Friday, 5 February 2016
Joan carries on ... as Calpurnia
This blog is part of a new regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons.
Today I am going to write about Joan's role in the classic Carry On Cleo. Cleo remains one of the most popular in the entire series thanks to its pastiche of the famous big budget film Cleopatra. Joan returned to the Carry Ons after a three year break, having missed four feature films with the gang. I have never really known why this gap occurred as by 1961 Joan was an integral member of the team. Apparently she was due to appear in Cruising in early 1962 but illness saw Dilys Laye replace her at three days notice.
This does not explain why Joan did not appear in the films that followed: Cabby, Jack and Spying. Certain commentators have suggested something in Joan's personal life at the time saw her fall foul of producer Peter Rogers however as she appeared in several other films for Rogers during this period (Nurse On Wheels, Twice Round the Daffodils) I can't see this being the case. Perhaps Joan was just too busy with other work?
Anyway, I'm very glad she did rejoin the team at Pinewood for this hysterical historical adventure in July and August 1964. As Calpurnia, wife to Kenneth Williams' Julius Caesar, Joan turns in a spirited performance as a classic nagging wife. She is blessed with Charles Hawtrey as her dirty old daddy Seneca and together they prove to be quite a thorn in Caesar's side!
While the rest of the gang play this very much as a Carry On, I do believe Joan's performance as Calpurnia could be something straight out of classic Shakespeare. Take the scene when she mourns the apparent death of Caesar. Terrific stuff and very convincing. Of course Kenneth Williams then wakes up and Joan goes into nagging wife mode again. This role would mark a sea change for Joan that would see her take on many more nagging, middle aged parts as the Carry Ons continued into the 1960s and 70s. While she was excellent in every role, I often wished she had been given more glamorous parts, particularly as she herself hit middle age in the 1970s.
Sadly, Joan disappears half way through Cleo as James, Hawtrey, Williams and Connor set sail to visit Amanda Barrie's dippy Cleopatra. Making her final appearance as she waves them all off, she certainly left us wanting more. I remember Amanda Barrie saying on the audio commentary for the DVD that Joan's performance in Cleo was wonderful and she was constantly bouncing out the screen with energy and vitality. I think that's very true and she definitely forms part of the rogue's gallery that brought Cleo to life.
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