New inmates arrive at Slade Prison, amongst them first timer Rudge and hardened criminal Oakes, alongside a new Prison Officer. A short time later Norman Stanley Fletcher and cellmate Lennie Godber find themselves embroiled in a daring escape attempt when the unofficial boss of Slade, inmate Grouty, 'asks' Fletch to organise a football match between prisoners and a visiting celebrity team.
Most British sitcoms share a similar thematic set up, invariably focusing on individuals who are trapped either by their peers, class or environment. Porridge was the ultimate example of this with Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale a perfect double act as the cynical career criminal Fletch (Ronnie Barker) and naïve new inmate Godber (Richard Beckinsale). Two years after the final episode it was, like many sitcoms of the time, given the big screen treatment and is one of the better examples of the trend. The fact that the format precludes the overused plot device of taking the sitcom characters on holiday is certainly a factor in its success.
Written by series creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who also take director and producer duties respectively, it kicks off with a group of new arrivals making their way by van to the isolated Slade Prison. A radio dj playing a listener's request, Harry Nilsson's "Without You", is used as an effective opening theme. In fact the radio is inventively employed throughout the film to back up or undercut the action. An appropriate device as it's one of the few daily contacts the inmates have with the outside world.
Clement and La Frenais' script has a more leisurely pace than the sitcom but successfully maintains the 'don't let the bastards grind you down' tone of the series. The one-liners and small victories made by Fletch are all there and as funny as ever. Fans will also be pleased to see not only Fulton Mackay (MacKay) and Brian Wilde (Mr Barrowclough) in the cast but cameos from a few regular characters such as 'Orrible Ives and Bunny Warren. Once the plot begins, which like any good prison movie focuses on a jailbreak, the comedy doesn't suffer as there are still plenty of humorous lines and situations; the excitement generated by the showbiz team, or non-showbiz team seeing as even "Buck Tarbrush" hasn't turned up, the attempts by Fletcher and Godber to break back into Slade.
Porridge is rightfully one of the most fondly remembered sitcoms and this big screen version is equally successful. Indeed with its location work at HMP Chelmsford it all looks far harsher and more authentic than the confines of the television studio ever could. A sitcom movie that will even entertain those unfamiliar with the small screen exploits of Fletch and Godber it deserves to be filed alongside similarly well-executed films such as The Likely Lads rather than naff efforts like Are You Being Served?