Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie review - Wearing its years well, darling

The plotting is lazy, but this big-screen reboot of the much-loved sitcom gets by thanks to its stars and to the endless goodwill cameos

The official trailer for 'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie', starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, has been released. Video: Fox Searchlight
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
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Director: Mandie Fletcher
Cert: 15A
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Kathy Burke, Celia Imrie, Janette Tough
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

It is not unusual for this sort of Brit Flick to feature a cameo from a well-known TV news anchor. The brief intimation of reality works as a joke in itself. Just one journo would, however, not be enough for an Absolutely Fabulous movie. So, sure enough, Kirsty Wark, Jeremy Paxman and Sophie Raworth all turn up to report on unlikely developments. Even Orla Guerin, the face of international catastrophe, is here to add Jupiter-levels of gravity.

No film in the history of the medium can have been so packed with celebrities: Norton, Chalmers, Moss, Hall, Hilton and so on into the night. Some of the briefest appearances offer some of the best jokes. Keep an eye out for the scene in which. in the style of Being John Malkovich. an older glamour- puss plays every one of the older glamour-pusses camped round a Côte d'Azur swimming pool.

But the surfeit is ultimately suffocating. At one point, the indestructible Patsy sits down beside Christopher Biggins. Is he playing himself? Maybe we’re not supposed to know who he is. I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to recognise Wanda Ventham.

Anyway, the massed ranks of celebs queuing up for a few seconds of screen time confirm how much goodwill there is behind this tricky project.


Absolutely Fabulous has never quite gone away. A TV special aired as recently as 2012, but it still feels as if the film is awkwardly attempting to spirit us back to the last years of the Major Dynasty.

The series’ key high-concept greatly assists the film-makers’ efforts at resuscitation. This was, after all, a show about people who were older than they liked to pretend. Now they are a good deal older than they like to pretend. (Mind you, Jennifer Saunders was, when the show began, a decade too young for Edina.)

Most everyone that matters is still upright. The politics of PR have – despite the move online – scarcely changed in the past two decades. So, despite the lazy, lazy story and haphazard character arcs, the film will probably serve its audience quite nicely.

You can’t fault the film on its (to use the language of bad screenwriting classes) Significant Incident. Edina and Patsy, old PR agent and older something- or-other, head to a party when they hear that Kate Moss has ditched her publicist. In the tussle to attract her attention, Moss is cast into the Thames to endure a watery death. Soon Wark, Paxman, Guerin and Raworth are denouncing our heroes as killers.

Sadly, Saunders's screenplay does little with the promising premise. The duo flee to the south of France, where long narrative calms are interrupted by absurdly hurried plot cyclones. Sitcoms have, in their film incarnations, been going on holiday since Are You Being Served? went to the Costa Plonka in 1977. Few new spins are added to the formula here.

Amid all the furious attempts to reference contemporary cultural phenomena – Patsy goes on Tinder, Edina is trolled on Twitter – there are enough decent set-pieces to justify the film’s existence: the team’s first encounter with a budget airline is priceless; the notion of Jean-Paul Gaultier as an East End beachcomber is strangely irresistible.

Still, what really keeps Ab Fab: The Movie aloft are the two delicious creations at its centre. Chillingly unchanged by the passing years, Joanna Lumley's Patsy remains literally incomparable. So precise and well-honed is the caricature that it has cornered the market on representations of superannuated glamour. Lumley has earned her place beside great British grotesques such as Mrs Gamp, Lady Bracknell and The Red Queen.

Keep your ears peeled for one moment of accidental poignancy. When perusing a list of celebrity guests, Edina reacts to Samantha Cameron’s name with a look of supreme blankness. What did the writers know and when did they know it?

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist