Saturday 2 May 2015

Carry On England: A Step Too Far?

Carry On England. I can almost feel my breakfast rising up to say hello again. I jest of course, but only just. It is one of the few Carry On films I've watched that doesn't demand repeat viewings. Once was more than enough.

So why is it so bad, and was it a missed opportunity?

England is bizarre in many ways. The idea of making a wartime Carry On isn't a bad one. Period Carry On films normally do well and stand the test of time. England is just drab and dreary though. It looks cheap too. I know the Carry Ons were always made on a budget but the budget really does show in England and not in a good way. The absence of Eric Rogers and a reduced orchestra also damages the film as the musical score just doesn't cut it.

The storyline itself is fair enough, almost a retread of Carry On Sergeant, albeit without the charm of performances or the carefully crafted script. I will never understand why Rogers and Thomas decided not to employ Dave Freeman to write England after the previous film, Carry On Behind, had turned out to be quite a successful film. Freeman did well to continue the style of Talbot Rothwell. I'm sure his presence would have improved England a great deal.

England also suffers as it continued the theme of pushing boundaries further than the Carry Ons should really go. Ever since Barbara's bikini was yanked off by that fishing rod in Carry On Camping, flashes of female nudity had become common place. Nothing wrong with a brief flash, but by the mid-1970s the flashes were becoming more and more blatant. While this might be alright in a Confessions film, the direct competition for the Carry Ons at this time, it just doesn't sit well here. Carry Ons were always slightly innocent, naughty but not filthy and much of the comedy came from what you didn't see, not what you did. When it's all out, as it were, it often ceases to be funny. England pushed it further again and it was awful.

The cast of England is also a problem. Yes we have a starring role for Kenneth Connor which is always welcome. Connor is also partnered with Windsor Davies who is always watchable. Unfortunately other opportunities are wasted. The likes of Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth  Peter Jones and Julian Holloway are all sidelined in pointless, brief cameo roles. Jack Douglas is there too but given little to do. These established performers also don't really sit well against all the in your face shenanigans.

Far too much time is given over to new additions to the cast. The actors drafted in to Carry On England are all successful performers just really not suited to the world of Carry On innuendo. Patrick Mower, Judy Geeson, Melvyn Hayes and Diane Langton do their best but it just doesn't work. 

What I don't understand is why so many other actors previously involved with the Carry Ons did not appear in this film. Obviously Sid James had very sadly recently passed away but there were many others still working. Kenneth Williams was apparently meant to play Peter Jones' character but theatre commitments prevented him taking part. However the likes of Bernard Bresslaw, Patsy Rowlands, Barbara Windsor, Valerie Leon, Margaret Nolan, June Whitfield, Peter Gilmore and Jacki Piper were all still around and working. 

The Carry Ons needed familiar faces to make them work. And that's probably the main reason England flopped.

So what did you make of Carry On England? Worth a second look, or best consigned to the cinematic graveyard?

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  1. I agree with what you say. I think if more of the originals were in England it would have beeen a better movie.

    1. Most certainly! And better roles for those that were in the film!