You remember the hit film, of course. In 1997, The Full Monty won Baftas, an Oscar and people’s hearts with its uplifting tale of six men, some of them former steelworkers in Sheffield, trying to improve their lot by putting together a striptease act. The title derived from their promise to outdo the Chippendales by revealing everybody’s pie and chips at the end – to the lads’ local audience only, you understand. In 1997 we hadn’t yet fallen quite so far into the pit of depravity in which 2023 happily frolics and we viewers only saw their bums. Which always felt to me like the better deal.
A new eight-part series of the same title and written, like the original film, by Simon Beaufoy (this time with Alice Nutter) revisits the gang 25 years on – as the opening caption puts it “Seven prime ministers and eight northern regeneration policies later.” The lads are still in Sheffield, an even more post-industrial landscape, and the melancholic undertow of the film – in which it was clear but not dwelled on that the climactic show would be a brief, shining moment, not a transformative one – now tugs far more insistently on all their lives.
Gaz (Robert Carlyle – still, in my opinion, miscast in a so-called lovable but actually endlessly irritating role) is living in a caravan and working as a hospital porter. He retains his propensity for acting first and thinking later, and continues to embroil various people in lovably madcap/intensely irritating schemes, mainly with the aim of enabling him to buy his disabled grandson the electric wheelchair he needs.
Dave Horsfall (Mark Addy) and wife, Jean (Lesley Sharp), are now the caretaker and headteacher respectively of the local comprehensive school and stuck in a rut made deeper by their inability to grieve together for a loss long ago. Lomper (Steve Huison) is now married to Dennis (Paul Clayton) and they run the local cafe together, which has become the gang’s unofficial new meeting place. Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) is not given much of a backstory but he can generally be found bloviating from behind his laptop at a table whenever the others pop in. Guy (Hugo Speer) is the only one doing well for himself, but his storyline disappears early on, as a result of on-set allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Speer that meant he was taken off the production despite his claim of innocence. Horse (Paul Barber) is now physically frail, unable to work and on disability benefits – their withdrawal after one of the DWP’s wilfully brutal assessments and the consequences on him form one of the overarching narrative threads of the series.
There are newcomers, too, including Miles Jupp as lower middle class Darren, learning to navigate unemployment from the older hands, Talitha Wing putting in an absolutely wonderful performance as Gaz’s talented but wayward daughter Destiny and Aiden Cook as Twiglet, a fierce little lost soul whom Dave befriends after he catches him stealing food from the school kitchen.
The Full Monty tries to cover so much political ground that it often feels by-numbers. The Horsfalls’ jobs at the dilapidated school showcase the failures of those seven PMs and regeneration policies in education; Gaz’s job – especially in the mental health ward – highlights the catch-22s and lack of provision that traps patients in units; Guy’s irresponsibility shows the shortcomings of privatisation. The cafe functions as a drop-in centre as much as a business, and free cake from Dennis helps Horse keep body and soul together as he falls further through the more-holes-than-net of the welfare state.
Without an event such as the striptease show around which to cohere, the drama remains too loose for us to fully reinvest in the characters, however much residual fondness we may have. And the perfectly balanced tone of the film, between comedy and tragedy, is here forever out of whack. Storylines such as child suicide attempts are breezed past in favour of long, absurd (and very dull) capers involving rare pigeons and Korean billionaires, or kidnapped dogs from Britain’s Got Talent. An affair between a main character and a colleague is badly underwritten and wholly unconvincing. And you really do have to find Gaz the lovable rogue of lovable rogues to buy into the episode in which he takes an artistic patient with schizophrenia off his medication so he can begin to paint again.
A sprinkling of decent gags, some fine performances and evident good intentions towards exposing the continuing impoverishment of the north and indicting those responsible unfortunately aren’t enough to stop the series feeling … well, boring. It feels neither as real nor as uplifting as its progenitor, showing us less of the characters, society, the deep malaise and human potential than before.
• The Full Monty is on Disney+ now.