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Carry on loving: Hattie (2011) ~ Review

February 21, 2011

Directed by: Dan Zeff

Starring: Ruth Jones, Robert Bathurst, Aidan Turner, Jeany Spark, Marcia Warren

Written by: Stephen Russell

UK; 85 minutes; Colour; Certificate: 12

~~~

Hattie Jacques will be forever fixed in the British conciousness as the always loveably rotund, often stern and officious, sometimes warm and motherly star of 14 Carry On films. As she should be; she was a comedy actress par excellence and one of the finest artists to work on that much loved, so-long-running UK movie series.

Yet, thanks to a relatively recent biography of her, an episode in her life has come to light that – for the few who have read or heard about it – has cast her in an entirely different light. Namely that, shock horror, the matronly Hattie left and divorced her husband (Dad’s Army legend John Le Mesurier) over a passionate affair she had with another man – at the time, the media were made to believe Le Mesurier was the philanderer and therefore the guilty party, but this was a ruse concocted to save Jacques’ face and career.

Quite the revelation and, as the subject matter for the recent BBC4 film simply entitled Hattie, quite the story around which to create a drama. But does Hattie fulfil its potential and do the thing justice or just turn it into something of a smutty, nudge-nudge, wink-wink slapstick?

Well, thankfully, I’d say by and large it achieves the former. Fair dos, it’s neither breathtaking nor groundbreaking filmmaking, but as a TV movie that dramatises the real lives of two peeps who were once very much in the public eye (and are pretty much still a constant on our telly screens today), it certainly hits the spot. Indeed, it seems small-screen viewers agree – the first showing of Hattie, broadcast last month, pulled in the highest ever ratings for anything on the excellent, young BBC4 channel.

The story kicks-off in 1963 and all is as normal in the Le Mesurier/ Jacques household. Hattie’s in her prime, a household name about to start filming the latest Carry On film (Carry On Cabby – the seventh of the series), John’s career seems to be permanently stalled and he’s low on confidence; but both are colourful and charismatic characters in their middle class, actorly social circle and doting parents to their two young children.

It’s now that a complication arises in the shape of a driver Hattie meets named John Schofield. Immediately attracted to each other, the pair embark on an affair that, rather bizarrely, sees the latter move into Jacques’ home as the family’s new lodger. Even more bizarre is Le Mesurier’s reaction when he obviously becomes aware that something is afoot…

What primarily makes Hattie tick is its writing and the acting. Stephen Russell’s script may not necessarily contain the most sparkling dialogue imaginable, but smartly and believably recreates the well-to-do bohemian environment in the London suburbs that Hattie and the two Johns make for themselves – where their unusual ménage à trois takes place. At no point do any of the situations seem unconvincing; unlikely perhaps, unconvincing no.

Like the set and costume design too, he recreates the time and place of  early ’60s Britain wonderfully. For instance, artsy John Le Mesurier not knowing what an ‘entrepreneur’ is when he enquires the occupation of his love rival makes for a nice moment. Plus, when the action switches to the filming of Cabby, one genuinely feels they’re catching a glimpse behind-the-scenes of a Carry On – the swearing-like-a-trooper of Marcia Warren’s Esma Cannon (so unlike the coy spinsters the character actress memorably portrayed) is a particular delight.

Acting-wise, the talented Ruth Jones (who, after the success of Gavin & Stacey, one may argue is on the way to becoming a household name herself) does a very good job as the unforgettable Ms Jacques. Her Hattie is fun, urbane, sexy and unquestionably sexual. And, in the face of her terribly put-upon husband, surprisingly empathethic too. Speaking of Le Mesurier, well, must admit, I’ve never been crazy about Robert Bathurst (the posh one from Cold Feet), but here he delivers a finely judged, balanced portrayal of the TV sitcom star as a thoroughly decent, but dandyish and effete chap – the script works to make him not come across as just a pathetic figure, but it’s Bathurst who really makes sure he doesn’t. Closing out the trio of leads is Aidan Turner (of Being Human and Desperate Romantics fame) as Hattie’s head-turner. While this character may not possess the richness or depth of the other two, its actor definitely does a decent job, hiding his Irish burr under an impressive Cockney accent, as he does.

So, while Hattie may not deliver its audience with anything truly great – unlike, say, Michael Sheen’s performance as Kenneth Williams in BBC4’s Fantabulosa! a few years back – it does deliver dashes of quality, doses of entertainment and definitely a more likely reality of Hattie Jacques’ life than that presented in the This Is Your Life episode devoted to her that it nicely recreates at one point. If only that programme’s loyal audience had known what their heroine Hattie was really getting up to – they’d have thought it a right carry on and no mistake.

You can purchase Hattie on DVD (Region 2 Format) here

~~~

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Pete permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:01 pm

    Hattie Jacques was more than just a comedienne, she was an all round performer. (Pun unintended!) In the Carry-Ons, she was a cornerstone. A frontline performer. As Eric Sykes ‘sister’ she was the butt of nearly all the jokes. Hattie also worked with the best, for example, Norman Wisdom and Tony Hancock. She had formerly spent years on the stage, radio and music hall as both actress and an accomplished singer.
    Ruth Jones played Hattie wonderfully. Her performance was just as good as Michael Sheen’s Kenneth Williams. The 2 characters were just universally different.
    Her death meant she was a huge loss (again, pun unintended) to the performance industry and the public. She was respected by all.

    • February 22, 2011 12:26 am

      Yes, Hattie Jacques was a most talented, one-off, Peter. And, yes, she did much more than I was able to include in the review above – thanks for pointing out other projects she worked on.

      Her death was indeed sad – like so many of the great performers, she went too soon.

      Anyhoo, thanks for the comment…! 🙂

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