Saturday, 28 January 2012

Porridge (movie)

It has to be said that the success rate of classic British sitcoms being turned into feature films is variable. Many fail to recapture the magic of the television series, and those who were devotees of the series are able quickly to discern essential differences and departures in terms of characters, backdrop and atmosphere. This makes it awkward to objectively judge the film, and purely on its own merits.

One which is not totally flawless, but succeeds better than most, is the cinematic spin-off of Porridge, the acclaimed prison-based British sitcom of the 1970s.  I watched this earlier today, and I made a few observations.

Although made after the television show had come to an end, Porridge manages to appear as a "composite" of the series as a whole, with respect to characters, sub-plots and themes.  It is reasonably plausible to imagine the story being played out within the context of the overall Porridge saga.

Some of the jokes and lines of dialogue are clearly re-cycled or adapted from the scripts for the television programme, but this will only be noticed by devotees of the BBC classic, and will not perturb or irritate the casual viewer at all.  In fairness, there are some fresh and amusing one-liners and gags throughout, even if they feel slightly more stilted on celluloid than perhaps they would have done on TV.

More freshness and interest is provided by the characters unique to this movie, including the prospective escapee Oakes, the surly new inmate Rudge, and the self-satisfied warder Mr Beal. These additions help further to reinforce the notion that this film is a credible entity in its own right, rather than simply a straightforward continuation and extension of the TV series.  There is a different governor, but he is just as hapless and toothless as the one in the original sitcom!

The longer film format allows certain sub-plots to be played out, including the introduction of the rather pathetic looking "officer's club", and the delights of Slade Prison cuisine.

Of course, much of the central appeal of Porridge stems from the interaction between Fletcher, Godber, Mackay and Barrowclough.  The introduction of, and involvement of, more characters in the movie possibly dilutes this, and the inclusion of more scenes outside the prison buildings removes some of the intimacy which was such a compelling feature of the series.

Overall though, these are fairly minor criticisms.  The central plot, of a celebrity football match being employed as cover for an escape attempt, is original, and also of course offers lots of comedic possibilities.  The acting by Ronnie Barker, Fulton Mackay and others is exemplary, and the writing of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais always has an infectious and endearing quality about it.

This movie does not quite possess the grit and unique charm of the television version, but judged as a work on its own it is entertaining and well produced.

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