THE ROYLE FAMILY: ONE OF BRITAIN’S BEST SITCOMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

roylefamily christmas

THE ROYLE FAMILY. (1998-2000 and 2006-2012.) STARRING CAROLINE AHERNE, CRAIG CASH, SUE JOHNSTON, RICKY TOMLINSON, RALF LITTLE, LIZ SMITH, DOREEN KEOGH, PETER MARTIN, JESSICA HYNES, ANDREW WHYMENT, TOM COURTENAY, HELEN FRASER AND GEOFFREY HUGHES.

THEME MUSIC: HALF THE WORLD AWAY BY OASIS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such a genius sitcom. It’s warm, hilariously witty, down-to-earth and the genius part is that it’s based on such a simple premise, ie, a bunch of working-class folks from Manchester sitting round on a family couch in front of the telly, just talking shite-talk to each other.

‘Whatcher ‘ave for your tea, Dave?’ and ‘You’ll never guess who was in’t Chinese last night?’ Stuff like that, the shite-talk we talk with our families and friends every day. It might not be earth-shattering, but it’s the stuff of which everyday life is made up.

Caroline Aherne as Denise Royle is pure comic genius. Denise is lazy in the extreme, which means that she and her work-shy Dad Jim Royle are like two peas in a pod. She chain-smokes and she can sink a pint as well as her dad and her hubby Dave, and she’s not one to let impending marriage and motherhood tie her down. ‘I’ve gotter keep me independence, Mam…!’ (How many times does she palm them kiddies off on ‘er mam and dad…?)

Dave, a removals man and sometimes-disc jockey, is completely under Denise’s thumb. If he has any ambitions in life beyond slouching on the Royles’ couch eating one of Denise’s mam’s bacon butties, he keeps it well hidden. (Well, Denise doesn’t feed him, lol. That’s apparently not part of her remit as Dave’s missus…!)

He enjoys a pint or fifteen of a night, down the Feathers with his main man Jim Royle, and if he should happen to bump into his ex there, Beverly Macca with the great big knockers, well, he’d best keep schtum about it, that’s all, or Our Denise’ll ‘ave his testicles for ping-pong balls. She will an’ all, our Dave…!

Our Mam, or Barbara Royle, is like Marge Simpson from The Simpsons. She medicates her brood with food, an endless assembly line of grub to cork their cryholes, everything from the aforementioned bacon butties to a Christmas dinner big enough to feed all outdoors to a Kit-Kat or a Bounty bar with your cup of char.

She didn’t exactly draw James Bond or Prince Rainier of Monaco in the lottery of marriage, but she seems to be holding up okay under it. She loves her kids and grand-kids and a bit of gossip, but some of her hubby Jim’s grottier habits turn her stomach, and no wonder.

Jim is a character. His armchair in the family living-room is his throne, and from here he holds his court, and holds forth also, on every subject under the sun. And, to every subject under the sun, from having to pay 5p for a plastic carrier bag at the shops to Dave’s dad’s owning a Ford Mondeo, he says ‘My arse…!’ It’s sort of his catch-phrase, if you will. When he opens his wallet, the Queen declares a Bank Holiday, and he’ll have to be buried with his TV remote control, it means that much to him.

Antony Royle, aka Our Ant’ny, is Jim’s son and heir, though you wouldn’t think it, the abuse Jim gives him, calling him gayboy and Lurch from the Addams Family and yeh lazy sod and yeh lazy git and get up there and make yer sodding family a brew…! But Our Ant’ny will grow up to be, of the two Royle offspring, the more successful and dynamic, ending up going to conferences in Congleton and other such high-flying places, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jim Royle.

If you enjoyed Big Brother in the 2000s, you’ll love Our Ant’ny’s impersonations of Craig Phillips, the winner of series one of the show, nominating fellow contestant Sada in the diary room scenes. Our Ant’ny’s a big Ali G fan too, and he and his hilariously funny dopey mate Darren, aka Kirk Sutherland from Coronation Street, have great craic outdoing each other with their classic imitations of same. ‘You is da king of the batty men…!’ Yes, indeed, harrumph, harrumph.

Norma Jean Speakman, or Nanna Royle, is a canny old dear. When she practically strips her dear dead friend Elsie’s house of ‘a few bits’ that she has her gimlet eye on after the funeral, you can see why Liz Smith was asked to play Mrs. Dilber in not one but two screen versions of Charles Dickens’s perennial favourite story, A Christmas Carol…! Still, she gives Our Ant’ny three pounds when he goes up to London for the day to be a big music mogul, so she can’t be all bad.

Norma and her son-in-law Jim fight like cat and dog, but they love each other really, as we see in the truly gut-wrenching special episode The Queen of Sheba in which… gasp, sob, sniffle… Nanna Dies. And this is meant to be comedy, lol…! Remember when Nanna asks her daughter Barbara back in 1999 if she (Nanna) is definitely ‘staying over for Minnelium Night…?’ It’s one of my most enduring memories of the late ’90s and early ‘Noughties.

Mary and Joseph (Mary and Joseph, lol!) from next door are always popping in the back door, Irish Mary to swap bits of gossip with Barbara and to ‘have a bit of a sniff around to see if she can smell anything untoward’ after Dave treks dog muck in on his shoe, and the monosyllabic Joe to make such magnificent pronouncements as ‘A little baby…!’ when Denise announces that herself and Dave are expecting a visit from the Stork.

Mary and Joseph’s one child, their daughter Cheryl (not Jesus!), is always unsuccessfully on a diet, always hungry and always stuffing her face. She’s always on the hunt for a bloke too. That time she tries putting an ad in the personals and Lomper from The Full Monty, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and a tie, ends up on the Royle family couch between Cheryl and a practically prone Our Denise so that the Royles can give him the once-over is so pricelessly funny. Uncomfortable is not the word.

My favourite character is Twiggy. A big bear of a man with a heart of pure gold, he can sell you anything in the world your little heart desires, but just give him some time to rob it first, right? He only sees his son Lee when they both end up in the same nick together at the same time and, if there’s any free grub going round at his great mate Jim’s house, you can be sure that Twiggy’ll be first in line. ‘Our Ant’ny, put some bacon under for Twiggy, would you?’

The Royles do Christmas so well. It’s that kind of magical Christmas from the ’90s and the 2000s when mobile phones were still a novelty and shops, horror of horrors, did occasionally close and allow families some time to veg out on the couch together and watch The Snowman while pigging out on turkey sandwiches and Quality Street.

Back then, of course, Quality Street choccies came in a proper tin. A tin, mark you, and none of this plastic tub or even plastic pouch shite. Pouch, my arse…! Sigh. Don’t even get me started on how much our favourite sweets and chocolates have changed since the ’90s.

My two favourite episodes are Christmas ones. One is the one where Emma, Our Ant’ny’s preggers girlfriend, brings her well-to-do parents round to meet the Royles one Crimbo Night, and everyone ends up goggling at the breast implants that Roger (John Henshaw) has bought for his blonde wife, Valerie (Sharon Duce).

Nanna develops quite the girl-crush on Valerie, but she’s really curious to know first if the airline’s advised Valerie if her new titties have been cleared for take-off. Then, when it’s pull-a-cracker time, Nanna was ‘hoping for Valerie’ to be her cracker buddy. It’s just so funny.

Then, finally, there’s my favourite episode of all, the one where Denise goes into labour at Christmas-time and everyone rushes off down the ‘ospital with her. The camera pans round the empty living-room, empty of people but full of Christmas, with the lights and the tree and the cards and the telly and the couch.

That heavenly couch ‘upstairs’ has quite a few Royle behinds settled on it by now, sadly. The wonderful Caroline Aherne, Liz Smith, Doreen Keogh and Geoffrey Hughes are all deceased now. No doubt they’ll be joined by other cast members in the fullness of time. We’ll always have our memories of them, and the three series and four Christmas specials of this magnificent sitcom that captured so brilliantly the essence of the ’90s and the new ‘minnelium.’ All together now: Sitcom, my arse…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984): THE ONE WITH GEORGE C. SCOTT. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

scrooge george c scott ed woodward

A CHRISTMAS CAROL. (1984) BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS.  DIRECTED BY CLIVE DONNER. STARRING GEORGE C. SCOTT, ROGER REES, DAVID WARNER, SUSANNAH YORK, FRANK FINLAY, ANGELA PLEASENCE, EDWARD WOODWARD, MICHAEL GOUGH, DEREK FRANCIS, LIZ SMITH AND PETER WOODTHORPE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Christmas is the ideal time to watch- or read!- a bit of Charles Dickens, whose 1843 novel A CHRISTMAS CAROL formed the basis of much of how we ‘do’ Christmas today. The image of a picture-perfect, Christmas card/snowglobe idea of the Victorian English Christmas was firmly cemented in our pysches because of this marvellous book.

All the best and nicest Christmas cards have these gorgeous Victorian images imprinted on them. Children skating happily on a frozen-over pond, a Victorian shopping street with toy shops and bread shops and confectionery shops and butchers’ shops all festively decked out for Christmas, the magnificent real pine Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and dozens of brightly-lit candles and the home-made angel atop the lot, these are the images we know and love.

It’s probably best that no cards portray the house burning to the ground because the flame from one of the candles rather cheekily flew up the cardboard skirt of the tree’s crowning glory, the lovely angel.

And certainly no Christmas card would be crass enough to show Little Tommy drowning when he falls through a hole in the ice while skating, or Little Mary, starving with the hunger like many Victorian urchins were, freezing to death overnight in the pie-shop doorway, within sniffing distance of the delectable aromas of the delicious produce she could never herself afford. Thank you a thousand times to the greetings-card-makers who’ve spared us these tasteless scenes…!

And I know I say this every time I review another movie adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, but I never get tired of this story. George C. Scott is wonderful as Ebenezer Scrooge in this non-musical version from 1984.

He joins a whole host of other wonderful actors who have all taken on the role over the years: Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Jim Carrey (in a superb animated version) and even Kelsey Grammer in yet another all-singing, all-dancing musical version of the story.

George C. Scott won the Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for PATTON, but he’s also known for his horror acting in films such as THE EXORCIST 3, my personal favourite of the three EXORCIST films, and THE CHANGELING. THE CHANGELING is possibly the scariest ghost story of all time next to THE HAUNTING, which was based on the bestselling book THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by acclaimed author Shirley Jackson.

Ebenezer Scrooge is, of course, Charles Dickens’s famous miser, the crotchety, cranky old moneylender from Victorian times who thinks that Christmas and everything to do with it is a big fat ‘humbug.’ In his own words: ‘I do not make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.’ Bah humbug, indeed.

David Warner (STRAW DOGS, DAMIEN: THE OMEN, TITANIC) is great here too as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk whom Scrooge pays a pittance of a wage. In addition, Scrooge is a bugger to work for and he’s constantly threatening Bob with the sack, so the job security isn’t worth much either.

Susannah York plays the terrifyingly efficient Mrs. Bob Cratchit and the mother of their half-a-dozen children. Well, there wasn’t much to do in the evenings back then before the telly was invented, lol, so big families resulted from all the extra sex they were having.

Tiny Tim looks much too corpse-like in this one. As with what we were saying earlier about the Crimbo cards, we want to see charming Christmassy scenes, not look at sick, starving urchins, tsk tsk. We don’t want to be made to feel guilty about how much better off we are than them, the very idea…!

Frank Finlay plays the ghost of Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Having lived a life exactly as penny-pinching, money-grubbing, cheerless and inhuman to his fellow man as Scrooge now does, he is forced to wear ‘the chains he forged in life’ for all eternity, and quite a weight they are too. He’s come to warn Scrooge to change his miserly ways, or else he’ll end up like him, the poor haunted Jacob Marley, for whom redemption can now never come.

Angela Pleasance, daughter of Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis in HALLOWEEN) and herself a terrific actor in her own right (I love her in SYMPTOMS from 1974), kicks ass here as the Ghost Of Christmas Past. 

Sporting an uncompromisingly ‘Eighties blonde rocker hairstyle, she shows Scrooge his lonely childhood and the school where he lived all year round (‘I was a boy in this place’), even at Christmas, because his cold, hard father wouldn’t have him in the house.

His father, whose wife died having Scrooge, clearly blames poor Ebenezer for the death of his wife and is at least partly, if not wholly, to blame himself for how Scrooge turns out. It’s quite a sad little back-story and it helps us to understand why Scrooge hardens his heart against mankind and behaves in as miserly a fashion as he does.

He’s completely closed himself off to love and affection and his lovely fiancée Belle dumps him because she can clearly see that another idol- money- has replaced her. Scrooge is too foolish and weak to even try to hold onto her, a decision he’ll live to regret in the long cold cheerless years that follow.

Edward Woodward (THE WICKER MAN, THE EQUALISER) is even bitchier and blunter as the Ghost Of Christmas Present. He shows a frightened Scrooge what will happen to Tiny Tim if the Cratchit family remains as poor and hungry as it is.

‘If the shadows remain unaltered, the child will die.’ By the way, I don’t think that he, the Ghost Of Christmas Past, should be stuffing those two children quite so snugly under his robe like that but hey! Those were different times.

By the time the Ghost Of Christmas Future scares the living daylights out of Scrooge with the sordid little tableau featuring Liz Smith (Nanna from THE ROYLE FAMILY) as Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and Peter Woodthorpe (HAMMER’S THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE SKULL for AMICUS) as Old Joe, Scrooge is more than ready to change his heartless ways.

No longer will he coldly maintain of his fellow men that ‘if they are going to die then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’ No longer will he declare Christmas to be a humbug.

He makes up with his poor neglected nephew Fred (Roger Rees), the son of his beloved dead sister Fanny, and he delights the charity collector (Michael Gough; DRACULA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA- the HAMMER one) with news of a whopping donation. ‘A great many back payments are included in it, I assure you!’ Indeed they are, folks. Indeed they are.

So that’s it anyway; another day, another brilliant movie adaptation of Charles Dickens’s timeless classic. Happy Christmas to everyone reading this and remember, roasting your nuts on an open fire isn’t always as fun and painless as it sounds…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor