In the early 1960s aspiring stage actor Harry H. Corbett jumps at the chance to play junk-dealer Harold Steptoe in a television comedy show 'Steptoe and Son'. However, the show's success ... See full summary »
In the early 1960s aspiring stage actor Harry H. Corbett jumps at the chance to play junk-dealer Harold Steptoe in a television comedy show 'Steptoe and Son'. However, the show's success proves to be a poisoned chalice for him, type-casting him and thwarting his stage ambitions. Wilfrid Brambell, the actor playing his father, is marginalized in a different way. He is a gay man in an England where homosexuality is still illegal. Written by
The brother of Harry H. Corbett's second widow, Maureen, complained to the BBC that the timeline portrayed in the film was wildly misleading and gave the impression that i) Maureen's affair with Harry may have led to the break-up of his first marriage with Sheila Steafel which was not the case, and ii) Harry's decision not to make any more episodes of Steptoe and Son coincided with the birth of his and Maureen's first child, whereas the birth had happened eight years before the end of Steptoe. The BBC upheld these complaints and agreed not to repeat the film unless it was edited to remove these misleading errors. See more »
Directly after the 1962 awards ceremony, Corbett does his impersonation of Harold Wilson with reference to his White Heat of Technology speech. Wilson did not become Prime Minister for another two years and the White Heat speech was even later. However, the writer made this 'error' quite deliberately. He took dramatic license. Dates were fudged throughout the piece, so though the award ceremony was in fact held in 1962, the film avoids placing it in time. Harry's party trick was his Harold Wilson impression; that was the most appropriate moment in the piece to give him the chance to do his thing. See more »
As part of broadening his acting experience, stage actor Harry Corbett signs on to take part in an one-off BBC comedy drama about a rag-and-bone man and his father, to be played by Wilfred Brambell. As "Britain's answer to Marlon Brando" Corbett enjoys the experience but quickly plans to move back to the stage whenever it transpires that the one-off was popular enough to get a series "Steptoe & Son". Both actors accept and the show is an instant success, running into several seasons. However the success plays on the two actors in different ways; Corbett becoming increasingly frustrated at the dominance of Steptoe in his career, while Brambell struggles with his own self-loathing, loneliness and sexual tastes.
The usual foul up with Sky's auto-tune service (no wonder so many people throw in the towel and get Sky+) meant that I missed the first five minutes of this film but it didn't seem to matter so much because the quality here was consistent and high enough to engage even with one short scene. To many I'm sure the film will be a matter of common knowledge in its portrayal of the careers of Brambell and Corbett but for me it was all new. Of course I have seen Steptoe & Son myself and before that had the accepted wisdom of it as a classic but I was not aware of the behind-the-scenes stories. What this film does so expertly is to not really get into the very specific events (although these are part of the story) but rather play the story out within the characters themselves.
What I mean is, rather than Brambell's arrest being interesting because it happened, it is interesting in regards how it affected him. This is an important approach within the material because key to the film is the "happening" of Steptoe, and the fact that it kept happening. As an event it is done in the early stages but as an impact it is the whole story. It was interesting to see this played out and it points clearly to the main selling point of the film the two leads. Isaacs is really good. At first I didn't see how he would do it but he not only pulls off a great "impression" of the Corbett we know but also finds a real person within that he can deliver. It is tragic to watch fame extinguish his hopes and aims over the course of years and his performance gets this sense of decline just right and there is not a flick of a switch to do it. Davis is just as good with a typically pained and tragic turn even if, for Brambell, there was the suggestion of more of a "happy" ending in the film. Allam, Kinnear and Gorman play the writers/producers well but the former is lumbered with a really bad beard, perhaps to try and stop the "oh look its him offa Torchwood" effect. Samuels' direction of his cast is excellent and he also benefits them with good shots but Fillis deserves a lot of praise for this script.
Overall then this is a great film that goes past the events to see the pain and the change within the two famous characters. It is not a hard watch by any means, but it is not a fun one either. A superior drama that deserves to be given a bigger platform than it got on BBC4.
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