Saturday, 14 April 2018

Are You Being Served? (1977)

Part of the 70s trend for TV sitcoms getting big screen adaptions, Are You Being Served? is a particularly joyless example of the genre.

The Grace Brothers department store is closed for refurbishment, so the staff are sent on a paid holiday to the Spanish resort of Costa Plonka. A misplaced note leads to misunderstandings and the whole thing ends with the hotel being overrun by revolutionary terrorists (the film was made during the transition to democracy era in Spain, after the death of Franco)

The script is based on a stage play and it shows, with nearly the whole film taking place on two locations, the department store and a very obviously studio bound hotel. Nearly thirty interminable minutes is spent at the former, with nothing but corny gags, chatter about the holiday, and a surprise appearance by Derek Griffiths as a wealthy sheik (surprising, not least because all we've heard so far is people saying the store is closed). Things don't improve when we get to Spain with seemingly endless strained farce and more corny gags, only relieved by the novelty of seeing Andrew Sachs playing a Spaniard working in a hotel (although at least this time he's running it).

The characters are one dimensional and cartoonish, and not that interesting, being reduced to the standard seventies sex obsessed sitcom archetypes. The only one who makes any impact is menswear assistant Mr Humphries, and while his mincing camp demeanour may seem dated in the 21st century, his unapologetic refusal to be anything other than himself, especially when telling tales of his social life, is actually quite charming.

Sadly, he is not enough to carry the whole film. On the surface, with the same writers and cast, it has all the ingredients of the TV show, but that is not the case. Apart from a sorely needed laughter track to indicate the arrival of a joke, much of the comedy on the small screen came from the interactions and tensions between the staff and the customers. Here, with only themselves to squabble amongst, the results are painfully unfunny.