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  Till Death Us Do Part Her Bitter 'Alf
Year: 1968
Director: Norman Cohen
Stars: Warren Mitchell, Dandy Nichols, Anthony Booth, Una Stubbs, Liam Redmond, Bill Maynard, Brian Blessed, Sam Kydd, Frank Thornton, Ann Lancaster, Michael Robbins, Pat Coombs, Kate Williams, Shelagh Fraser, John D. Collins, Geoffrey Hughes, Tommy Godfrey
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) was born a Londoner, and if he has his way he'll die a Londoner, nobody can change that, not even the advent of World War II. Alf is an unashamed bigot and generally wrong about pretty much everything, including in 1939 when he refused to believe Great Britain would go into battle, especially with a strong leader like Neville Chamberlain (in Alf's mind), but he was soon proved incorrect, as would be the case throughout his life. For all his rhetoric about how proud he was to be British, he wasn't even prepared to fight for his country...

Writer Johnny Speight began his groundbreaking sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, of which this was the movie version, as a way of laying out various issues facing Britain in the sixties, issues which other comedies of the day were reluctant to confront. By placing the prejudice of his Garnett character right out there, he was able to come up with a dialogue between right and left in the form of Alf's older generation heatedly discussing politics and society which were hot button topics with the more enlightened younger generation, represented by his daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) and her boyfriend Mike (Anthony Booth) who would adopt Speight's less conservative point of view.

Also appearing was Dandy Nichols as Elsie, Alf's longsuffering wife who may have seemed meek but was able to come up with the odd pithy retort to her husband's diatribes. All four of these stars returned to these roles for this film, though the series itself would continue into the seventies to diminishing returns for many in the audience, as if Speight's work was done and he was repeating himself by the end of the programme's run. That didn't stop him reviving it for the eighties sitcom In Sickness and In Health and some Garnett specials, but by that stage he was talking to the older generation almost exclusively, and his most famous creation was looking less ironically received than was intended, but then there were always those who took him at face value.

Which brought us to the largely forgotten movie; there were two in fact, but this first was regarded as the better. Much of what made the television incarnation popular was the shock value, hearing people say the sort of thing they'd only let out in their least guarded moments, so Speight and his director Norman Cohen were plainly trying to sustain that, though in practice this meant a curious emphasis on toilets, which you wouldn't have got on the small screen of the day. So Alf often sits in his outside loo in conversation with the neighbour who is doing the same in his lavatory next door, a moment of reflection for them both as valuable as the pub at the corner of their terraced street (Mitchell also demonstrates the correct way to eat a sausage in a working class acting manner). All this as the world passes him by, progressing while Alf stays the same.

The value of being static while life goes on is as much the theme here as it was railing against the loosening constraints of society, with a two part sequence of episodes in his existence, the first made up of the war years and the second a jump forward twenty years to then-recent history. In spite of featuring only half the regular cast, the earlier section was the better perhaps because it operated as an origin tale and was something different to the seemingly endless yelling matches which the TV incarnation tended to be comprised of. Although it's never clear how cowardly blowhard Alf manages to get out of his conscription into the British Army, it's a useful device to effectively undercut everything he says for the rest of the film, though by the point Rita and Mike are on the scene it can grow wearisome when you know more top of their voice exchanges are on their way. With an interlude for the World Cup 1966 victory bringing Alf temporarily together with his fellow man and urban renewal looming, he was a man out of time, though far from alone. Music by Wilfred Burns, with a Kinks theme song.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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