Friday, 30 May 2014

Kenneth Williams : Fantabulosa! (2006)

Fantabulosa! was the TV film that made us realise what an impressive chameleon Michael Sheen is, which ultimately led to his big screen performances as Brian Clough, David Frost and Tony Blair (though he had played Blair for the first time - in the TV film The Deal, recently reviewed on these pages - before this turn here) and which equally led to the tone and commitment of all future BBC4 biopics.

Fantabulosa! is not a perfect film, but it has a as near as dammit perfect performance from its leading man. A force of nature, Sheen's talent for mimicry - both physically and vocally - dominates the film from the off as he totally embodies and helps to bring Kenneth Williams back to life, in all his brittle glory. It could be argued Sheen doesn't really look like Williams (in much the same way as it could be argued he doesn't look like Frost or Blair...I do feel he looked more like Cloughie though) but it doesn't matter, he inhabits the role so extensively that he IS Williams. 

It's just a shame then that the film itself is far less impressive than the central performance - or indeed the supporting performances; with Cheryl Campbell and (Sylvia Syms daughter) Beatie Edney being especially noteworthy as Williams' mother and Carry On co-star Joan Sims respectively. Fantabulosa! is marred by its episodic format and its unusual, inexplicable directorial choices; there's a scene quite early on in a busy cafe where Williams is told by his agent that his services are no longer required by Hancock's Half Hour and the BBC. Aware that he has an audience around him who wants to see him perform, even if he's about to lose one in the form of the TV viewing public, Williams - despite his agent's protestations - starts to raise his voice and pander to them...only for the next wide shot to show they weren't there. Why?

It could equally be argued that the script never once lets us get to empathise with Williams, which leaves an uninvolving air and an austere chill across the proceedings. But I think much of this is actually intentional; Williams was a strange, cold fish. He couldn't live without the admiration and applause of his audience yet he held them often in great contempt, bitter that he somehow felt he was squandering his talent or that his mugging was actually beneath him. This notion is beautifully captured when the ageing Williams engages with some workmen outside his flat. He's under no obligation to, yet he does so all the same, only for him to snobbishly criticise them once their backs are turned and lament how they have somehow expected this little routine from him.

Ultimately, Fantabulosa! is a good rather than great film, but it cannot be denied that it has a great performance from Michael Sheen.

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