The Full Monty 2023

The Full Monty

2023 - United Kingdom

‘There's a palpable anger in Beaufoy and Nutter's writing this time round, a fury at how the poor are treated in modern Britain’

The Full Monty (2023) reviewed by Daniel Tessier

 The Full Monty was a surprise hit when it arrived in cinemas in 1997, achieving enormous critical, financial and popular success with its story of a bunch of unemployed Yorkshiremen. The film began with a vintage informational film touting the benefits of the Sheffield steel industry and the town's booming economy. Twenty-five years later, the closure of the steel mills has all-but collapsed the local economy, leaving many, including our heroes, destitute.

No one really expected there to be a follow-up a further twenty-six years along the line. It's fair to say that few people, even the film's biggest fans, were really dying for one to be made. Yet Simon Beaufoy (who won an Oscar for his screenplay of the original, only his second film), joined by Alice Nutter (who has also worked with him on Trust and the sadly uncompleted Undercovers) decided there were more stories to tell for the Sheffield lads.

The Full Monty movie

They were, of course, right. With as much time having elapsed again since the desperate Sheffield of the 90s was juxtaposed with the hopeful city of the early 70s, not much has got better, and for many, they've gotten worse. When we catch up with the old gang, some of them are doing alright for themselves, some are struggling worse than ever, and for some, things have hardly changed at all.

The Full Monty 2023

The star of the show is of course, Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, Once Upon a Time, Stargate Universe) returning to the role of Jack-the-lad Gaz, finding that his impish charm might be wearing a bit thin on people now he's entering his sixties. Drifting from job to job, Gaz is on uneasy terms with his son Nathan (Wim Snape, returning to his childhood role), now a police officer, much to Gaz's disappointment. Much of Gaz's story revolves around trying to win the approval of his sixteen-year-old daughter Destiny, the product of another failed marriage. Played by newcomer Talitha Wing (Wolfe), Des is an immensely likeable character, who is struggling with growing up in an area with little in the way of opportunities and struggling to see her own potential.

The Full Monty 2023

While Carlyle is the star, it's Mark Addy (Game of Thrones, Atlantis, Still Standing) who remains the heart of the series. We find Dave in a very different situation to where we saw him last: enjoying a steady job as school caretaker, albeit technically working for his wife, Jean, played by the always excellent Leslie Sharp (Scott & Bailey, Bob & Rose, Playing the Field). Jean is a much bigger part of the series than she was in the film, now successful as the headmistress of the local school and dealing with her own considerable stresses. Dave is more concerned with problems on the ground level, trying to help bullied schoolboy Twiglet (Aiden Cook) and deal with Gaz's latest schemes. Over the course of the series we learn more of the secrets and loss that are threatening to tear apart Dave and Jean's marriage for good.

The Full Monty 2023

The rest of the celebrate Sheffield dancers all return, some with larger roles than others. Paul Barber (Only Fools and Horses, Gangsters) returns as Horse, now elderly and in ill health, struggling to make ends meet after repeated benefit sanctions and ludicrously being found fit to work when he can barely walk around. Steve Huison (Coronation Street, dinnerladies) is as hapless as ever as the sweet-natured Lomper, now married to Dennis (fellow Corrie-star Paul Clayton, also of Hollyoaks and Peep Show). Gerald, played by the prolific and award-winning Tom Wilkinson, has a reduced role, possibly due to ill health on Wilkinson's part (although no public confirmation has been made, his voice is noticeably altered from what it once was and he seems to struggle with certain lines). Hugo Speer (Musketeers, London Kills) also has a lesser role this time round as Guy. Having long moved on from his brief relationship with Lomper, he is now highly successful and engaged to a much younger woman (Emily Bevan – In the Flesh), and takes on a mildly villainous role in the series.

The Full Monty 2023

Joining the gang is Miles Jupp (Balamory, The Thick of It) as Darren, a bureaucrat working under Guy, who frequents Dennis and Lomper's cafe, and becomes friendly with the group. One of the most enjoyable storylines sees Darren's confidence and conscience increase, as he takes in Kurdish refugee Silvan (Halima Ilter) and her son Hasan, a decision that completely changes his life for the better. Sophie Stanton (EastEnders) as Hetty is both best friend and foil to Jean, working at the school as an eccentric and unstoppable music teacher. Joshua Jo makes an impression as Sang-Chol, an enigmatic Korean businessman who becomes embroiled in the lives of the gang.

The series starts with a contrived plot in which Des steals a car, accidentally abducting a dog who's won a Britain's Got Talent-style TV show, leading to an increasingly desperate Gaz struggling with how to handle the situation. At first, it looks like this might be the central plot of the series, but it's resolved pretty succinctly in the second episode. Instead, the characters find themselves going through all manner of unexpected trials, some running through several episodes, others over and done with in one, and running from comically absurd to unflinchingly heartbreaking.

Dealing with such important social issues as urban deprivation, access to education, broken homes, absentee parents, immigration and suicide, it's a pretty brutal set-up for a comedy, just as the original was. There's a palpable anger in Beaufoy and Nutter's writing this time round, a fury at how the poor are treated in modern Britain. Paul Barber gives an incredible monologue in episode six, decrying that, while Thatcher's regime may not have cared about them, it was never as brazenly cruel as the modern system.

Some of the early lines suggest the series has become reactionary, but it's a series about grumpy old men who are behind the times, rather than by one. It deals with sexuality with gentle humour, just as the film did with Lomper and Guy, while also looking at the importance of learning from other cultures rather than becoming insular. Other themes include understanding those struggling with their mental health, and a thorough examination of grief.

However, just as the film dealt with harsh and difficult subjects and still gave us some of the best comedy of the era, so the series deftly balances sorrow and humour. Sadly, it never matches the original in terms of comedy; it's less laugh out loud than a good-natured chuckle. Where it works even better than before is in the heartfelt drama; with eight at around fifty minutes each, the interwoven stories have more room to breathe, and we can experience the characters' lives in greater depth.

The Full Monty 2023

The most self-contained episode is the sixth, "Welcome to the Job of Your Dreams," set largely inside the job centre, which, by a contrived series of events, ends up with half of the cast inside facing an ever-deteriorating crisis. To say more would spoil it, but it reaches the series' dramatic heights while also giving us the inevitable crowd-pleaser: getting the lads to dance again. Unlike the climactic crescendo of the film, this impromptu dance-off is treated as the embarrassing spectacle it is. It's seemingly included purely because it's what everyone was expecting from the series, while pointedly informing us that this just isn't what it's about. It may have been Gaz and the gang's most notorious moment, but it was just one brief event in a history of ill-advised schemes.

While it doesn't live up to the film, which, after all, is almost untouchable, the series is a fine follow-up that shows there's definitely life in these old dogs yet. While the final episode provides closure, there are a number of loose ends that could be followed up. While there has been no word on a second series, it would certainly be worth it.

Published on August 27th, 2023. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.

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