'Margery and Gladys' was transmitted by ITV1 on 21 September 2003. This TV film is a comedy, but it's inspired by a deadly-serious news event. In 1999, a Norfolk farmer named Tony Martin (not the American singer) shot dead a teenage burglar who broke into his property. Because the intruder was attacked from behind, a controversial court decision found Martin guilty of homicide; he served 18 months in prison before the conviction was changed to manslaughter and he was released with time served. The case still inspires angry debate.
Screenwriters Flanagan and McCulloch combined the Tony Martin incident with another real-life news item about two elderly ladies who committed a series of minor robberies across England, incurring bills at hotels and petrol stations and then bunking without paying. The British tabloid press called these women "Hell's Grannies" (after a Monty Python sketch). In this case, Hell's Grannies plus the Tony Martin affair equal hilarity.
The chief appeal of 'Margery and Gladys' is the first-ever teaming of two actresses who have been beloved mainstays on Britain's television screens for many years. Penelope Keith (classy as ever) has played society matrons and snobbish beldames in several long-running sitcoms. (In real life, Penelope Keith recently spent a year as the ceremonial High Sheriff of Surrey!) June Brown has had a long stint as chain-smoking whinger Dot Cotton on 'EastEnders': unlike Ms Keith, in real life June Brown *is* a great deal like her most well-known role.
Ms Keith plays Margery, a tetchy suburban matron -- recently widowed -- who attends a Neighbourhood Watch meeting that leaves her paranoid about burglars. Ms Brown plays Gladys, Margery's cleaning lady. The two women are an odd couple with (they think) little in common, until an intruder enters Margery's house and she coshes him (from behind) with her Waterford crystal vase. Believing that Margery has killed him, both women recall the Tony Martin case and they now realise that they can be charged with murder! Naturally, they must now go on the lam, as fugitives.
'Margery and Gladys' is (among other things) an intentional parody of 'Thelma and Louise', with two unlikely matrons as female outlaws. Instead of Texas highways, their getaway takes Margery and Gladys across the secondary B-roads of the Midlands, en route to sanctuary in (wait for it) Milton Keynes. There are some bizarre incidents, as the two women must commit other crimes to obtain funds and medications.
This TV film is quite funny, although it's a gentle character-driven humour of a typically British variety that doesn't play well in the rest of the world. The interplay between these two veteran actresses is delightful ... especially as they learn they have more in common than they'd suspected. Unfortunately, towards the end the dialogue gets all 'meaningful' in a manner more typical of American TV scripts. I laughed throughout 'Margery and Gladys', and I rate this TV movie 7 out of 10.
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