is a shame, because there are some excellent actors in this, doing their level best to make it work.

Sandra (Staunton) is the well-to-do wife of Mike (John Sessions), a former chief constable. Hosting his retirement party at their palatial home, she discovers that he’s been cheating on her for the past five years with Pamela (Josie Lawrence) and, understandably miffed, she packs her bags and heads off to the council estate home of her estranged sister, Biff (Imrie), who is what might be described in these circles as ‘a bit  of a character.’ Sandra is understandably in a foul mood when she arrives, which goes some way to explain her general unpleasantness towards everyone she encounters, but not the scene in a Chinese restaurant where her attitude borders on out-and-out racism. Quite why Biff doesn’t send her packing is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, Biff’s close friend, Charlie (Spall), lives on a barge and is currently watching in helpless dismay as his wife, Lilly (Sian Thomas), who has been consigned the the tender mercies of a nursing home, slips further and further into the grip of senile dementia. His first encounters with Sandra are not exactly cordial but, when Biff manages to persuade her sister to come along to the weekly dance class that Charlie also attends, he and Sandra have a quick spin out on the dance floor and, against all the odds, they start to enjoy each other’s company.

What else do we need here? Oh yes, of course, let’s ship the whole cast off to an exotic location – in this case Rome – so they can participate in an international dance festival and where that new relationship can be allowed to blossom. Oh wait, there’s still one vital ingredient missing… oh yes, a terminal illness. Perfect!

All this manages to yield not one single surprise in the telling, and you have to feel a little sorry for the actors who work their socks off to sell this tosh, but even they can’t quite convince us to actually care. I think what’s been overlooked is that The Exotic Marigold Hotel was a more heartfelt affair, with the heft of a Deborah Moggach novel behind it, and – even so – its success as a film most probably came as a pleasant surprise to everyone involved. Indeed, the attempted sequel was a pretty woeful affair as the makers attempted to replicate its charms.

Viewers can easily tell the difference between a genuine story and a marketing exercise. With Finding Your Feet I simply cannot escape the feeling that behind all those light-hearted escapades lurks a mean-spirited attempt to part older viewers from their money – and try as I might, I can’t quite forgive it for that.

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney


Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie



If Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie isn’t the biggest cinematic travesty of all time, then it certainly comes close. I was a fan of the original series in 1992; I liked its sly humour, the way it skewered the pomposity of the fashion industry, and the sheer exuberant silliness of it all. It felt appropriately named, with its big, brash, brightly-coloured car-crash of a central character, and a wonderful supporting cast, who all seemed to be having so much fun.

Twenty-four years on, and it feels like a mistake to return to this trope: it’s already been well and truly mined, and the pickings here are very slim. It’s tired, hackneyed stuff, and that’s a crying shame. The jokes aren’t funny, and a million celebrity cameos just don’t make up for that. The transgender quips are crass and heavy-handed, while an ending that might have seemed daring and outré in 1959’s Some Like It Hot doesn’t quite cut it in 2016. There’s no depth here, no sophistication. It’s not that I think there are no-go areas for comedy, but some issues (dementia, gender-identity, race) surely demand a more considered approach? If you’re going to joke about them, at least say something interesting, something that will make us think.

There are no redeeming features, really. I smiled twice, but never laughed. Nothing is skewered here, except for Edina’s ego. Her newfound self-awareness makes her more tragic than she ever was, but there’s no longer the sense that she’s a product of an industry designed to eat itself. She’s just a fuck-up, with no one but herself to blame. And there’s not much fun in that.

0.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Patrick MacNee: An Appreciation

Unknown Unknown-1


It’s one of my earliest memories from childhood; sitting with my parents in the little living room of whichever RAF home we were in then, waiting for our favourite programme to start. A little flickering screen in the corner. And then that music, Laurie Johnson’s strident theme, the brass section blasting out four notes which seemed to quite literally trumpet the programme’s title. The Avengers! The Avengeeeeers! Then the black and white credit sequence, cutting edge cool in the 1960s. And finally the episode itself, a delicious slice of surreal cold-war spy fluff as John Steed and Emma Peel took on the villains in their own spectacular style. These days of course, the same title conjures up images of brawny superheroes clad in latex and blessed with underwhelming ‘special’ powers, but in those far off times, it meant something quite different.

There had of course been an earlier series with Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, but I don’t really remember that as clearly. The second series is imprinted so perfectly in my memory, that even now, more than fifty years later, I can recall entire scenes, even lines of the witty dialogue. I know that I was absolutely besotted with Diana Rigg who seemed to me the very epitome of feminine mystique – lithe, pretty, intelligent and powerful enough to fell a villain with one perfectly timed karate chop (even if, in long shot, you could sometimes see that she had been cunningly substituted by a burly bloke clad in an ill-fitting leather jumpsuit.) And of course, I saw all the later incarnations. I never really warmed to Linda Thorson as Tara King, but I did like Joanna Lumley as Purdey in The New Avengers, almost as much as I despised Gareth Hunt as the perpetually smirking ‘bit-of-rough’ Mike Gambit.

Through it all, Patrick MacNee’s John Steed remained unchanged, suave, stylish, outfitted in Saville Row’s finest suiting, his trademark bowler hat in place and his deadly weapon (an umbrella) poised ready to take out the toughest opponent. (Apparently, the umbrella was McNee’s idea. He’d been a naval officer in the war and had emerged from the experience with an intense dislike of violence of any kind, so much so, that he steadfastly refused to be pictured with a gun. ‘I’ll carry an umbrella,’ he suggested at an early script meeting and everyone went along with that. It was an inspired idea.)

Of course, the problem with a successful show like The Avengers was the danger that it might typecast the stars. Rigg had no problem escaping its clutches, becoming a major star of the theatre, but McNee didn’t manage much else but some forgettable television and an occasional film cameo; a shady psychiatrist in Joe Dante’s The Howling, a delightful turn as Sir Dennis Eaton-Hogg in This Is Spinal Tap, even a decent showing in a Bond film, opposite Roger Moore in A View To A Kill. But John Steed would remain his signature role, as much a fantasy image perhaps as those created by his female co-stars. In real life, you suspected, you’d actually hate someone like John Steed. With his Gentlemen’s Clubs, his impeccable manners and his old style courtesy, he was, even in the swinging 60s, something of a dinosaur – but MacNee’s charming manner made you believe that underneath it all he was a really nice chap, that should you bump into him in real life, he’d be every bit as charming as his fictional counterpart.

It’s always a jolt when you read that one of your earliest heroes has died. MacNee was 93 years of age, which by any standards is (as Steed himself might have observed) a jolly good innings. Back in the day, we tended to sneer at television shows. It’s only recently that TV has had something of a renaissance and we wax euphoric about the likes of Breaking Bad and True Detective. But The Avengers was an example of television at its most groundbreaking. Re-watching that opening credit sequence on YouTube still gives me the same thrill I had when I was a little boy. And if Patrick MacNee will always be John Steed in the nation’s memory, well that’s no bad thing. Because in his own way, he was one of the greats.

Philip Caveney