Tag Archives: 11/20

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: While resting at the home of Leonato, friends Claudio and Benedick find their respective heartstrings tugged by innocent young Hero and sharp-tongued Beatrice. The party decide to have fun by sneakily inducing the quarrelsome Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love, and at least one marriage appears to be in the offing; the black-hearted Don John, however, has other ideas.

Everyone needs their downtime, so when a cadre of sharp-suited businessmen are offered respite at the home of Senor Leonato (Clark Gregg) they jump at the chance, though some are happier than others. Claudio (Fran Kranz) is enamoured of Leonato’s receptive daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while self-loving Benedick (Alexis Denisof) is less happy to see Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker), a former lover who now protects herself with verbal barbs.

Surly Don John (Sean Maher), meanwhile, hates everyone and everything, and whispers poison in Claudio’s ear suggesting that Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) is wooing Hero for himself while pretending to bat for the young man. Claudio overcomes those qualms and prepares for his wedding by conspiring with Leonato and Pedro to convince Benedick that Beatrice loves her, while Hero and others do the same for Beatrice.

It all appears to work like a charm, but John’s Plan B – deceiving Claudio into watching ‘Hero’ (actually Ashley Johnson’s maid Margaret) be defiled by Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) – throws a monumental spanner in the works and the household into disarray. Can local lawman Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) save the day? Not if his command of the English language is anything to go by.

Joss Whedon made Much Ado About Nothing, on a budget of about nothing, in twelve days while ‘resting’ from work on The Avengers. The important question is not so much ‘does it show?’ as ‘does it matter?’ and the answer, to put it very unshakespeareanly, is ‘kinda’.

In its early stages, at least, the film treads a very fine line between being spontaneous and undercooked. The decision to shoot in black and white is wise, as it prevents the film from looking too much like Joss and his mates in a home video (yes, that’s his actual house). On the other hand, until roughly the halfway mark – specifically, until Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into mutual love – the film doesn’t quite find its feet.

This opinion partially stems from a familiarity with and fondness for Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado…, but Whedon’s version – which must be applauded for sticking to the original text – occasionally struggles for context where the 1993 movie had no such issue. We instinctively understood that Branagh, Denzel Washington et al were returning from a war; it’s not half as clear what battles these sartorially superior warriors have fought. Additionally, you’re entitled to ask why these well-heeled fellows are choosing to stay in someone else’s house for a month, or, given that some of the bedrooms evidently belong to kids, where all the children have gone.

Unlike the middling results Baz Luhrmann achieved in Romeo+Juliet, Whedon doesn’t attempt to crowbar Shakespeare’s words into meaningfulness in a modern setting. On the other hand, skating blithely over the snags doesn’t particularly help the viewer – or, one suspects, the actors – get a handle on the characters. As a result, the significance of John’s first attempt to ruin the party is somewhat lost because we’re still getting used to the relationships in play.

Still, once players and punters are both settled in, Much Ado About Nothing offers a snappy and fresh interpretation of the text, not merely capitalising on its many opportunities for banter and slapstick. We feel the cruelty of weak-minded Claudio’s treatment of Hero; we sympathise with Beatrice’s complaints about the limitations imposed by womanhood. To say that I prefer the sparks that fly from Ken and Em’s frictional spats is no criticism of either Acker or Denisof, who bring their own qualities to Benedick’s awful vanity and Beatrice’s misleadingly feisty exterior. I’m not sure we entirely needed the bedroom flashback to hammer home their former intimacy, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.

Elsewhere, performances are variable: I liked Kranz and Morgese’s callowness, the bland young lovers deliberately contrasting with their older and more cynical friends. Clark (Gregg) is authoritative and welcoming, while (Spencer Treat) Clark, of Unbreakable and Gladiator fame, shows signs of being a decent young actor. Riki Lindhome’s Conrade is adequate but little is added by the change of sex, while Maher is rather ineffectual and Reed Diamond fails to get in the swing of things at any point.

Happily, Nathan Fillion makes the part of Dogberry fly. He and his band of dim-witted deputies fit perfectly into the updated scenario, and Fillion impresses with natural comic timing. He also lets the words speak for themselves without feeling the need to gussy up the part with outrageous and obfuscating accents (hang your head, Keaton, hang your head). Tom Lenk’s Verges is also a welcome substitute for Ben Elton.

Ultimately, your preference for a film version of Much Ado About Nothing will probably depend on your mood: do you want to overheat, or would you rather chill? Branagh’s lavish movie positively radiates effervescent sunshine whereas Whedon’s minimalist treatment, with its fun, light jazz version of Sigh No More and affluent vibe, is laid-back and in all senses cool. For me, the sunshine wins every time, though for what is effectively a tea-break quickie, this film does a pretty tidy job of updating Shakespeare’s battle of wits for the 21st Century.

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Miss Congeniality

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: When a domestic terrorist threatens mayhem at the Miss United States beauty pageant, the FBI need someone with beauty, poise and natural grace to go undercover. Unfortunately, all they’ve got is Gracie Hart: smart, athletic, and as feminine as a builder’s bum-crack.

Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is in trouble. She’s not a rogue agent, exactly, but her tendency to act before she thinks does tend to get her colleagues shot. With her job on the line, she’s naturally passed over when boss Harry McDonald (Ernie Hudson) chooses an agent to head up an operation to thwart ’The Citizen’, a domestic terrorist who teases the FBI with cryptic poems about his targets. Gracie’s colleague and sometime sparring partner Eric (Benjamin Bratt) gets the job of preventing the next outrage, but Gracie’s smarts still come in useful; and when they discover that the Citizen’s next hit is the Miss USA pageant in San Antonio, Texas, a lack of suitable moles makes her even more valuable.

The only problem is, Gracie’s one of the boys, a hard-fighting, beer-swilling tomboy who believes pageants represent Neanderthal, sexist attitudes. Still, she’s the only candidate, so she’s brought up to snuff with the help of dapper consultant Victor Melling (Michael Caine) and a team of industrial beauticians. However, looking like a lady and acting like a lady are two very different things, and as the pageant progresses Gracie works night and day to both fit in with her fellow contestants and unmask the Citizen, whoever he – or she – may be.

At first glance, there’s very little to separate Miss Congeniality from the crowd. It’s an undercover cop movie played as fish-out-of-water comedy, a mash-up of Kindergarten Cop, My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries and Legally Blonde, the last particularly acting as a direct opposite for comparison (Elle, blonde, gains smarts: Gracie, Brunette, goes vacuous). It shouldn’t surprise you at all that Gracie learns from the girls she initially dismisses, especially Heather Burns’ ditzy Cheryl/Rhode Island, and vice versa; and it’s entirely predictable that the investigation takes an unexpected turn and she has to hand in her badge, forcing her to solve the crime alone.

This is all well-worn territory, and not all of it is slickly executed; for example, the set-up that throws Gracie into the pageant is clunky (the FBI HR database is cross-referenced with a dress-up dolly website to show employees, including Hudson, in swimwear), and her combative romance with Eric exists solely because the rules, for some reason, demand that this kind of story needs a love interest. Bratt’s not particularly interesting, and doesn’t have any chemistry with Bullock, so why force them together?

So it’s a good job that Miss Congeniality benefits from a potent combination of a snappy script and a range of good acting turns. First amongst these is Bullock, who uses her considerable gifts as a comedian (chief among them an admirable lack of vanity) to constantly coax laughs out of Gracie’s predicament. Her slapstick pratfalls may be comedy basics but she works them magnificently, most memorably during her post-transformation reveal.

Bullock is supported brilliantly by Michael Caine, who barely gets out of neutral but almost steals the film regardless, thanks to his scathing-yet-tender attentions towards his ‘Dirty Harriet.’ Candice Bergen and William Shatner have tremendous fun as (respectively) uptight pageant organiser Miss Morningside and oafish MC Stan Fields, both destined for the chop. The warmth and spark of all these performances compensates for the routine nature of the plot, and the fact that it struggles to balance the business of the beauty show with the operation to catch the Citizen (indeed, the terrorist is captured off-screen and never heard from again).

Also, while it’s entirely correct, politically and otherwise, that Miss Congeniality doesn’t use the pageant setting to leer at the contestants, it’s reluctant to reveal what it thinks of women parading around to be objectified and ranked by (mostly) men. You’d have to watch Drop Dead Gorgeous, flawed though that movie is, for commentary on the thought processes of beauty show contestants; I’d guess their backbiting is more representative of the truth than the supportive sisterhood displayed here. One pro-lesbian outburst apart, the film doesn’t really have an edge to speak of; the observation that contestants all say they want world peace is hardly a shattering revelation.

Nonetheless, Miss Congeniality gets the important bit right: it’s funny. Bullock and Caine have a field day, but the laughs are spread out nicely between the cast (when Gracie jumps on a crowd member because he’s packing a weapon, Miss Morningside responds ’This is Texas. Everybody has a gun. My florist has a gun.’) You won’t know anything coming out of the movie that you didn’t know going in, but chances are you’ll have a pretty good time anyway.

Valkyrie

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: 1943: The war is turning against the Third Reich, but Hitler and those closest to him press on with fighting on several fronts and their ‘Final Solution’ against the Jews. Convinced that Hitler’s plans will lead to Germany’s ruin, high-ranking members of the army devise a plan to assassinate the Fuhrer and use the reserve army to prevent the SS from seizing control of the country.

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) doesn’t much like the way World War II is going. Losing his right hand and left eye in North Africa, he despairs of Hitler’s strategies; so when he’s approached by Major-General Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) to join in a top-secret plan to kill Hitler and establish a government with General Beck (Terence Stamp) as President and Kevin McNally’s Dr Carl Goerdeler, he’s interested.

Working with overly cautious General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Stauffenberg concludes that the best way of taking power is by subtly amending ‘Operation Valkyrie’, which would mobilise the reserve Army in the event of the Fuhrer’s death and prevent Goebbels from taking power. The only sticking point is the ambivalence of General Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), whose signature is required to begin Valkyrie in the first place. Stauffenberg himself is tasked with disposing of Hitler and he travels to the Wolf’s Lair in Rastenburg, with explosives to complete the task and inside man General Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) ready to pull the plug on all communications. Stauffenberg plants the explosives but flees without knowing for sure whether Hitler has survived, an uncertainty which causes delays and ultimately dooms the plot to failure.

If you’re determined not to go with it, there’s much about Valkyrie that you can pull up as incongruous. The film begins in German and continues just long enough for the audience to wonder if it’s going to continue that way, à la The Passion of the Christ. But no, the dialogue melts into Cruise’s American accent and the German characters begin to speak English in their own voices, and this does something strange to the film. Although we can see that Cruise, Nighy, Branagh, Wilkinson, Izzard etc. are dressed as Nazi – sorry, Wehrmacht* – troops, Valkyrie doesn’t feel like a tale of internal betrayal but a story of Allied Forces somehow infiltrating the higher ranks of the Third Reich.

This is not to criticise Cruise, who is as good here as anything I’ve seen him in, or the dependable Brits (I’m excluding Izzard from this definition, but he’s fine in a smallish role); the trouble is, because of the point we come into the story, the protagonists are never established as faithful Germans, so they can’t help but come over as British or American. The problem is compounded by David Bamber’s skulking Hitler, who has to speak English with a German accent. It’s as if someone in the production – Cruise, Singer, whoever – couldn’t countenance the ‘good’ characters even pretending to support Hitler, which results in a disappointingly simple and less credible – ie. typically Hollywoodised – narrative. In the same way, the scene where a Wagner record suggests the plot to Stauffenberg feels like exactly what it is, a movie device without any bearing on reality.

Fortunately, the film compensates for these deficiencies by delivering on dramatic thrills. If you have any grasp of recent European history, you will know before the film even starts that the plot doesn’t come off; however, unless you’re very well read-up on the subject, that’s about as much as you know, so there’s still plenty of tension left as to how the plan pans out and how close it comes to succeeding. Singer is more than capable of handling the action sequences, and there is plenty of drama as crucial decisions are made (or not made) in the absence of certainty about Hitler surviving the blast (or not).

The film also amplifies Stauffenberg’s concern for his country with a convincing concern for his dear wife Nina (Carice van Houten, the star of Black Book, who seems suited to World War II) and their children, making the viewer feel the tragedy of how it all turns out – late on, there’s a brief but fascinating glimpse of the lunatic Judge Freisler (Helmut Strauss) at the so-called “People’s Court”. Throughout, the competent staging of the action is matched by decent acting, from Cruise** and the British talent I’ve already mentioned; also from Tom Hollander, who with David Schofield makes up a mini-Pirates (II) reunion, and others: the cast does feature a number of German actors, though for the most part they regrettably play those in Hitler’s inner circle.

Whether or not his films have succeeded, Bryan Singer has always been a well-intentioned director; and Valkyrie is a well-intentioned film with an interesting history lesson to impart, an authentic look (locations include Berlin’s Bendlerblock, the building where Olbricht and Stauffenberg were stationed) and a more-than-decent quota of involving action. Unfortunately, the problem of casting well-known English-speaking actors is pretty much insurmountable; so while the film works as a wartime thriller, it doesn’t convince as a story of German resistance to Hitler’s evil.

NOTES: 1This is, no doubt, exactly the point the filmmakers would say they are trying to make: all Nazis were German, but not all the Germans fighting the war were Nazis. Valkyrie never quite reconciles this with the problem of casting Anglo-American actors, even if most of the baddies are also Anglophones.

2The film’s detractors all seem to centre on the opinion that Cruise is miscast and, moreover, ‘can’t act’. This is nonsense. He’s been less than sparkling in other movies and here, as already explained, his accent is an issue; but to say he cannot act is surely the viewer not being able to look past Cruise the headline-grabbing personality, rather than Tom’s perfectly decent performance.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters, finds herself the object of more than one man’s attentions when the dashing Mr Bingley takes residence in the house near to their humble dwelling. Although Bingley only has eyes for her elder sister Jane, his friend Darcy is captivated by Lizzie, although his haughty demeanour tries to tell a different story. Lizzie, trying to keep a check on her unruly family, must also decide what she wants to believe about this infuriating but very, very rich man.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to be terribly unfair to this film. Whilst there is no law whatsoever governing a mandatory gap of time between the filming of Jane Austen novels, and whilst it is unreasonable for a two-hour theatrical film to cover the same ground as a five-hour-plus television serialisation, I am going to criticise Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice on both grounds anyway.

For, the simple fact is, this film version comes too close to the BBC’s 1995 version of Austen’s popular work for there not to be comparisons, especially since Colin Firth’s portrayal of Darcy has passed into legend. To start with the positives, the film doesn’t actually miss out anything really important from the plot, and the evocation of the period is very convincing – everything is clean, but not overly so. In general, the director has a good eye for what will look good on a cinema screen, the Peak District (initially as part of a dream?) and Darcy’s enormous manor looking gorgeous. Elsewhere, the camera lingers over statues and roams through balls, in search of our heroine, or captures Lizzie regarding the passage of time on a swing. Indeed, there is so much lingering camerawork that you do wonder if some of it might not have been sacrificed to get a bit more plot in.

And this is the main issue. Although, as I say, the big story points are present and correct, telling the tale in just two hours leads to a lot of shortcuts (Jane arrives at Bingley’s Netherfield and sneezes: she has flu!), and there is unintentional comedy to be had from the characters speaking very quickly to move the plot along.

Chief victim of the cuts is Wickham, and as he is the story’s villain, the fact that he doesn’t get to show much of his duplicitous nature really detracts from the film. There was not enough of Wickham for Lizzie to form an attachment to him and for him to feed her prejudice against Darcy, which is surely one of the most important aspects of the story.

It should also be said that as played by Rupert Friend, Wickham is arrogant and effete, and it is unclear why any of the Bennet family, or Georgiana Darcy, would be drawn to him. Furthermore, the younger daughters and their infatuation with the military are only sketched out; so when Lydia runs off with Wickham, the audience doesn’t really take in the gravity of the situation.

In the role of Elizabeth Bennet, Keira Knightley laughs, sighs, and delivers her lines very quickly, but she does not have the calm presence Jennifer Ehle imbued in the role in the BBC series. Ehle’s Elizabeth had a dignified bearing, conveying sadness, passion, authority and intelligence behind her eyes. In contrast, but I suspect also objectively, Knightley is a giggly kid.

It is almost impossible to think of Knightley’s Lizzie as the sensible one in the family; and although she shows a passionate side well enough when she turns down Darcy’s proposal in the rain, I never felt she was particularly struggling with her feelings for him. Knightley does possess some of the character’s wilfulness, but that vital spark between Elizabeth and Darcy is not nearly as lively as it needs to be. And when the happy event finally comes, Elizabeth’s toothy gushing in front of her father drives me spare (the special bond between Lizzie and Mr Bennet also seems to be missing).

Not that all the blame should go to Keira. In attempting to capture Darcy’s haughtiness, Matthew MacFadyen constantly looks as though he has a cold and is about to sneeze (caught off Jane, perhaps). I couldn’t tell you whether he is attractive or not, but (in contrast to Knightley’s slender frame) he looks like a bit of a lump; he certainly lacks the lively fire in the eyes that Firth brought to the role, and when he comes to propose for a second time, his early-morning trudge through the field takes an eternity. Just to mention also (not MacFadyen’s fault, of course), when Darcy bursts into the room at the Collins house, there is a horrifically clumsy zoom which, if deliberate, was a terrible idea.

The supporting roles all suffer from not having the time to become rounded. Brenda Blethyn actually does very well as Mrs Bennet, but is undermined by Donald Sutherland’s patently Canadian Mr Bennet – could he not at least have tried? Sutherland is poor and his voice is totally out of keeping with the rest of the cast. Rosamund Pike, as Jane, is not quite a doll, but her emotions at being misused by Bingley are not given the space they deserve, whilst Simon Woods’ Bingley is foolish and foppish, making his friendship with Darcy a curiosity.

Mr Collins is not given the time to be obsequious, so Tom Hollander presents him as a pushy, short man; and Judi Dench, as Lady Catherine de Burgh, displays all the haughtiness she brought to the role of Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, but was rather too spritely for my liking.

For all these criticisms, Pride and Prejudice is still a fine film. As a ramble through Austen’s story it serves its purpose adequately, and although I was not enamoured with all the cast they act out the story well enough. As cinema it looks and sounds great, with the pacing of (what’s left of) the story having its ups and downs and coming to its happy result at just the right times. But if you have the time, you should try to see Andrew Davies’ adaptation again – that is great television. Better still, read the book.

Lucky Number Slevin

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Thanks to a severe case of mistaken identity, unlucky Slevin finds himself assigned two messy jobs in order to repay two leading crime lords money he doesn’t even owe. Also interested in his progress are a female coroner from the opposite flat, a mysterious man known only as Smith, and an NYPD detective more than keen to discover his identity.

First off: terrible title. But let’s put that aside; for the first hour and more, Lucky Number Slevin appears to be a novel and mysterious thriller, beginning with Mr Smith/Goodkat (Bruce Willis) telling a tale of a nobbled racehorse that may or may not have anything to do with the story that subsequently unfolds, where an unnamed man whom we shall call Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is taken for his friend Nick Fisher and repeatedly assaulted in the nose.

This is a tale of bookies and big-time gangsters, and predictably comes with a considerable dose of violence familiar to anyone who has watched movies post-Reservoir Dogs. In fact, the intriguingly twisty way the plot is pieced together and the smart and film-savvy script are both reminiscent of on-form Tarantino, even if Slevin is shot with a clinical detachment rather than revelling in gore.

The cast is quality. Hartnett plays his part like a young Brad Pitt, and Willis, who you always sense is the key cog in proceedings, broods coolly, if such a thing is possible. Lucy Liu is fun as the spiky neighbour Lindsey with whom Slevin forms an immediate bond, coping well with a potentially clunky dual-purpose role of girlfriend and coroner.

The real class, however, comes from Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley, playing the big boss figures who stare each other out from their massive apartment blocks. The roles hardly stretch their talents, but they play the parts with an easy menace. As the detective detailed with finding out Fisher/Slevin’s true identity, Stanley Tucci is less impressive, but the police do not feature heavily in the film, except in the vital respect below.

As Slevin carries out his jobs, the plot is ultimately unwound and revealed by a cop who has conveniently pieced everything together, explaining it to Tucci as the events are replayed on the screen. This narration is something of a cop-out (excuse the pun), especially as you realise the story only makes proper sense in reverse, and relies on the kind of good fortune that guarantees Mr Goodkat will be asked to carry out the hits and both the Boss and Shlomo will unquestioningly accept using ‘Nick Fisher’ to do the dirty work.

Even if the viewer doesn’t feel cheated by the plot, he or she may object to the fact that Lucky Number Slevin asks us to accept the callousness of the film because the ‘hero’ is after revenge: lots of people die, but that’s alright because they had some connection to the original wrong and must have been bad, bad people in some way. We’re supposed to care more about Slevin’s life because terrible things happened to him as a boy? Because he’s fallen in love? I’m sorry, but I’m not bought so easily, especially when the love interest is resolved via a trick out of Back to the Future.

Lucky Number Slevin begins with promise and with the help of the actors’ charms, keeps its intrigue a good while. As the death count mounts up and snappy lines dry up, however, the film settles back into the ranks of countless other slick, violent action movies. Not a bad film if you happen to pick it up at random, but you won’t count yourself terribly lucky if you do.

Carry On Doctor

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Hapless Dr Kilmore struggles to maintain his composure, reputation and job in the face of the sneering authoritarianism of Dr Kenneth Tinkle and formidable matron Lavinia. As secret passions boil away in the wards, the majority of the inpatients do their best to recover; but when Kilmore is unjustly removed, they are forced to take direct action.

When the mind over matter techniques of dodgy faith dealer Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd) can’t stop him landing straight on his coccyx, he earns a stay in the male ward of the local hospital, between committed malingerer and wife-avoider Mr Roper (Sid James) and Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey), suffering a pregnancy on behalf of his uncomplaining wife. Comings and goings in the ward, especially Mr Biddle’s (Bernard Bresslaw) insistence on visiting female patient Mavis (Dilys Laye), soon send Bigger into a private room, where he mistakenly comes to believe he only has a week to live.

Amongst the staff, meanwhile, pretty Nurse Clarke (Anita Harris) has the hots for popular Dr Kilmore (Jim Dale), and in the bosom of Matron (Hattie Jacques) lies a passion for ruthless senior physician Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Ken Williams). However, the arrival of Sandra May (Barbara Windsor), her chest bursting with gratitude for Tinkle because he previously saved her life, upsets the apple cart. Against hospital rules, she’s caught in his room; so Tinkle and matron hatch a plan to literally make Kilmore the fall guy. Roper and Biddle are outraged by Kilmore’s unfair dismissal, and with a little help from Nurse Clarke they prepare a patients’ mutiny to make Matron and Tinkle pay for their haughty ways.

It may be because the quirks of the National Health Service are fondly mocked by the British; or it may be because TV show Dr Kildare and the Doctor films (directed by Ralph Thomas, Gerald’s brother), complete with portrait of James Robertson Justice, loom large; or it could be because the Carry Ons made hospitals their second home (starting with Nurse, they also made Matron and Again Doctor); but Carry On Doctor feels to me like the archetypal Carry On.

In particular, Kenneth Williams is right at home as the snooty, superior, yet still bungling senior doctor who rubs everyone up the wrong way. Everyone, that is, except the secretly lustful Matron, played beautifully by Jacques. The chemistry between them (see Jacques laughing when they bump noses) provides much-needed underpinning, given the unconvincing business of Babs‘ infatuation with Kenneth, Kilmore’s disgrace and redemption, and the relatively flimsy storylines given to the rest of the cast.

Since much of the ‘action’ of Doctor is by its very nature static (Sid James, recovering from a heart attack, stays in bed most of the time), it’s lucky that the film has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it benefits greatly from a barnstorming performance by Frankie Howerd, his high-pitched incredulity and eye-rolling sarcasm adding a new dimension to the regular Carry On cast (Dandy Nichols, too, has a funny cameo as the garrulous Mrs Roper).

Secondly and more importantly, while Talbot Rothwell’s script may be light on plot, it’s absolutely packed with gags: silly ones, like the fully bandaged man who turns out to be invisible (’Oo, I still don’t like the look of him!’ Tinkle says); saucy ones, like Lavinia throwing herself at Kenneth, the daffodil (an in-joke harking back to Nurse), or Kilmore’s adventures on the roof; or more traditional fare, like the chaotic weddding of Bigger and his deaf companion Chloe (Joan Sims, superb and underused as usual), conducted by an equally mutton chaplain. There’s easily enough genuinely clever material to forgive lazy jokes such as (as happens more than once) looking under a sheet and exclaiming ‘That’s a big one!’

Inevitably, the passage of time means that it’s impossible to look at some aspects of Carry On films in the way their original audience saw them. In particular, the treatment of Babs Windsor’s trainee nurse here is dolly-birdism of the worst kind. She receives the ultimate ‘Phwoooar!” from a leering ambulance driver, takes her clothes off to sunbathe, then promptly disappears from the film.By contrast, Jacques is called a ‘battleship’ and other older ladies are referred to as ‘cows.’ Matron’s rough-house treatment at the hand of the female patients is also more suited to army barracks than a hospital, though this is at least Equal Opportunities humiliation since Tinkle is treated no better (indeed, he’s almost tortured!). It’s not worth getting too hung up on such things, but there is a slight feeling that the film is designed exclusively for working-class men, a feeling you don’t get in superior series entries such as Don’t Lose Your Head or Carry On Up the Khyber.

But the film is what it is: and what it is, for the most part, is funny. Carry On Doctor isn’t the most exciting of the series by a long shot, but its hit-rate of jokes ensures that you simply don’t have time to get bored. Although they don’t all play as full a part as they might, all the gang are here – joyously, the film pre-dates Jack Douglas – and they are all on top form with Rothwell’s material. Carry On Doctor has a few ills of its own, but as long as you’re immune to rank sexism, it’ll cheer you up on a miserable day.

Mrs Henderson Presents

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Towards the end of the 1930s, wealthy widow Laura Henderson finds herself with more time and money on her hands than she knows what to do with. On a whim, she buys London’s run-down Windmill Theatre and strikes up a feisty relationship with producer Vivian Van Damm. Mrs Henderson averts box-office disaster by scandalously inaugurating Britain’s first nude revue; but when war arrives, moral outrage is the least of the company’s worries.

London, 1937, and Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) buries her husband, for many years her companion in India and elsewhere. Their son Alec having been killed in the First World War, Mrs Henderson finds single life very lonely; she doesn’t enjoy the hobbies – sitting on committees, doing crochet – suggested by her good friend Margot (Thelma Barlow), and neither, being nearly seventy, is she impressed by Margot’s suggestion that she takes a lover.

One day, she drives past the closed Windmill Theatre and – just like that – decides to buy it. Despite arguing with him from the outset, she hires Jewish producer Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to put on a show, a combination of revue and vaudeville cleverly called ‘revuedeville’, a show that plays throughout the day and becomes so successful it’s universally copied, nearly causing financial ruin. Mrs Henderson, however, decides to do as they do in Paris and instructs Van Damm to assemble a nude revue.

He does as he’s told, cobbling together a troupe of nervous ‘real’ women to accompany singers Jane and Bertie (Camille O’Sullivan and Will Young) and the leggy Millerettes, while Laura sweet-talks Christopher Guest’s Lord Chamberlain Lord Cromer (or ‘Little Tommy’, as she knows him), who objects to the proposed nudity but is as enchanted as the audience when the curtain goes up and the girls are presented in still, arty tableaux. However, Mrs Henderson’s excitement sours when she discovers that Van Damm is spoken for; and the tight little family enjoyed by the girls, including Maureen, Vera and Peggy (Kelly Reilly, Sarah Solemani and Natalia Tena), is disrupted by the bothersome World War II. But isn’t theatre’s motto ‘The Show Must Go On’? If the redoubtable Mrs H has anything to do with it, it certainly will.

Your first question about Mrs Henderson Presents may well be to do with the nudity – is this BBC Films project a period Showgirls? The answer is ‘of course not’, and this is much to the film’s credit. There’s a fair amount of flesh on show, but apart from a hint of harmless sauce it’s all presented as an unerotic, tasteful and artistic enterprise. An equal opportunities one, too – they don’t warn you about Bob Hoskins’ todger on the DVD cover.

But the point is that the controversy of the Windmill’s nude revue is just a backdrop to the bigger story. This film’s not about naked women, or men, or art, at all; it’s about the indomitable spirit of Londoners, rich and poor, during the Blitz. Quite right too, except that’s a history lesson we’re exhausted with already – and while I applaud the total lack of gratuitousness and titillation, there’s a slight feeling of being conned, of being lured into a strip club only for Simon Sharma to deliver a po-faced lecture whilst blocking your view.

I’d have liked to have known more about the girls, where they came from, why they were taking part in the shows: what we get is a two-line summary from ladies who are much of a muchness, apart from Maureen. She gets matchmade by Mrs H, provoking the film’s big crisis which has some emotional impact. Otherwise, the film is much too polite, too British, too damn nice for its own good – for example, I’m not sure all the visiting squaddies were quite as fresh-faced and respectful as they’re portrayed here.

Still, it does contain moments of sly humour, for example the mouse that causes ‘accidental’ movement amongst the nudes, Cromer getting into a flap over ‘The Midlands’, or Laura’s ruses to sneak back into the theatre after she insults Mrs Van Damm and swears never to return.

The film’s not really about the nude revue, then, and the episodic structure of the script, which constructs the story in a blocky, clunky fashion, demonstrates the lack of a dominant theme: Mrs Henderson drives past theatre and looks pensive, Mrs Henderson ‘suddenly’ hits on the idea of a nude review, Van Damm decides to use real British girls and immediately fishes Maureen out of a canal. This bittiness is also reflected in the film’s technical aspects, which are a real mixed bag: London looks wonderful, the cast are dressed and made up to perfection, and the revues are recreated with verve and entirely appropriate showtunes. However, there’s a disconnect between the recreation of period London and scratchy black and white footage of the Blitz, especially when the film later has an obviously fake go at showing the capital ablaze, with Mrs H looking on.

Luckily, most of these issues are swept aside by the superb performance of Dame Judi Dench: she’s haughty, cheeky, occasionally unhinged, but also full of tenderness, her eyes reflecting a lifetime of love and loss for her husband and especially for her son, buried in France (even if I wasn’t totally convinced by her rationale for funding the show). However variable the quality of what’s going on around her, she sparkles, and sparks off Hoskins who – for once – gets to play a slightly posh role, and plays it well. Kelly Reilly doesn’t fare so well in this exalted company, and while Will Young is perfectly fine, he doesn’t exactly demand a career in the movies. Guest isn’t on screen for long, but as usual is very funny.

Assuming you don’t watch Mrs Henderson Presents demanding sex or sauce, you’re likely to find it a handsome film, with humour and a surprisingly strong streak of nobility and decency – its ultimate message could be paraphrased as ‘naked women helped win the war’! The film’s ripe sentimentality does mean that it lacks anything like an edge, and you might hope for more, and more substantial, human tales to accompany Dench’s brilliant performance; in general, though, this show deserves to go on.