The Full Monty (1997, Peter Cattaneo)

During The Full Monty’s opening titles, an old promotional film plays, establishing the setting. Sheffield during its glory days, when they produced the best steel in the world. Or at least could make a promotional film saying they did. In the present, the steel mills have closed—and been closed about six months—and the former employees are either on the dole or working lousy jobs. The first scene is former steelworkers Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy breaking into the mill to steal metal; divorced dad Carlyle brings along his son, Wim Snape, who’s more embarrassed than scared.

Carlyle and Addy share the film’s protagonist spot. Carlyle’s got the active plot: trying to put together a male strip routine and make some fast cash. Addy’s got the more passive: he’s worried he’s losing with Lesley Sharp and becomes fixated on being overweight once the strip routine talk starts.

They get the stripping idea when they find out how much the visiting Chippendales made. There are several problems, starting with them not knowing how to dance, not being able to afford a venue, not having enough dancers. But once they cajole former mill foreman Tom Wilkinson into helping them (he can dance and has basic organizational skills), things start coming together. Thanks to new friend Steve Huison—a former mill worker who ended up as security guard to the empty buildings—they’ve got a place to rehearse and a fourth dancer. They find a couple more reasonably quick—Paul Barber and Hugo Speer—and then they just need to learn how to dance.

Along the way, in addition to Addy’s self-fulfilling problems with Sharp, Carlyle butts heads with ex-wife Emily Woof over child support, and Wilkinson’s got a subplot about lying to wife Deirdre Costello. She thinks he’s still got a job (after six months). Presumably, she doesn’t think he still works at the closed mill, but it’s never explained. Monty doesn’t delve too much into its characters’ personal lives (other than Addy). Huison’s most significant scene is his introduction, while Barber and Speer get little moments but not much substance. It’s all ensemble for the supporting players.

And it works. Because no one gets too much time, everyone gets to have a reveal or two. Sometimes the reveals are just to keep the plot going, but there are character development ones too. Even without character development arcs, the actors do a great job implying.

Of the three leads—Carlyle, Addy, and Wilkinson—the best arc is Addy’s; it’s also the most consequential. The best-acted one is Wilkinson’s. Carlyle and Addy are both good, especially given how long it takes the film to get to Addy, but Wilkinson’s performance is transfixing from his first scene. The part could be a caricature. Instead, Wilkinson gives it immediate depth, which isn’t easy since he starts the movie as a comic foil for Carlyle and Addy’s buffoonery. The film uses the first act, “getting the team together,” arc to humanize Carlyle and Addy past initial sympathy. And that arc hinges on Wilkinson. Snape’s important as well—Snape’s kind of Carlyle’s conscience because tween boys are more emotionally aware than Monty’s adult men.

At the core of all the men’s problems—including supporting players like Barber and Speer—is their inability to express themselves to anyone. Not to each other, not to their partners, not to themselves. For Addy and Wilkinson, it might not be too late, whereas Carlyle’s already lost wife Woof to new dude Paul Butterworth, who’s a complete prick. But Carlyle might still have a shot at being a good dad to Snape.

Monty’s technically solid. Director Cattaneo balances the comedy and drama well; since the film is so terse, he can maintain a considerable narrative distance, so the situations never seem too dire. Or never seem too dire too long. They’re usually able to navigate hurdles in a couple scenes.

Lovely photography from John de Borman, whose lighting finds the warmth in the grimy, permanently overcast Sheffield. The scenery is drab; the characters’ experience of it is not.

Then Anne Dudley’s score brings a lot of personality to the film. It’s one of Monty’s essential elements; Dudley’s music, Addy, Carlyle, Wilkinson, Snape. It wouldn’t work without them. Plus Simon Beaufoy’s script. The script contrasts humor and tragedy, introducing the characters’ humanity in that mix, then the actors run with that sketch.

The film’s also got a great soundtrack—as the boys try to select their music—utilizing Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff to fantastic effect.

The Full Monty’s good stuff.

Leave a Reply