Monday, 21 July 2014

Fanny and Elvis (1999)

How to conceive a hit movie.

Step 1, compile an impeccable cast of household names and favourites including Ray Winstone, Kerry Fox, Jennifer Saunders, Ben Daniels, David Morrissey, Colin Salmon and Gaynor Faye.

Step 2, Hire a scriptwriter with the Midas touch in the shape of Kay Mellor, the woman behind TV hits such as Band of Gold and Playing the Field

Get those together and you've got a surefire box office baby on your hands haven't you? Fanny and Elvis has to be a hit, right?


Fanny and Elvis is a largely forgotten romcom from the turn of the century, concerning a woman's desire to get pregnant in time for the new millennium. And it seems to be forgotten with good reason because Mellor's usually assured writing is flabby here, suggesting the script was hurried through to coincide with its Y2K release. Further issues arise from her joint role as director of the piece, which proves her talents only really (usually) lie in writing. She shows off the beauty of Hebden Bridge well enough, but this is a movie not a Yorkshire Tourist Board advert; it feels a bit trite, a bit like the film is screaming 'Our location is a USP!' in much the same way that the later Calendar Girls exploited the scenery for mystifying international success.

It starts off well enough, Kate (Kerry Fox) is a Hebden Bridge based aspiring romantic novelist who prangs into the beloved Jag of Dave (Ray Winstone) on the day that they both learn that their respective partners (David Morrissey and Gaynor Faye) are leaving them for one another. Dave moves into Kate's spare room in lieu of compensation for the repairs to his Jag, just as the ticking of Kate's biological clock becomes deafening. A love/hate relationship of the opposites attract variety immediately develops which Mellor clearly hopes will remind viewers of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy - and just in case we haven't spotted that similarity, Kate has several dream sequences set on the Moors in which she confuses the period romance she's writing with her own increasingly confused reality.

The performances are relatively good, though Fox is consistently short changed by the normally reliable feminist voice of Mellor with the role of Kate who is alternately shrill and hopeless and superior and smug. It's not the usual kind of film one expects to see Ray Winstone in, but in a way that's why I appreciate it more; Winstone has some skill at comedy (he had previously starred in the early 90s BBC sitcom Get Back, as well as having a guest role in the first series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet) and its refreshing to see him playing an ordinary and rather likeable guy rather than the usual menacing hood. The rest of the accomplished cast however must content themselves to play cyphers and stereotypes who exist solely as comic relief; specifically Daniels as Kate's gay best friend and Saunders giving an Edina-lite performance as her book agent. 

A better draft, one that allowed the project some time and nurturing rather than just being, as I suspect, a millennium cash in may have helped this movie immeasurably. Then again, maybe it should have just played out on the small screen as a series where its ups and downs may have played out more consistently and satisfyingly across a number of weeks. Sometimes, you just have to stick to what you know and what you do well Kay Mellor.

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