When the now-70-year-old Joanna Lumley began starring in Absolutely Fabulous, she says that she no longer had to tell people who she was. The sitcom which began in 1992, spinning out of the 1990 comic sketch show French and Saunders, is back, this time as a movie.
The show had a mere 39 episodes in 24 years, mostly between 1996 and 2012, where some were mere Christmas specials, anniversary episodes and the like. Yet it has managed to become a cult classic when it comes to TV, what with its huge fan following.
So when the movie, which was in the offing for around 20 years according to Lumley, finally hit the theatres in July this year, and looks forward to becoming one of the highest-grossing films in the UK with more than £25 million since its release, it’s not surprising that there is considerable fan frenzy.
The script has been written by Jennifer Saunders, as always, and has been directed by veteran BBC director Mandie Fletcher, who took over from the late Bob Spiers who was behind the original show.
In addition to starring Saunders herself as Edina ‘Eddy’ Monsoon and Joanna Lumley as Patsy Stone, it has Julia Sawalha as Eddy’s daughter Saffy, newcomer Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness as the granddaughter Lola, Jane Horrocks as Edina’s assistant Bubble, in addition to a host of other stars and celebrities of all grades, who outdo the cameos of Zoolander 2.
The basic premise of the film is the same as that of the TV show- two aging women struggling to fit into a world that is gradually slipping out of their hands, except that while back there Edina was a woman who went hysterical when faced with her 40th birthday, here she and Patsy are in their 60’s.
Edina is down in the dumps, with her PR agency almost looking ready to close its doors, what with 1960’s Scottish pop star Lulu and a vodka line the only clients remaining. The lifestyle is such that while they can keep up appearances, they can’t grab a cup of coffee.
In such dire straits, she is about to get a chance of a lifetime when she hears that Kate Moss is on the lookout for a new PR, and in her eagerness to outdo her rival, Edina ends up accidentally knocking Moss of the terrace, presumably making her drown in the Thames.
The arrest follows, along with the expected press coverage. One of the high points of the film is the showcasing of how even mourning has become an industry in Page 3. And of course Eddy and Patsy run away, launching a man hunt for them.
With the police on their heels, the world of glitz, glamour, and of course youth, which already hated them seems to hate them even more. Left to feel like outsiders, they run away to Cannes with the granddaughter and her credit card.
There Patsy plans to bag her ex-pornographer boyfriend, who is now a millionaire, to maintain their living standards. But things surely can’t go according to plan where Edina and Patsy are concerned, can they?
As Sophie Gilbert points out in her review in The Atlantic, at the core of the franchise lies a paradox. While it parodies a society which expects and teaches that a woman’s value lies in remaining young and beautiful, it also derives its fun from the various slips that Edina makes in her struggle to remain in touch.
This has also been pointed out by Tanya Gold in The Spectator. In fact, the general grouse of the reviewers is that the movie often misses beats, the too many celebrities featuring in it are often wooden, and that it has many back-dated jokes, especially those on race and gender.