I have to admit that I never saw this comedy show on TV although, whenever it was mentioned, then and since, an image of the main characters - Irene Handl's Ada and Wilfred Pickles' Walter - would always come to mind in a rush of slightly musty, and cringingly sweet nostalgia. The image would always be of the two of them leaning in close to one another and smiling warmly. I don't know why, but the overall impression I always got was one of impending tragedy, as though watching the series would eventually leave you mourning for a character you'd come to love. Of course, having your plot revolve around a couple of people in the twilight of their years certainly helped nudge it in that direction and I was only very young at the time, with grandparents who were knocking on a bit.
So when I received this feature-length big screen spin-off from the classic show and discovered that the cover had that exact image emblazoned all over it, I inevitably felt my heartstrings twanging in alarm. But more than that was the knowledge that, whilst some seventies sitcoms have attained a cult status now - my young son has friends that gleefully quote Basil Fawlty - this one still seems somewhat jaded and a little too insubstantial to be embraced by anyone other than its original fans. So then, has it miraculously stood the test of the time? And, more pertinently for me, did it really harbour some dark mortality within its quaint cosiness?
“Oh please ... not first thing in the morning!”
Commencing with a duff main theme song crooned out by Gilbert O'Sullivan over a grainy montage of grim and grey suburbia we soon settle upon the quite bizarre sight of a milk float trundling through a graveyard and, indeed, delivering a pint to an old tomb. It transpires that Walter is actually a gravedigger, with Ada and himself living in a church-house on site. It's their wedding anniversary today and unbeknownst to them, family and friends have arranged a surprise party for that night. But, in true farcical manner, everything that can go wrong with the arrangements will go wrong. A veritable smorgasbord of familiar seventies faces parade throughout the proceedings - the most obvious, of course, being Walter's son-in-law, played by Jack (Love Thy Neighbour) Smethurst who manages to purloin most of the comedy - inadvertently letting the cat out the bag with each chance meeting. Even Gareth Hunt from The New Avengers crops up! What's he doing these days? Walter loses some money that he'd been saving up for Ada's present and a new wig causes a multitude of problems. Really speaking, this is all very slight stuff, the kind of material that only the British can stretch out into a movie and still make entertaining. It is, despite my initial reactions to the stark drought of instant guffaws, a very sad use of the sexy - and sex-mad - barber's assistant, Sandra, in one of those instantly lame attempts to inject a bit of spice into the proceedings. She's very appealing, I agree, but this is a film from the era when nymphomaniac vixens, it seems, craved nervous, middle-aged married men with pot-bellies. Definite wish-fulfilment for the writers and the male stars, there, I think. The raunchy element is severely lacking when compared to other comedies of the era, however.
The characters are actually very well portrayed. As I said earlier, I'd never seen the original show and don't even know how long it ran for, but the performers have by now, obviously, all settled into their roles - comedian Duggie Brown virtually sleepwalking (or sleep-gum-chewing, here) through his part as the trendy, nudge-nudge, wink-wink barber. The guy who plays Arthur, Walter's grave digging chum, was, at one stage, in practically everything on television. Still can't recall his name, though. However, at times the film feels padded, as if the makers had been given the chance of a cinema outing for their baby, but not really known how to make the most of it. Audiences of the TV show should still have felt the benefits of the big screen format though, as the photography is actually very good, considering the shoestring budget, with some nicely framed shots and lots of involving camerawork. Even the likes of a scene that simply revolves around two people talking in a cramped living room has some interesting angles and camera movements to help energise the simple tale. It's also kind of cool to see a cemetery utilised so much without anything nasty creeping about within it.
“You see, it's a question of fulfilment. I'm happy here, burying southerners!”
The above quote, from Walter, is a tremendous example of the character's almost sinister Jekyll and Hyde persona. Whilst he predominantly comes across as loving, sweet and gentle, the perfect life-long companion to Ada, he also has a quite shocking tendency to fall to the dark side. Check out his mood swing when Ada comes home wearing a new wig. This personality-switch actually had me on edge once or twice. Look at how his face changes when he begins to suspect that something is afoot, whenever someone says too much about the hushed-up party, for example. Even good old Irene Handl (Metal Mickey, anyone?) has a quite remarkable ability to turn on a dime when it suits her. It certainly altered my opinion about what I once thought would be far too easy-going, sycophantic and a bit twee. Yup, you guessed it - that sense of dread I'd always associated with the show found a little bit of usage, too.
Well, folks - I actually enjoyed this little film. It's no classic, that's for sure. But, with a miniscule everyday kind of story, some well-drawn characters and nice set of circumstances that never feel too over-the-top, For The Love Of Ada works very happily. Only a sequence involving a bunch of obviously genuine pensioners hauled in off the streets for a free buffet lets the mood down, but overall, this is an undemanding and mildly amusing way to spend an hour and a half.
Our Review Ethos