Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Likely Lads (1976) - movie review

In the 1970s and early 1980s there were lots of cinematic spin-offs from British television sitcoms, and the artistic quality of these projects was variable to say the least. One of the better of these spin-offs was "The Likely Lads" from 1976, starring Rodney Bewes as Bob Ferris and James Bolam as Terry Collier.

The original "Likely Lads" TV series from the 1960s followed the fortunes of Bob and Terry as young men, and the follow-up "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" picked up the story when they had reached the brink of their thirties, at the time of Terry's return from a stint in the Army.

This film appears to be set a couple of years after the end of the timescale of "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads", with Bob going through some kind of emotional, existential crisis. Indeed, the central themes of the movie are "there must be more to life than this" and "where has the past gone?", universally understood sentiments which engage the viewer. Times change, but our own routine becomes and remains tedious, and we ask whether the grass is greener elsewhere.

Even more so than the second television series, this film screams "Seventies!", from the fashions, to the backdrops, to the cultural references and the social mores. Added to this are Bob's Vauxhall Chevette, the boutique and the predilection for caravanning!

As ever, the writing of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais drives proceedings charmingly. The storyline is a good, solid one, with a nicely conceived ending which inverts the conclusion of the original 60s series. The writers specialized in extracting great comedy from mundane, everyday things, and the eccentricities of the tenets of English life. The script of this film, to me, celebrates nostalgia whilst at the same time hinting that there is no easy escape from the pressures of the present. The grass is not necessarily greener, and we sometimes envy the lifestyles of our peers whilst overlooking the pitfalls of those lifestyles and the virtues of our own hard-won stability and security...

One thing which does not feature that prominently in this movie is the tension between Bob and Terry's relative social aspirations, an angle which dominated parts of the 1970s TV series. The emphasis here is on more elusive emotional and spiritual concerns. That said, the characterizations are still endearing and natural.

Rodney Bewes does a fine job in this film of portraying the angst-ridden and preoccupied Bob. The character has moved on from the "upwardly mobile" persona which he exuded during the second TV show. His life has reached a disconcerting and bewildering plateau.

The settings are different from "Whatever Happened To...", but I see this as a strength, as it helps to endow the movie with an identity of its own. The pleasant location shots of the North East England countryside and coastline also contribute to an overall visual appeal, and the "Whitley Bay" sequences are truly evocative!

There are some fine individual scenes, most notably the first one in the boutique, which kick-starts the central portion of the movie. As ever, the most effective comedic exchanges between Bob and Terry are tinged with poignancy and sadness, such as the conversation on the ship near the end.

To my present-day self, the overall effect of this picture is to induce sorrow and regret at a period gone forever, when life was simpler, or so we like to believe. It was released during my childhood, and the imagery brings back fond memories. This kind of nostalgia leavens the sterility and uncertainty of the present.

Opinion of this film among critics has been mixed, but I really like it. It has charm as a period piece, quite apart from the richness of the writing, the humour and the acting. Fine entertainment, and rather heart-warming...

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