“ Genre: Comedy / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Norman Cohen / Actors: Liam Redmond, Brian Blessed, Warren Mitchell, Dandy Nichols, Anthony Booth ... / DVD released 2006-10-30 at Optimum Home Releasing / Features of the DVD: PAL „
* Prices may differ from that shown
RELEASED: 1969, Cert. PG
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 96 mins
DIRECTOR: Norman Cohen
PRODUCER: Jon Penington
SCREENPLAY: Johnny Speight
Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett
Dandy Nichols as Elsie Garnett
Una Stubbs as Rita Garnett/Rawlins
Anthony Booth as Mike Rawlins
Liam Redmond, Brian Blessed, Bill Maynard, Sam Kydd, Frank Thornton, Pat Coombs, Kate Williams, Geoffrey Hughes plus many other famous names from British TV and cinema from the time
FILM ONLY REVIEW
NB: The image and details Dooyoo has used (above) are for the 1969 film of Till Death Us Do Part, not the TV sitcom.
During the latter half of the 1960s and well into the 1970s, the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part introduced us to the Garnett family. The programme amused some people and shocked others, as even for those days it managed to nudge against the boundaries of what was considered respectful and acceptable.
Loud-mouthed, opinionated Alf Garnett become a household name that you either loved or hated, yet most people had a soft spot for his perhaps not too bright, but gentle-natured, easy-going wife Elsie. The content which seemed to cause most offence was deemed as racist, together with Alf's attitude towards not just his wife and daughter, but women in general. Many people, including myself, found Alf a thoroughly obnoxious and annoying character, but, at the same time I was often able to raise a smile at him, simply because he reminded me of a few people I knew.
Many attempts in the past have been made to create feature films from TV sitcoms with little or no success, as it is rare to find a storyline which will keep even the most dedicated fans of these sitcoms entertained in movie format. The two Steptoe & Son films did manage to rise to the occasion and achieve this feat, as does the film of Till Death Us Do Part. I'd even go as far as to say that the film of Till Death Us Do Part is significantly better than the TV sitcom ever was.
The movie Till Death Us Do Part begins shortly before WW2. Childless Alf and Elsie Garnett are living in a little two-up-two-down terraced house in the east London district of Wapping. Alf spends most of his waking, non-working hours split between the pub and sitting on the loo, talking through the wall to his next door neighbour, both opinionating on the state of the world. Almost every night, Alf comes home drunk, yet Elsie somehow manages to tolerantly cope with her loutish husband whose main interest in life seems to be running off at the mouth (loudly!) at anything and everything.
The storyline of the film takes the viewer through the war years, the birth of their daughter Rita, then just after the D-day celebrations in the form of a street party which Alf ruins due to getting totally inebriated and upsetting everyone with his loudly expressed ultra right-wing racist/sexist opinions, the film then leaps forward in time to 1968 when Alf & Elsie's daughter Rita is grown up, and preparing for her wedding with Liverpudlian Mike Rawlins.
Mike and Alf are very much alike, although at opposite ends of the socio-political pole. Whereas Alf hates Harold Wilson (the then labour prime minister), immigrants and what he perceives to be 'loony lefties', Mike is a dyed in the wool socialist, at constant loggerheads with his future father-in-law's ideals. The two men argue perpetually, but what can bring them together in true harmony is an overdose of alcohol. If they go to the pub together, the booze brings down their barriers and they become good pals....until the sober light of the next day rears its head, making them arch enemies again. Rita always rises in defense of Mike, whereas Elsie simply sits on the sidelines, in a little world of her own, occasionally making utterances which are totally unrelated to the arguments raging inside of the little terraced Garnett household.
Although the film of Till Death Us Do Part has its fair share of Garnett family arguments and strife, the storyline is actually very interesting as it delves far more deeply into the personalities of the individual Garnett family members than does the TV sitcom. I wouldn't say that the humour content is high overall, but the interest value certainly is.
I have seen this film quite a few times over the years, still merely owning it on a dusty old VHS rather than a DVD (the DVD is available though), and each time I watch it, I find it gives me food for thought. There is a lot of focus on the changes which were happening in British society during the post-WW2 years, and the way they are put across in the film makes me see the TV version of loud-mouthed Alf Garnett in a different light. Of course I still find him obnoxious and would hate to spend even five minutes in his company, but from the distance that the screen puts between the viewer and a fictitious - yet very realistic - character, affords enough space to look at the less black and white areas. What always, and surprisingly even to myself, happens is that I can up to a point feel some sympathy (sympathy as opposed to empathy) for Alf Garnett as he watches the world he created for his family, and broadening it out to British society, crumble into little pieces. He feels vulnerable, lost and scared....these underlying dark emotions spewing forth from him as anger and rampant prejudice.
To home in on what I've just said about Alf Garnett basically being a very frightened man, it is interesting in the film to observe how he behaves during WW2 air raids - yet blusters with bravado at the pub the next day, how nervous he is about being a father, how scared he is of Hitler, God, The Queen, his son-in-law, rationing, fatherhood, Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, getting called up for active service and much more....he is at grass roots level, frightened of everything. Very little of this as regards the more vulnerable side of Alf Garnett's character comes across in the TV sitcom, but it shows in all its dubious glory on the film.
Like the TV sitcom, the film of Till Death Us Do Part contains quite a lot of racist language and comments which today do sound very shocking, and no doubt would offend most people. However, back in the 1960s, although such was still very controversial, there did seem to be a greater level of freedom of speech than there now is. Although I also find these racist barbs extremely offensive, I think it is important to view the character of Alf Garnett from the angle that his creator, Johnny Speight, intended. Alf's clumsy and often cruel remarks directed at anybody whose skin isn't white, aren't meant to be interpreted as racist from the point of view of the programme (plus the film of course) and its creators. The person who is the subject of ridicule is Alf Garnett himself - he is the one we are supposed to dislike, not those who he has a huge chip on his shoulder about. This character was created for the purpose of highlighting how offensive and bigoted many people are, not for anyone to agree with their unpleasant opinions.
The acting in the film of Till Death Us Do Part is, in my opinion, far better and more natural than in any of the long-running TV sitcom episodes. A far greater connection with the characters can be experienced, and they are backed up by a star-studded troupe of then well-known British TV and cinema actors. There are some quite heartwarming moments in the film, but these are rather heavily laced with many rather moving, poignant stretches as we see Alf Garnett's hostile veneer stripped away, sharing his thoughts and fears during his private moments as we see another side of this obnoxious character.
I feel that the film of Till Death Us Do Part has been unfairly and perhaps sadly pushed aside and forgotten about, which is a great shame because it honestly is a really good transference of a TV sitcom into a movie. I certainly would recommend that anybody, even if you hated the TV offerings of Alf Garnett & Co, to seek out a copy of this DVD and give yourself a treat. Although there are some mildly amusing parts, it overall is a fairly serious film which does provide a lot of food for thought, as well as showing another side of the dreaded Alf.
If you are into human stories with a strong nostalgic flavour, then you'll love this....even if the thought of watching 96 minutes' worth of the expostulations of Alf Garnett makes you shudder. It's best to enter into the experience of watching this film with an opened mind, and if you can do that, you definitely will get the best out of it and be in for a pleasant surprise.
Go for it! As an Alf-hater I did, and have never regretted it.
At the time of writing, Till Death Us Do Part can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £5.23 to £50.00
Used: from £5.22 to £15.99
Some DVDs on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~