July 1st, 2002

The Full Monty

“MISS this at your peril”! urges the East Anglian Daily Times. No less an authority than the Grimsby Evening Telegraph recommends, “Hold on to your hats!” while that august arbiter of taste the Tamworth Herald Extra eloquently declares The Full Monty “the comedy hit of the year.”

One hesitates to pit oneself against this formidable critical consensus, or the unlikely commercial success of The Full Monty but I beseech you . . . Patronising, glib, unfunny, desperately British from the accordion-driven soundtrack down, The Full Monty’s “success” was in coinciding with one of those periodical penchants on the part of American movie audiences to check out our quaint English accents. They goggled amusedly at the spectacle of these Sheffield “blokes” (love that word!) gyrating hilariously much as they would watch a bear riding a bicycle at the circus, ie with no sympathy with or understanding of just what grim fate brought these creatures to this pass.

Mind you, that international audiences might not comprehend of the political context of The Full Monty is hardly their fault – the film provides none. From an opening Sixties Pathe news item extolling the virtues of “booming Sheffield”, we flash forward 25 years to see the city somehow reduced to a post-industrial landscape, through which men walk desolate and brass bands (literally, honestly!) roam about aimlessly. No one, apparently, was to blame. The words “Thatcher”, “Eighties” and “Asset-Stripping Capitalist Bastards” are not heard once. Perhaps Mr Murdoch, head of 20th Century Fox, backers of The Full Monty, might have taken exception to that sort of Ken Loach-style proselytising. The premise is effectively, “Na’ then, lads, through no fault of’t Government, we finds usselves a bit brassic.”

The politics is purely sexual, with Robert Carlyle’s Gaz and co feeling emasculated by their straitened circumstances. But no old-style Socialist whingeing for them. Like good Thatcherites they look after themselves in this post-societal society, graduating from a little petty theft to hauling themselves by their own jockstraps to turn a penny as strippers, becoming Cosmopolitan-style New Men, at ease with their own bodies in the process.

It’d be bad enough if The Full Monty were just a rehash of Fame, with its message that if you wish hard enough, all your dreams, however improbable, will come true, so long as you’re characters in a piece of shit movie. Leave aside Robert Carlyle’s wavering Yorkshire accent, the fact that, ironically, Sheffield isn’t in anything like as bad a way as it’s depicted here (the film-makers had to scout long and hard for suitably dingy locations), that to ensure translantic success every British film now has to feature a fucking funeral. Overlook the laboured slapstick and predictable daft-as-a-brush humour that adds insult to injury or the movie’s abrupt conclusion, copping out of answering all the awkward questions it’s pouch-posed. What’s truly obscene about The Full Monty is the way that it processes the tragedy of unemployment and the ruination of Britain’s industrial base into fodder for the rictus-smiling, sexy Nineties. As a meaningful statement to Northern men thrown out into the post-industrial cold with nothing but a smouldering sense of humiliation to warm them, it makes Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” sound like Roosevelt’s New Deal by comparison. “I say, you could become strippers, you know, like those Chippendale fellows. Amusing caper, what?”


Time was when that recent Full Monty-esque photo-op of Prince Charles thrusting his groin in a Sheffield dole queue would have been picked up on as a howling gaffe, a mute fuck-off on the part of the haves to the have-nots. Now, it’s greeted appreciatively, as a sign that the Prince has learned to “relax”. In these post-political Blairite times, we’re past disgust, rage, imagining that there’s anything realistic we can do about unemployment. Let it go. Move on. What’s more important is that, like these Full Monty fellows, we loosen up, unbutton, show our willies even, ha ha! Actually, they even cop out of showing us their dicks. But there’s bollocks aplenty on display here. The full bollocks.

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