Is it too much to suggest that the Full Monty was a game changer, as well as a hugely financially successful movie? Well, it certainly made the movie industry sit up and take note. For the extremely modest outlay of less than £2.5 Million, Fox Searchlight got a return of more than £200 Million and also the highest grossing movie in the UK until Titanic came along. Not bad for a story about six blokes looking to make a bit of ready cash by baring all! The movie was not without its controversies, with the New Zealand writers of a little known stage play – Ladies Night claiming plagiarism. This was eventually settled out of court and did little to sour the reputation of the movie.
In a lot of ways, there is similarity with the slightly earlier Brassed Off. Both are set in Yorkshire, both feature a close knit group trying improve their lot and both feature fabulous music, although of somewhat differing genres. Where the movies differ however, is in the future prospects of the protagonists. With Brassed Off, you know the future has changed and the outlook is positive in some respects, while The Full Monty paints a somewhat darker picture. Just what has changed in the long term is uncertain, even if the short term wins are clear.
Set against the backdrop of a failing 1990s industrial city – Sheffield, the story revolves around a small group of ex-steel workers who might well have expected a job for life when they started work, but now find themselves on the scrap heap, in a city where industrial jobs are getting scarce and their skills are no longer in demand. Gaz Schofield (Robert Carlyle) has more problems than most, with his ex-wife chasing him for unpaid maintenance under the threat of banning him from seeing their son, while Dave (Mark Addy) needs a job to give him back some self-respect and get his trousers back from his wife. Gerald, their ex-foreman needs a job to save his pride, his marriage and his home. He has not had the courage to tell his wife he is unemployed and she continues to live in blissful ignorance, still booking holidays and buying luxury knick knacks for their home while he searches desperately for a new job and hides the extent of their financial problems from her.
What is also clear is that Gaz needs to grow up. He still acts like a teenager, pilfering, not taking life that seriously and leaching after every girl who crosses his path. No wonder his wife Mandy (Emily Woof) has taken her son and gone to live with nice sensible, dependable, responsible, career minded Barry (Paul Butterworth) with her and Gaz’s son Nathan (William Snape).
When Gaz and Dave stumble upon a male strip show at the local working men’s club, they concoct a plan to put their own troupe together. After all, as Dave points out 400 tickets at £10 each is “Well, a very lot”. The problem is, they need a deposit on the club and none of them have a brass farthing to their name. Oh, they also need a few more members to form the troupe and they cannot dance or strip either, but why let these little niggles get in the way of a great money making idea?
It’s kind of sink or swim for them all. There is not a lot of love lost between Gerald and his former subordinates, but he needs money as much as the rest of them, so they do what all workmates do when there is a shared aim and pull together without ever really becoming friends. The need to recruit extra dancers brings an extra dimension to the story, with security guard Lomper (Steve Huison), Horse (Paul Barber) and Guy (Hugo Spear) joining the dance crew. Lomper in particular has a few problems. Years in an unpopular job has seemingly left him without friends and his aging, frail mother is obviously very draining on him. His unlikely inclusion comes around after Dave fixes his car for him, while he is trying to commit suicide by gassing himself from the exhaust. He might be a pigeon chested, flat footed ginger loser, but he needs the group as much as they need him for his access to rehearsal space, car and spare uniforms.
What really makes this movie are the gritty, real locations used almost exclusively. The opening of the movie famously uses a 1970s publicity film called City on the Move. This paints a not altogether truthful picture of a dynamic, vibrant city, but plays well against the city of the 90s, complete with crumbling tower blocks, run-down neighbourhoods and decaying parkland. The working-man’s club looks just like I remember them – smoke filled, with velour bench seating, beer soaked tables and plenty of dodgy acts to hurl abuse at. The derelict steelworks is to me the only let down, with too little heavy machinery in evidence. It looks more like an old engineering or manufacturing site than a rolling mill or forge. Still, the film is quite vague as to exactly what their trade was, so we can let this go.
The relationships between the men are generally quite straightforward, but romance blossoms between Lomper and Guy after the troupe are interrupted during rehearsals, leg it, all but naked from the police and the pair end up in Lomper’s bedroom in nothing more than a leather thong! A bunch of Yorkshire-men is not the typical group with which to explore divorce, male obesity and homosexuality, but somehow it works here.
The doubts that have been beneath the surface throughout the whole escapade begin to surface. Can they really go through with this? Many of them have reasons not to, from Gaz almost losing Nathan, to Gerald and Dave both now having found work, to Horse, who feels himself slightly lacking in the gentleman’s department, despite his nickname. The whole project could have petered out, but the club has sold too many tickets for them to back out now…
The finale of the film is very well known, but persuading the cast to do what they did cannot have been easy. A bit like casual sex, there is that feeling of short term exhilaration, but long term you know nothing important has really changed and that life with all its struggles continues. Gaz will still need to sort out the problems between his ex-wife and he, Dave still needs a proper job to save his self-respect and even though Gerald is back in the saddle, he now has no wife or home to go back to. Maybe some small things have changed, and we can share the characters joy, but deep down, we know the truth.
The reason this film did so well was down to the fun plot, excellent writing and characterisation that was easy to relate to and a storming performance from the cast, almost without exception. There is not always a lot of depth, but this does not matter, as this movie just presses all the right buttons. A game changer for British cinema? Maybe, it certainly opened up new avenues of funding and proved at films written for the British market could work around the world. Having seen the international release as well as this one – the UK theatrical version, the changes that needed to be made were minimal, with just a few additional words of dialogue to explain a few things. A real must-have for any collector’s library.