Are you free?
Certain creative works are best left in the medium in which they were created. For example, books that should never be made into films, films that should never be made into television series, and—in this case—television series that should never be made into feature films. For fans of British comedy, Are You Being Served? is a much beloved series filled with larger than life characters and screwball situations. Unfortunately, transferred from the quaint confines of television to the vast canvas of film, without the support of a laugh track and familiar surroundings, this 96-minute adventure is a painfully unfunny experience more appropriately suited for use as an effective interrogation tool on political prisoners.
Facts of the Case
Grace Brothers department store is undergoing major renovations. As a result, Young Mr. Grace is sending his employees on an all expense paid holiday to various exotic ports of call. The men's and women's apparel team is off to Costa Plonka, Spain for an exciting week of sun and surf, only to find themselves caught in the middle of an armed rebel insurrection.
Are You Being Served? ran for 13 years on the BBC and found its American audience on PBS. Its patented mix of vibrant characters—the stuffy Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton), the flamboyant Mr. Humphries (John Inman), the womanizing Mr. Lucas (Trevor Bannister), the dimwitted Mr. Grainger (Arthur Brough), the oblivious Mr. Rumbold (Nicholas Smith), the bubble headed Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard), the multi-coifed Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sugden), the unassuming Mr. Harman (Arthur English), the lecherous Young Mr. Grace (Harold Bennett)—and screwball situations made the weekly visit to Grace Brothers department store an anticipatory treat. Part Benny Hill and part Oscar Wilde, the show continually found new ways to make us laugh at our own proclivities.
Unfortunately, David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd's attempt to take these characters to the big screen failed to remember what made the show humorous to begin with. A fish out of water is only funny when the new situation gives the characters something more interesting to play off of than their native environment. In the series, you had a steady stream of customers who were screwier than the staff serving them. The film takes away the customers and the environment leaving them with only each other to play off of. Have you ever been to a company outing where people only talk business because they have nothing else in common? That's the problem here. These people, with the exception of Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe, are just not as funny when left to their own devices.
A series of misunderstandings and mistaken note passing makes up the bulk of the plot, coming across as a most mediocre episode of Three's Company. Throw in a ridiculously misplaced political revolutionary and you have a recipe for comedic disaster. Nothing—not even a laugh track—would have helped save this picture. Some things are best appreciated for what they are and not made into something more.
As for the physical evidence, the film is obviously dated, even in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. The faded 1970s color palette and less than exotic locations do nothing to enhance the visuals. It does look slightly better on film than the television series, but that's due in part to the larger scope and not really enough to make a significant difference. The 1.0 Mono track is sorely missing the punch of an audience reaction. The vocals are fine as is the minimal musical score used throughout. But again, nothing much to cheer. Photo-static menus and the lone theatrical trailer—painful in its own way—add no value to this disc.
If you are not at all familiar with Are You Being Served? the series, I would stay far away from this disc. Even if you are a fan, I would strongly advise caution before picking this one up. Perhaps renting would be more appropriate—because after 10 minutes you'll wish you hadn't.
This court finds Are You Being Served? The Movie guilty of violating almost every law of comedy and film. Anchor Bay is hereby sentenced to watching every episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus to truly understand and appreciate good British comedy. It is our sincere hope a mistake of this magnitude will never be repeated. This court now stands in recess.
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