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  Likely Lads, The Quiet Desperation
Year: 1976
Director: Michael Tuchner
Stars: Rodney Bewes, James Bolam, Brigit Forsyth, Mary Tamm, Sheila Fearn, Zena Walker, Judy Buxton, Alun Armstrong, Vicki Michelle, Ronald Lacey, Anulka Dziubinska, Penny Irving
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Working class, Newcastle-born Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) and Terry Collier (James Bolam) have been friends since childhood, but are finding that times are moving on even if they don't like the idea of settling down. When the street where they used to live is demolished, they make a point of visiting their old local pub as the rubble falls nearby for a final pint, triggering a mid-life crisis of sorts in them both as Bob has to face life with his wife, the formidable Thelma (Brigit Forsyth), and recently divorced Terry acquires a new girlfriend (Mary Tamm).

"Hello Thelma. Pet." The Likely Lads were created by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais for their sixties sitcom, one of the early hits for the then-new BBC2 channel, but this grittier film is based on their seventies TV revival, the classic Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? At this time, it seemed as if the only thing propping up the British film industry were feature-length versions of popular sitcoms, but while many of these adaptations haven't aged well (assuming they were actually any good in the first place), The Likely Lads emerges as possibly the best of them (sorry, On the Buses fans), sustaining the melancholy humour and finely drawn characters of the original.

Clement and La Frenais put this sustained quality in translation down to their experience in writing actual film scripts in the sixties, before they moved into television, but they were assisted by excellent performances, especially in the leads. Bewes and Bolam are an unbeatable team, with the aspirational, pretentious Bob frequently being brought down to earth by wounded cynic Terry, you can't imagine anyone else as effective (though there was a remake of one episode decades later that's best ignored). They are both nostalgic for their childhoods and the not-so-far-away years as hard drinking, bird-chasing blokes, and find it difficult to admit they're starting to get on a bit. The mundanity of the modern world gets them down, and they spend their lives either at work (Terry is now a milkman), in the pub or in the supermarket.

It's getting to be a bit of a grind. So they do what happens so often in sitcom movies - they go on holiday (see also Please Sir, Are You Being Served? and the legendary Holiday On the Buses - even latecomers like The Inbetweeners Movie). But this is the great British caravan holiday in its undeniable heyday of the seventies; it's dull, rainy, boring and generally miserable, summed up by the scene where one night during a game of cards, Terry takes a piss on the side of the caravan and everyone inside can hear it. It's no surprise they'd prefer to be at home, leading to a comedy of embarrassment when Bob and Terry decide to curtail the trip early one morning, accidentally leaving Thelma and Terry's partner behind in their nighties.

The jokes are surprisingly good when compared to much that was around at the time in the form: "I'd offer you a beer, but I've only got six cans", "She's not as pretty as the last one", and even the coarsening of the humour, such as more frank sexual talk and mild swearing ("I couldn't give a shit!"), doesn't seem too out of place, not as much as it did in some of its contemporaries. These were now adults crushed with grown-up responsibilities, contrasted with the near-feral kids continually haring around outside who don't have a care in the world. Unfortunately there isn't really enough plot to last the full ninety minutes, and the ending resolves itself into a letdown of a trouserless bedroom farce that is mildly amusing, but not exactly witty when the dialogue is not relied upon. Yet those characters remain as great as they were on television (special mention to Forsyth as the terminally unimpressed Thelma, Bob's embodiment of his middle class aspiration), and the downbeat comedy still works like a charm. Music by Mike Hugg (but doesn't include the memorable "Oh, what happened to you?" theme tune of the series).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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