“ Genre: Television - Dinnerladies / Theatrical Release: 1999 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Geoffrey Posner / Actors: Victoria Wood, Thelma Barlow, Shobna Gulati, Maxine Peake, Anne Reid ... / DVD released 2007-08-27 at Universal Pictures UK / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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In this second series, we are back with the canteen workers of HWD Components, and life is far from boring. Bren's will they won't they relationship with her manager, Tony, is still on, and although nothing has yet happened, the others are taking bets that it soon will. Jean's husband leaves her for a dental hygienist in Cardiff; initially she is devastated, but soon finds someone to make her feel better, much to her friend Dolly's horror. Anita is desperate to have a baby, but has only been with her man for two weeks...Twinkle is as foul-mouthed as ever, but, having lost weight and changed her hair colour, is looking fabulous. Stan is devastated by the death of his father, and Philippa decides she wants a change of man. And Bren's mother, Petula, drops in from time to time, driving Bren mad. But is Petula long for this world? Who is responsible for the baby left on the fire escape? And will the others find the happiness they are searching for?
This sitcom is an absolute testament to the talent of Victoria Wood and her knack of making comedy about the 'working classes' acceptable to the public without making it seem as if she is taking the proverbial. Responsible for creating the series, she also stars in it as Bren. Yet Bren, in many ways, is not the funniest character - she is the most sensible of the lot of them and obviously cares deeply for all of them, often providing a shoulder to cry on. I really respect Victoria Wood for doing this - she could easily have written the role so that she stood out a lot more, but instead, she leaves it open for her colleagues to shine. And shine they most certainly do. Tony, played by Andrew Dunn (most recently in Coronation Street as Janice's man) is a perfect match for Bren in that he is also sensible and caring. I found him a little dull in the last series, but in this one he really comes into his own - and I found myself really hoping that he and Bren would finally get together.
Dolly and Jean, played by Thelma Barlow and Anne Reid, really come as a double act. They are the best of friends, but in typical Northern style, they constantly run each other down. Dolly is always telling everyone that Jean has massive hips; Jean lords it over Dolly with tales of her sexual prowess! Anne Reid really comes into her own as Jean in this series, because of her split from her husband, and she has some great scenes where she completely loses it. And Thelma Barlow has now well and truly thrown off her Mavis from Coronation Street mantle.
In a way, Twinkle and Anita are another double act, played by Maxine Peake and Shobna Gulati. They are of an age, whereas the rest of their colleagues are older. However, Anita really takes a back seat in this series. She is the dopey one of the group and had some really cracking lines in the last series; in this one, she barely appears, clearly intent on getting pregnant as soon as she can. Twinkle is fabulous though; she really shines through, has some fabulous lines and delivers them brilliantly - it is all too obvious that she is a talented actress and I couldn't get enough of her.
Julie Walters, who plays Petula, also seems to take a back seat in this series. Always an occasional character, she really doesn't seem to appear all that much - at least until the end when she has a major role, albeit mainly off-screen. She is still a cracker of a character though, going from being completely disgusting - she hangs around with alcoholics, with toilet roll hanging from her knickers - to so devastatingly sad you just want to sob and sob (well I did anyway). Julie Walters will always shine, no matter what role she takes on and no matter how minor the character is.
Finally, there is Stan (Duncan Preston) and Philippa (Celia Imrie). Stan is a serial borer (as in he can bore for Britain), but because he doesn't appear too often, he is funny enough. Philippa is posh and shouldn't really fit in with the rest of the gang, but she does - and has some fabulous moments in this series where she loses her temper and becomes quite a different character. There are a couple of bit parts that I love too - Sue Cleaver plays Glenda, a bread supplier, who is obsessed with her gynaecological bits and pieces; Kate Robbins is Babs from Urmston, who has to be seen to be believed; and Steve Huison plays Steve Greengrass, an accident-prone worker who is always having to take time off sick. All bring their own gentle humour to the show and are a pleasure to watch.
The show is incredibly character-driven and would not have been anywhere near as funny if it hadn't been for the highly varying foibles of the different characters. However, that isn't to say that Victoria Wood's script isn't sharp, because it really is. I think though that she has gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the actors'/actresses' own interpretation of the characters has been allowed for. It certainly feels that way anyway - particularly so in this second series. Yet, none of the characters become boring - there are enough of them for that to not happen. Whatever the reason, the show is always funny - generally in a gentle, under-stated way, but occasionally causing great big belly laughs - particularly when Dolly swallows Viagra by mistake!
After a slightly disappointing six episodes in the last series, there are a whopping ten in this one; six on one disc and four on the other. Each episode is named after the date on which it is meant to be set, ranging from April 1999 and February 2000; this means that there are three or four episodes that take place over Christmas and the New Year - a period that I'm deeply fond of and also allowed for lots of soppy bits - but in that Northern way that doesn't make you want to vomit, but instead leaves you with a warm feeling that all is right with the world! Best of all, it reminds me of the cafe that my mum ran for twenty-five years - some of the characters could literally have walked straight out of it!
There are really only two criticisms of this series that I can think of. The first is that there aren't any extras, but then after ten quality episodes, I wasn't too disappointed. The second is that the series ends with this one; for reasons that become obvious when you reach the last episode. In another way though, it is probably for the best - I always think the best comedies stop before they get too boring - something most sitcom writers ignore until it is too late - Last of the Summer Wine anyone? As it is, Dinnerladies will always stick in my mind as a quality sitcom that peaked not long before it ended.
This really is a classic sitcom, although it is only just ten years old, and it is one that I am proud to have in my DVD collection, reminding me that no-one does comedy better than the Brits (in my humble opinion, of course!). And I think the fact that most of the actors/actresses involved now have regular appearances on British television is a great sign that I am not the only one who thinks so. If you haven't seen it yet, start with the first series - you really will be in for a treat. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £6.99.
Running time: 5 hours and 10 minutes