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

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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

NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! A DOUBLE FESTIVE MOVIE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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NATIVITY! (2009) and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! (2012) BOTH FILMS DIRECTED BY DEBBIE ISITT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched these two films as a double bill on Christmas Eve, and they weren’t half as excruciating as I was expecting ’em to be from what I’d heard, lol. In fact, my son and I were laughing out loud at times at the implausible but warm-hearted and well-intentioned silliness of it all.

In NATIVITY!, the original film, Martin Freeman (THE HOBBIT and about a million other things) plays an unhappy primary school teacher called Paul Maddens. He’s unhappy because his lovely bubbly blonde girlfriend Jennifer has left him and buggered off to Hollywood to become a film producer. ‘Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach primary.’

Now he’s embittered, cranky and seemingly incapable of having any fun. The kids in his class are definitely suffering under his tense and rigid play-everything-by-the-book rule. He’s become a bit of a Scrooge, frankly.

Paul is horrified one morning at Assembly when the headmistress of St. Bernadette’s, Mrs. Bevan (played by Pam Ferris), announces that he, Paul Maddens, is to take charge of the school Nativity play this year.

This will possibly be Mrs. Bevan’s last year as the Head, and her dearest wish before she retires is to have St. Bernadette’s take the five-star-review for their Nativity play from local critic and super-bitch Patrick Burns (‘That’s why they call ’em ‘Burns’ Victims…!”), played by Alan Carr. (Ricky Tomlinson from THE ROYLE FAMILY cameos here also as the local Lord Mayor.)

Normally the five-star-review goes to Oakmoor, the local posh school, whose Nativity is run by Gordon Shakespeare, Paul’s old friend from drama school and his fiercest rival. No pressure then, Paulie my man.

Paul is horrified at the thought of having to shoulder this new challenge/burden/responsibility/millstone, but never fear, Mrs. Bevan has lined up some help for him…

This help comes in the form of overgrown-schoolboy-type Desmond Poppy (played by Marc Wootton), Paul’s new classroom assistant who just so happens to be Mrs. Bevan’s nephew. Mr. Poppy is much more interested in playing the fool and having fun than helping the children to buckle down and learn anything.

Mr. Poppy is excited beyond measure at the thought of the Nativity play, especially when he overhears Paul boasting- lying- to his rival Gordon Shakespeare about how Jennifer, Paul’s old girlfriend who’s now a bigshot Hollywood producer, is coming to the Nativity play at St. Bernadette’s with a big fancy Hollywood camera crew.

This lie grows legs and is all over the school and, indeed, the town by lunchtime. Paul is in a quandary. He can either tell the truth about how there is no Hollywood production team coming to see the Nativity play, thereby making the school famous, and devastate the kids and their parents, or he can bloody well get on the blower to Jennifer in Hollywood and try to make it happen. Of course he can do that. It’s not like he’s still hopelessly in love with her or anything…

NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! is much funnier, I feel. Mrs. Bevan has not retired, and the fun-loving Mr. Poppy is still in situ. This time around, he’s terribly excited about ‘A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS,’ a talent show for schools that’s taking place in Wales this Christmas.

Mrs. Bevan says that they can’t take part because St. Bernadette’s has neither the time, the talent (cheek!) nor the transport to manage it. But since when have rules and regulations ever stopped the ebullient Mr. Poppy from doing exactly what he pleases? He throws himself into the singing auditions in true Simon Cowell-style, and before long he and the pupils of Class Seven have a song for the show.

One of the many flies in the ointment is the new Class Seven teacher Donald Peterson, played by Scottish heart-throb David DR. WHO Tennant. (Mmmmmm, David Tennant…!)

As a new teacher, Donald Peterson is anxious to play-everything-by-the-book and if Mrs. Bevan says that there’s to be no show, which she most assuredly has done, then that’s that.

So how come he suddenly finds himself aboard a presumably stolen amphibian bus full of eager kids, being driven to Wales by the irrepressible Mr. Poppy, who knows as much about navigation, child safety and the rules of the road as he does about the flippin’ Periodic Table?

Mr. Peterson is beside himself with rage and anxiety. He’s got a pregnant wife at home who’s due to give birth at any time, and Mr. Poppy has chucked his (Donald’s) phone out the bus window so now he has no way of contacting her. Nice one, Mr. Poppy…

The journey to Wales becomes utterly unbelievable at times. We’re expected to believe that a class full of kids, two adult males (Mr. Poppy and Mr. Peterson) and a donkey and a baby (don’t ask!) can casually climb up and down mountains that experienced hikers who’ve been planning for months would find hard to do. Just do what I did and say to yourself: It’s a film. These things happen in films…

A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS is hilarious and deliciously bitchy. Class Seven is not only up against their old enemy, Gordon Shakespeare and his little coterie of poshos from snobby Oakmoor, but against Roderick Peterson as well.

Roderick is the world-famous conductor who just so happens to be Donald Peterson’s identical twin brother (also played by David Tennant) and their father’s favourite, more successful son. There’s obviously a lot at stake here.

The songs in the contest are funny and witty and Angel Matthews, the celebrity soprano-cum-presenter, is an utter bitch who quite obviously fancies the terrifyingly ambitious Roderick Peterson, who represents St. Cuthbert’s School. (‘Inhale success, exhale doubt.’) Well, he’s even more of a bitch so they ought to complement each other nicely.

So, does Mr. Peterson win the contest and grab back some of his self-respect from the father (played by Ian McNeice) and brother who’ve spent his lifetime trying to erode it? Can the two brothers ever be friends after all the animosity and hostility that’s come between them in the past, and that their father has clearly encouraged in order to spur them into further competing with each other? It’s a surprisingly common method of parenting but not one, I fear, that yields the sweetest results.

Does Mr. Poppy keep his job after the Head finds out what he’s done? Can St. Bernadette’s come out on top for once? The kids certainly deserve it after the journey they’ve made, but will they be disqualified for breaking nearly all the rules of the contest? We’ll see…

The crowds of people arriving at the contest in their droves for St. Bernadette’s reminds me of CLOCKWISE. This is a comedy film starring John Cleese about the headmaster of an ordinary comprehensive school who’s travelling to a much posher school to give an address during a headmasters’ conference. CLOCKWISE is a genuinely witty and funny film. Watch it if you can.

The kiddie actors are great in both NATIVITY! films, by the way. There’s an especially cute little boy called Bob (played by Ben Wilby) who Wilby (will be!) a very good actor when he grows up.

NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! aren’t exactly on a par with CITIZEN KANE but they’ll keep the kids busy- and in fits of laughter- while you peel the sprouts this Christmas. Job done.

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