Monday, 8 May 2017

My thoughts on Babs

Last night the BBC's much-heralded feature length Barbara Windsor biopic Babs was finally broadcast. There has been a whole heap of publicity about this project, coming as it does in Barbara's 80th birthday year. 

I sat down to watch it last night full of anticipation. I knew Barbara had been involved in the project, that the cast included the wonderful Samantha Spiro, an actress with a track record of playing Barbara really well and that the whole thing had been scripted by the talented Tony Jordan. That being said, I did wonder how this new drama could bring a fresh approach to Barbara's story. Barbara's life and times are extremely well documented through several books, documentaries, chat show appearances and of course Terry Johnson's play Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick and the television play that followed, Cor Blimey. 

Could the BBC's drama give us something new? Well, in part, yes it could. The theatrical staging of the play provided a fresh approach and it was quite novel. The use of flashback sequences is not new in storytelling on the box, but this worked well. Many of us know about Barbara and her father and the fractured relationship there so it was touching that the main conversation running through Babs was between father and daughter. 


I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't seen it yet - get to the BBC iplayer if you haven't - but the 90 minute drama covers the period from Barbara's early family life, through her war years, entering the world of showbiz, relationship with Joan Littlewood who guided her career at Stratford East and her association with the likes of Ronnie Knight and the Kray twins. It is all dealt with fairly sympathetically although it doesn't shy away from the sometimes uncomfortable truth of the decisions Barbara (and those around her) made. As a fan of the Carry Ons and their stars, not much of this was new to me but I enjoyed the way it was portrayed on screen.

And yes, the Carry Ons did get a look in. Barbara's first experience with the team, Carry On Spying, was featured with a scene from the film played out showing the first meeting of Barbara and Kenneth Williams. It is faithful to the original script and worked pretty well. We also see a brief mention of Barbara in Carry On Doctor but sadly we don't see any more of her famous Carry On colleagues. I think ending the story in the late 1960s was very wise as the previous drama, Cor Blimey, covered the 60s through the late 1970s. This was very much a separate tale and worked well in its own right.

I must praise the sublime Samantha Spiro who once again played Babs quite brilliantly. This was a different portrayal, with Spiro playing Barbara in middle age and it was funny, touching and very real. There were moments - looks, gestures, phrases - which were quite uncanny. She is almost more Babs than Barbara! However this was so much more than an impersonation. It was a towering dramatic performance. Credit also to Nick Moran for tackling the difficult role of Barbara's father. Moran and Spiro had some good chemistry and what might have been awkward actually worked well.


My other stand out performance is the fantastic Zoe Wanamaker as the legendary Joan Littlewood. Joan was such an iconic figure so casting this part must have been really tricky. Zoe grabs the role with both hands and has terrific fun with it. She sparkles every time she appears and she left me wanting more. BBC, could we please see The Joan Littlewood Story, starring Ms Wanamaker? 

What didn't I like? Sometimes the number of Babs on screen was confusing! I know there was a lot to cover but it did feel that some aspects of Barbara's life and career were glossed over rather quickly. I also wasn't sure we really needed an appearance from Barbara herself. I think her cameo in Cor Blimey back in 2000 actually worked better than this. I'm not sure what it added to Babs. And the ending was quite sweet but again, I'd rather have seen the film end on Samantha Spiro's beautiful performance.


So all in all, I enjoyed Babs. What did you think?

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram


  1. Utterly ruined by the dreadful performance by Jaime Winstone although I too applauded Samantha Spiro.

    1. Yes I agree JW wasn't the best but Samantha Spiro is brilliant