It’s time to crack open the bolly, sweetie, as this Friday finally sees the release in cinemas of one of the most anticipated transitions from the small screen to the silver screen in the comedy world. Following months of speculation (and having to hold her comedy partner, Dawn French, to a bet that she wouldn’t ever do it), Jennifer Saunders’ louche, hapless and riotous fashion victims, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone (played by one of my all time heroes, Joanna Lumley), make their big screen arrival in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie”.
This classic BBC sitcom ran for five series and six specials over a 20 year period and followed, with delightfully cutting humour, the flimsy, fly by the seat of your pants world of the culture of celebrity and fashion PR (not to mention cruelty, bad parenting, fags and alcohol a-go-go). I first discovered it properly when I was 14, and the fifth series was airing on BBC One. In the years immediately following, I invested in all the boxsets and books, and it’s fair to say it’s one of my all time favourite TV comedies. With the movie in mind, I have revisited my boxset for the umpteenth time this last week to decipher what I feel are the best episodes of this dysfunctional sitcom that never went out of style, darling…
(Series 1, 1992)
The show’s first outing abroad, and one that’s still a hoot even now. Edina and Patsy are bound for some ‘bonne vacances’ in the south of France, but due to their complete inability to read a map (or drive on the wrong side of the road) they wind up not at the exclusive, five star, Tatler approved chateau, sweetie, but instead at a derelict old farmhouse, where painting, board games and yes – Patsy actually enjoying a game of ping pong – ensue…
(Series 2, 1994)
Perhaps one of the best episodes to showcase Jennifer’s love of a good, anarchistic rant, it’s disaster time for Edina when she finds out both her ex-husbands are cutting their alimony payments, and that she and Patsy have to make some harsh adjustments to their Bolly soaked lifestyles. What follows is a drunken trip to the food hall at Harrods (‘You can’t expect people who live in Knightsbridge to eat out all the time!’) and Edina before a judge, demanding a tax on the inept in society (‘Just have a stupidity tax and tax the stupid people!’)
(Christmas Special, 2002)
Following on from the fourth series in 2001 was this feature length special, where Edina and Patsy – the latter now being the executive buyer at exclusive fashion outlet Jeremy’s – jetted off to New York for Fashion Week. It’s an excursion which results in Edina searching for her long lost son by her second husband Marshall, ‘my pride and joy’, Serge, whom she discovers is gay and living in Manhattan, and not, as previously implied, taking lava samples from a volcano in Tibet. What follows is an outrageous romp, with a hilarious guest turn from acting legend Whoopi Goldberg as a marriage counsellor.
(Series 5, 2003)
An affectionate nod to the 60s and 70s, the heyday of Edina and Patsy’s youth that is forever referenced in the show, this episode sees Edina briefly dating smooth talking record producer Pete (played by My Family star Robert Lindsay) whom, she and Patsy discover, is mastering some previously unheard Beatles tapes at Abbey Road – which not only brings about some hilarious nostalgia via tales of their groupie days (‘Did you have a favourite Rolling Stone, darling? – You didn’t have one Stone, Eddie, you had ’em all!’) and Patsy’s previous life as an adult film star in ‘Booberella’, but also some painfully funny antics at the recording studio when Edina attempts her own song, ‘Walking Down the Road’…
(Series 4, 2001)
A sort of ‘episode within an episode’ this one. Edina is fuming when she finds out inadvertently that her long suffering daughter Saffy has written and produced a play about her life for the local fringe theatre (or as Patsy calls it, ‘your twisted little a***-wipe truth!’) and attempts everything she can to ensure it is a flop (Bubble, her dim witted PA, suggests she promotes it). This episode also contains one of the series’ best one liners to her first husband, antique shop owner, Justin – ‘Being married to him was like being married to an antique shop, darling – full of crap and always closed!’
The show returned for three 20th anniversary specials in 2011/2012, the last of which being broadcast just as the Olympic games arrived in London. Edina’s full of excitement as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are renting a room in her sprawling Holland Park townhouse whilst the games are on – but is hugely disappointed when she finds out they’ve cancelled. Fearing her staying power in PR may be drying up (‘I’m a party girl, not a cup of tea!’), her and Patsy have no choice but to mingle with the great and good at the Olympic stadium – which results in them carrying the torch, and Patsy doing – what else? – but lighting her fags off it.
“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is out in cinemas nationwide this Friday. “Absolutely Everything: The Definitive Boxset”, featuring all the series and specials, is available on 2Entertain DVD from HMV, priced £24.99. Twitter: @AbFabMovie