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The Full Monty

Year: 1997
Production Co: Redwave Films
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson

Having waited for over 20 years after it first came out to finally see this film, I was most intrigued by the tone.

Was it a working class British film complete with the grittiness, fruity language, slight darkness and knockabout laddish quality that pervades most films (even comedies) from Britain which depict poverty and the lower socieconomic classes – especially as the mass layoffs wrought by globalisation on British industry (steel, in this case) was the backdrop and inciting incident?

Or was it a Hollywood movie through and through, complete with all the tropes and motifs that make a crowd-pleasing hit like lovable rogue underdog heroes, nostalgia about hit disco music and broad comedy? Being distributed worldwide by an American studio, I suspected the latter would overshadow any sensibility in the former.

What director Peter Cattaneo (who only directed another three films before disappearing into TV – I'd have thought he'd go onto much greater things) did most skilfully of anything was merge the two together seamlessly.

Having been made by a British production company, it looks and feels distinctly British. The accents spoken, cigarettes smoked, language used and pubs visited by Gaz (Robert Carlyle), Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) and the gang look as authentic as their Sheffield locale allows.

What we'll never know is how much Fox (through their Searchlight banner) imposed or critiqued the script to make it more rollicking and audience friendly, or if Cattaneo and his producers always intended it to be as such.

Because while the lads break into old steel mills to filch scrap to sell, hang around the local job fair that offers them little hope and deal with some very serious issues from suicide and child protection to body image, it's all handled with light-hearted humour and love for the characters.

Gaz and his mates are out of chances. There's no work since the collapse of the local steel industry years before and they spend their time on the dole, trying to make ends meet and simply enjoy time with their kids and families – even while circumstances and economics make it so hard.

In an idea straight out of a Hollywood movie, Gaz sees the girls in town go crazy over a pub performance by Chippendales dancers and wonders why he and the guys can't do that – in fact going one better by stripping completely nude (the British slang of the title).

His friends and former co-workers think he's crazy, but right there is where the Hollywood movie comes in. Gaz is as optimistic as he is unstoppable, and when he's threatend with the loss of access to his beloved son and there's no other real option, he starts to talk the guys around.

They rope in their bristly former foreman Gerald (Wilkinson) because he's the only one with any dancing experience and start to hold auditions for locals, assembling a motley crew of unlikely male strippers who might just make Sheffield history.

It becomes a race to prepare for and execute the big performance as the pressures of wives and girlfriends, money and the spectre of self doubt crowd in, and even when it gets dark through either the subject matter or the third act crisis, it's all done in a register that makes it likeable throughout.

The only possible misstep is that it seems to finish in a strange hurry, the script purposefully not telling us whether the Full Monty act actually changes anyone's life. The moral of the story seems to be that anyone can do any wonderful and crazy thing if only they're determined enough.

In most American films that would mean trying to join a space program or ask the beautiful girl on the train to go out with you. In a movie about lovable, boorish unemployed steelworkers in the industrial north of England it's about showing your cock to a room full of shrieking drunk women.

But despite that (and everything like it in the story that's seemingly not for kids), The Full Monty has a real sense of simplistic, wide-eyed innocence that's hard not to be won over by.

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