In the mid-1960s, Joan, not long married to comic actor John Le Mesurier, meets and is mutually attracted to comedian Tony Hancock, married to the long-suffering Freddie. Hancock's most ... See full summary »
In the mid-1960s, Joan, not long married to comic actor John Le Mesurier, meets and is mutually attracted to comedian Tony Hancock, married to the long-suffering Freddie. Hancock's most successful period is in the past and he has become depressive and alcoholic, recently emerging from a stay in a rehab centre. Joan tells him that if he can remain sober for a year she will leave John for him. Hancock goes to Australia to film a comedy series there but it does not work out and he commits suicide. Joan stays with John until his death in the 1980s. Written by
[Tony and Joan have had a blazing row because Tony is blind drunk; she grabs his bottles of brandy and throws them at the wall; swearing profusely, Tony staggers across the room and tries to hit her with a coffee table; both of them end up on the floor]
I do enjoy our little after-dinner chats, don't you?
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Tony Hancock became one of the key British comedians of the 50s and 60s due to his work on HANCOCK'S HALF HOUR and THE TONY HANCOCK SHOW. Hancock's style is deadpan and miserabilist, and often very funny. He has a hangdog Bilko-like expression, but with none of Bilko's cock-eyed confidence. When Bilko fails, he will try the same lousy idea (changed slightly) the next episode. Hancock is arrogant on the surface but is ultimately a coward who takes all the problems to heart... as if the world is conspiring against him.
In real life, Hancock wasn't far removed from his character. Once the HANCOCK shows ended (mostly due his selfish removal of his double-act partner Sid James, and his growing disgust for the writers), he felt he could make it on his own. But he didn't - or couldn't - and ended up doing three shows in Australia before committing suicide in 1968, with a bottle of vodka and a bunch of amphetamines.
This is just the sort of story that Hollywood would pick up. There's MAN ON THE MOON and RAY and many more biopics about self-destructive outsiders. But Hancock was never big in America, so it was left for the BBC to do the job in a drama-documentary called HANCOCK AND JOAN.
Despite the prestige the BBC has abroad (mostly for its news programmes and natural history documentaries) it has a pretty awful record for TV dramas. Soap operas are the prime-time focus in the UK, but the need to quickly pump out episodes leads to terrible stuff. BBC's higher budget productions are turgid historical dramas which rely mostly on period costumes to try and hide some horribly stagy acting. Dramas set in modern times end up as a shouty low-rent version of Hollywood films and
increasingly - US TV.
All this made HANCOCK AND JOAN a pleasant surprise. There's a little shouting in the film, and only at moments when people are angry. It's not shot with much flair, but there's a few moments that raise above usual TV movies. I liked the little introduction of fantasy when Hancock sees a vision of himself as he commits suicide. The shots inside the drunk-tank are also pretty innovative. HANCOCK AND JOAN - of course - has the annoying washed-out colours emblematic of the British style. But the film has enough other things going for it, you can mostly forgive its bland look.
HANCOCK AND JOAN was part of a series of BBC drama-docs about British comedians who led messed-up lives. One - FANTABULOSA - is one of the most unintentionally funny things you will see... with Michael Sheen over-acting (as he did in FROST VS NIXON, THE QUEEN and everything else) as Kenneth Williams, star of the CARRY ON movies.
But HANCOCK AND JOAN is acted - and written - with real skill. Hancock is hateful at times, but also funny and charismatic. It actually makes sense that Joan (the wife of DAD'S ARMY star John Le Mesurier) would fall in love with him... and that's rare in this sort of thing. I loved the moment where she's screwing Hancock and his mother knocks on the door. "I'm coming!" he shouts. Joan giggles... and so does his mother when he lets her into the room. There's a real tenderness between the characters, based on jokiness and honesty.
The moments of madness - including Hancock drunkenly tearing the place apart during a dinner with Joan's parents - are effectively shocking. Joan is an interesting character, vulnerable yet ballsy. She becomes very likable, and her sink into alcohol abuse to try and keep up with Hancock feels credible. The only duff performance is Alex Jennings as John Le Mesurier, which is very self-aware and parodic of the real life man.
Anyway, this is a once in a decade, complete recommendation of a British TV drama. HANCOCK AND JOAN is well worth checking out, and streets ahead of celebrated British "realist" films like CONTROL and SOMERS TOWN. And it should work for those who don't even know who Tony Hancock was. It's not an all-time classic by any means, but in the context of British documentary-style stuff, it's one of the very few that feel both genuine and engrossing.
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