Technicolor yawns?

Chris Hallam on the often dreadful big-screen sitcom spin-offs

With Leigh Francis’s character Keith Lemon about to hit the big screen and the success of The Inbetweeners film leading to US remake, perhaps it is finally time to ask: has Britain finally got the hang of exporting its TV comedies to the cinema screen?

It has certainly been a long struggle. In the Seventies, numerous attempts were made to transfer sitcom successes into movies in a desperate effort to keep the nation’s ailing film industry alive.

On The Buses. Bless This House. Please Sir! Most were effectively several episodes cobbled together from series which were not very good in the first place. Others resorted to lazy clichés such as the cast going on holiday (Are You Being Served..? Holiday on the Buses). Others lost the essence of what had made the original show good in the first place: Rising Damp was made after co-star Richard Beckinsale had died while even Dad’s Army, a great show on the small screen was disappointingly flat as a film. Elements such as Pike’s exact relationship with Sgt Wilson were treated with much less subtly than they had been in the series.

Not all the films were bad, of course. The Monty Python movies featured some of their best work while the films of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’s Porridge and The Likely Lads gave an early hint as to why the writing duo would later enjoy some success in Hollywood.

Even so, the practice died out in the Eighties. The film Clockwise may owe a lot to Fawlty and TV stars Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones did try to breakthrough in the likes of Morons From Outer Space and Wilt, but there were few straight spin-offs. And the industry continued to fester anyway.

In the late Nineties, with the film industry recovering again, more attempts were made to square the circle. But even when commercially successful, the likes of Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, Kevin and Perry Go Large and Johnny English (inspired by a series of adverts) were hardly any better than Steptoe and Son Ride Again. Guest House Paradiso may have changed the character’s names but was still Bottom. Even with intelligent source material, Ali G In Da House and League Of Gentlemen: Apocalypse floundered.

The last few years have definitely seen an improvement, though. No, I’m not arguing The Inbetweeners: The Movie was great either. It was at least as guilty of the lazy ‘holiday’ format favoured by some of its Seventies counterparts. The film was a hit - for all its crudity – for the same reason as the series was: because of its winning characters. And I’ll reserve judgement on the Keith Lemon project until it comes out.

But in In The Loop, based on The Thick of It, as well as in Borat we have proof that great comedy films can be made using British TV comedy characters. Let’s hope the same logic applies to the much-anticipated Alan Partridge movie.

Published: 27 Jul 2012

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