Friday, 2 May 2014

Tommy Cooper : Not Like That, Like This (2014)

With Not Like That, Like This, a well judged tribute to the life of Tommy Cooper the great entertainer that sought not to glamourise or to condemn the man's private life, and the forthcoming biopic of Cilla Black (with Sheridan Smith, she of the lorra lorra talent, playing she of the lorra lorra irritation) it is clear that ITV has tipped its hat into the ring of the bijou biopic only recently vacated - due to budget cuts - by BBC4. The BBC must be seething at its own short sightedness, and if not then they really bloody should be. Because this is a genre of TV that guarantees bums on seats and a good time, sating an audiences love and desire for good entertainment and nostalgia combined. Sure there are some who will argue 'don't speak ill of the dead' having read the Daily Fail's headlines concerning the drama depicting the much loved clown as a 'wife beater' and 'alcoholic' but these are clearly people who can't believe, indeed refuse to believe that the person inhabiting their TV could ever be a three dimensional REAL human being, with all the strengths and weaknesses that allows.

David Threlfall was a surprise choice for the role of Cooper but he inhabits the man's skin rather beautifully; all hangdog expression, gruff manner and stage-panic behind the eyes. He was ably supported by Amanda Redman as his long suffering wife Dove in a Simon Nye script that showed not just the friction and cracks in their marriage - largely due to Tommy's long standing mistress Mary played here by Helen McCrory - but also the tenderness, affection, mutual understanding and humour, especially the humour, that this long marriage had.  

The film takes us from the 1960s and Cooper's rise in the nation's affections right through the 70s and his persistence to continue touring the theatres and clubs up and down the land (was this because he was always 'on', a comedian who simply had to prove his worth all the time from venue to venue or was it because it gave him the chance to spend time with Mary away from his family home?) and right up until his literal fall in 1984, the now infamous 'Live From Her Majestys' televised performance which saw Tommy's heart finally give out in front of millions. As befits the aims of this drama, the film doesn't shy away from this fateful and tragic demise and Threlfall plays the entire act out from entrance to unexpected and untimely conclusion in real time. Having seen it on youtube (seriously, for anyone of  a morbid curiosity and a strong constitution - and believe me, you'll need it - the footage of Cooper's death is available on youtube) it's re-enacted with the upmost attention to detail.

Not Like That, Like This is a strong biopic that proves this genre can continue even if the channel has changed. Threlfall's performance is approaching true greatness, especially as he makes it look so easy - just like Tommy Cooper did himself in fact.


  1. The two that really stick in my mind are Fantabulosa and Sincerely Folks, Kenneth Williams and Hughie Green respectively, quality drama that wholly sidestepped either cosmeticisation or mawkishness; with standout lead performances...

    1. Absolutely. I did enjoy the Kenny Everett one, Jane Horrocks and Tom Hollander as Gracie Fields and her husband, Holy Flying Circus and of course the Thatcher ones. Then there's Hancock and Joan, and Helena Bonham Carter as Enid Blyton which were good if somewhat controversial (though not as controversial as The Curse of Steptoe!) I also liked the lesser ones such as Julia Davis as Fanny Craddock and Rob Brydon as Kenneth Tynan. But I really couldn't be doing with David 'TV's Mr Unfunny' Walliams as Frankie Howard. I'd love to have seen a biopic of Keith Floyd with Toby Stephens!