Gangsta Granny: Julia McKenzie shines in David Walliams’ family comedy
So far, Christmas TV has offered us a wide range of content from sci-fi action to costume drama to incredibly old-fashioned comedy. However, in my opinion, one thing I think has been lacking is a programme that the whole family can sit down and watch together. Though there’s arguments that we’ve had some family fare on already I can’t see every family member keeping up with the plot of Doctor Who while at the same time I struggle to see teenagers being interested in the exploits of the nuns in Call the Midwife. Thankfully, BBC One have a trick up their sleeve and have waited till Boxing Day to present Gangsta Granny an adaptation of David Walliams’ bestseller.
Just like their adaptation of one of Walliams’ other children’s books Mr Stink, BBC One have enlisted a fairly well known cast but have entrusted the lead role to a child actor. Here we have Reece Buttery playing Ben, who like all good child protagonists feels like he doesn’t fit in with the rest of his family. His mother and father own a spray-tanning salon and often use their equipment for their own personal use. They spend most of the rest of the time obsessing over dancing whether it be treading the boards themselves or watching Strictly on the television. Meanwhile, they can’t understand their son’s love of plumbing and he often spends time on his own fixing the U-Bends in the bathroom and reading his favourite magazine, Plumbing Weekly. As Ben’s parents spend Friday nights at dancing lessons, he’s often bundled off to his grandma’s house where he gets incredibly bored. Ben’s grandma really seems quite boring and he often spends his time at her’s playing scrabble or eating cabbage stew. Though it’s clear that he loves her, he’s rarely interested in her company and would rather being doing something else.
When Ben finally has enough of his grandmother’s cabbage recipes, she suggests that he look round the kitchen to see if he can find anything else to eat. Though he doesn’t find any food, he is shocked when he comes across a tin containing a vast amount of jewellery. Quickly returning the jewellery to its original hiding place, Ben now has a new opinion of his grandmother. Sneaking out of his house, Ben follows his grandmother as she dons a black catsuit and drives off on her shop-mobility scooter. He witnesses her as she stops outside the local jewellers and attempts to break-in to steal more of their stock. Just before she commits the crime, Ben screams out and she runs to stop him saying anything else. The next day, he journeys round to her house where she tells him the entire truth. It transpires that, in her youth, Ben’s grandmother was once an international jewel thief who was known as ‘The Black Cat’. It’s revealed that she never stole for materialistic reasons but rather for the sport of it and she later gave it up once Ben’s father was born. But it turns out that she’s always been secretly disappointed that she’s never been able to get the biggest stash of jewellery ever, namely The Crown Jewels. After learning that she’s in poor health, Grandma takes up Ben’s offer to carry out one last job.
Though Ben quickly spots that the way into the palace will be via the plumbing system, there are several factors that are getting in the way of the robbery. First of all is grandma’s neighbour Mr Parker, who has been keeping tabs on her before her former life as a burglar was revealed. Parker and his son are constantly listening into the goings-on at Ben’s grandma’s house and so are aware of what it is they’ve got to do. Meanwhile, Ben tells his parents that he now wants to be a dancer and so they enrol him in a dance competition alongside the much more accomplished Florence. Obviously, things start to go wrong when Ben ditches his rehearsals and is forced to dance for the first time in front of a big crowd. Making things worse is the fact that the event is being hosted by his mother’s favourite professional dancer, Flavio Flavioli.
Even though I’ve never read the books on which these comedy dramas have been based, it seems that Walliams is channelling the spirit of Road Dahl in his stories. Both Dahl and Walliams focus on young protagonists who are often ignored or talked down to by their families and often find solace in their own little worlds, as Ben does here with his plumbing. I personally feel that there’s something here for everyone as I think kids will enjoy the revelations about granny’s past while the adults will probably find entertainment via the subplot involving Ben’s parents’ love of everything dance-related. Director Matt Lipsey has really done everything he can to make the programme feel as atmospheric as possible from the brightly-lit world of the ballroom competitions to the rather grey house that granny inhabits. Lipsey’s direction of the finishing set pieces are incredibly well-handled especially the pacing of the Crown Jewels Robbery itself. In addition the costume design is absolutely fantastic; every character is given their own individual look whether it be the suits worn by Mr Parker and his son or the wonderfully awful ballroom costumes that Ben is forced to wear by his mother.
Gangsta Granny also boasts two excellent performances the first of which is from the young Reece Buttery as Ben. Buttery has a brilliantly expressive face which lends itself to the rather outlandish nature of the story. Buttery really makes you care about Ben and understand how he feels, trapped in a house with two people who really don’t get him. Equally great is Julia McKenzie as Granny, who flits between playing a typical old lady and the wily international jewel thief. As with the rest of the cast, McKenzie seems to be absolutely in her element and looks like she’s utterly enjoying herself. The supporting cast are just as entertaining with both Miranda Hart and Walliams himself impressing as Ben’s awful parents. Hart especially is believable as the ballroom-dancing obsessive who is a little bit too fond of the over-the-top Flavio. Speaking of Flavio, I felt Robbie Williams was well-utilised as the utterly vain Latin dancer who had a habit of over-emphasising everything he said. Finally, Rob Brydon added a bit of extra comedy as the archetypal nosy neighbour who tried to bring down the plan set by Ben and his granny.
Overall, I found Gangsta Granny to be utterly entertaining throughout and I can see it appealing to all of the family. It was funny throughout, sometimes poignant and had a great message about not ignoring the elderly and spending time with your grandparents as they won’t be around forever. By the time the credits rolled, I had almost been brought to tears and was left with a massive smile on my face.
What did you think to Gangsta Granny? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
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