The Carry On (1958-1978,1992) films are considered perhaps one of the great British film franchises, but while the films themselves are dated, cliché, cheap, and largely eyerollingly unfunny, there are a series of much more compelling stories behind the scenes. Probably the most famous of these is the decade long affair between Carry On stars’ Barbara Windsor and Sid James. When I heard there was a film about this relationship, as well as touching on the torment of some of the other stars, I knew I had to check it out. Is it any good? Well, might as well find out.
In the late 1960’s, during the great height of the Carry On films, Sid James (Geoffrey Hutchinson) meets the new cast mate, Barbara Windsor (Samantha Spiro) and is immediately smitten. The film follows the ensuing affair as well as the general chaotic background of the Carry On films, and James and Windsor’s relationships with their castmates, Kenneth Williams (Adam Godley), Bernard Bresslaw (Steve Spiers), Charles Hawtrey (Hugh Walters), and others.
Cor, Blimey! (2000) Is, on the whole, pretty good. While the focus is on the Windsor/James affair, the film does take the opportunity to touch on some of the other fascinating aspects of the behind the scenes world of the Carry On films. We see Kenneth William’s frustration with being best known for cheap comedies he thought were beneath him, Charles Hawtrey’s drinking problems which eventually saw him fired from the franchise, and production of the films is, mercifully, not glammed up at all, with the cast being treated poorly, paid very little, constantly at each other’s throats, and complaining about the poor script quality. In my opinion you could easily make a feature length film on each and every member of the cast, and the fact that the production of these films is not sugar-coated in anyway, when significant portions of the British public seem to regard them as national treasures, is so fucking refreshing.
The acting is, with only a few exceptions, great. Samantha Spiro is solid as Windsor, Godley bares only passing resemblance to Williams but his vocal performance is on point and he handles the sadder, more morose moments very well. Many of the smaller details throughout the episode are accurate and much appreciated; things like James being jealous of Bresslaw’s friendship with Windsor, the reference to Windsor introducing herself to Williams by saying his prop beard looked like Fenella Fielding’s pubic hair, and the fact one of William’s last lines in the film is “Oh, what’s the bloody point?” is downright chilling given that it was the last thing he wrote in his diary before he committed suicide; small things like this add a lot to the story. I also really like the way the affair is portrayed as a one-sided thing; with James being totally obsessed with Windsor who, although she finds him attractive, is not in love with him, and for a relationship that has been seen by many as a sort of Romeo and Juliet style love story, that’s another really refreshing take.
I was originally going to include the tone as a negative but the more I think about it, it may be one of the smarter aspects of the film. The first third being comedic, smutty, and farcical, much like a Carry On film, and then becoming more serious and tragic later on, in a very similar fashion to how the Windsor/James affair started as a purely sexual thing but quickly became a dark and toxic obsession for Sid James. It’s a nice touch, and one that demonstrates intelligence on the part of the writers’
There are, however, a multitude of issues with Cor, Blimey! Firstly, Geoffrey Hutching’s performance is really weird. I’m not an expert on Sid James, all I know about him is what I’ve seen in the films, but I’m almost certain he didn’t have the American accent Hutchings develops, nor did he squint quite so much. It’s not a bad performance but some of the choices the actor makes are really fucking distracting. Barbara Windsor herself makes a weird sort of cameo appearance as herself, replacing Samantha Spiro in the final scene where she and William’s sit in James’s trailer and talk about his recent death. I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this before but I really don’t rate Windsor as an actress, least of all a dramatic actress. I think she’s ok in many of the Carry On films but she’s pretty poor in EastEnders (1985-Present) and her appearance here is misguided and distracting. It’s difficult to concentrate on the sadness of the moment when Windsor, a big star, is shoehorned in, made even worse by the fact I think Spiro was doing a great job as it is. There are far better ways to incorporate a Windsor cameo.
I mentioned before that I liked the accuracy of some of the smaller details but the film messes up some of the more important things and misses out some really interesting parts that would’ve made wonderful additions. Many of the dates and details of the Carry On franchise are factually incorrect; the film chronology is often wrong, some of the characters are stated to appear in films that they didn’t, etc, and for a film about this franchise, these mistakes seem incredibly sloppy. There’re also some really basic mistakes that reveal the lack of research; You Only Live Twice came out in 1967, not 1976, Ted Heath resigned in 1974 not 76, mistakes like this are everywhere and reflect a sloppy writing process. There are also historical scenes that aren’t included but really should’ve been. Apparently, when Windsor’s husband, the gangster and Kray associate Ronnie Knight, discovered James had an interest in her, he broke into his home when he was at the cinema and rearranged all his furniture to send him a message.
That would’ve made a great inclusion, instead we get a comedy scene involving three half naked women in a trailer. Hattie Jacques doesn’t even appear in the film, a huge shame in itself but made even worse when you know that Jacques was a sort of mother hen to the cast and gave advice to James regarding his affair with Windsor. What a massive missed opportunity, you could’ve had a scene where James and Jacques sit and talk about their own marriages and stuff, gotten a bit of insight into her difficulties with actor and husband John Le Mesurier. Instead, we get Joan Sims giving a few lines to Sid about how he ought to be ashamed of himself; these missed opportunities are very disappointing.
What makes things worse is that valuable time is given to James’s fictional dresser, a woman who is introduced in a way that makes you think she’s going to be our main character and that it’s through her that we will see this world, but instead she appears in a few scenes and contributes nothing of any value. There’s even a bizarre moment at the end when she leaves James’s service moments before he dies and leaves a letter for him that he’ll never read. So? Who cares? She just takes up screen time that could be better used elsewhere.
A great subject matter mostly well delivered, would love to rate it higher but its flaws, though largely minor, are distracting. Even so, it’s worth a watch.