19 May 2014 | wilvram
The family that preys together
This is based on the stage play Semi-Detached, a great success for Leonard Rossiter in the early sixties, though it flopped on Broadway and again in London despite this time having none other than Laurence Olivier in the lead. The film opens promisingly; in a cleverly constructed scene, an anxious looking Fred Midway is burning the midnight oil, seemingly the picture of a put upon, conscientious employee, struggling to complete his paper work, only to be celebrating seconds later with his devoted but utterly obnoxious wife on the completion of a poison pen letter designed to remove his boss and step into his shoes. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie, but after 25 minutes or so the fast-talking Fred and his wife and daughters, all social-climbing venal charmless grifters, start to outstay their welcome, becoming increasingly hard to stomach as it goes on.
Some of the best British comedy has traditionally been very dark and I can imagine Rossiter being hilarious on stage in the role, but here Warren Mitchell, despite giving his all, can't make the character anything but repellent. It's not entirely clear if this is all a grotesque parody of the sort of ideas and ethos most strongly associated with Margaret Thatcher in later decades - with his ruthless ambition, self-improvement books and car worship, Fred is an almost prototype Thatcherite caricature - or whether, God forbid, we are supposed to laugh along with him. In either case it's all very strained and mostly unfunny. What a waste of excellent comedy actors Bill Fraser, Richard Briers and Frank Thornton into the bargain.