26 September 2016 | t_atzmueller
Michael Sheen carries a movie that would otherwise have been forgotten after the first airing
Let me start off saying that I'm not a big fan of gay-themed movies. Let's just say: it's not my parking lot or, as they might say in Britain, it isn't my cup of tea. But I wouldn't let this film pass me by, mainly due to the leading actor and considering that I grew up with the original "Carry On"-films.
During the 1980's, the "Carry On"-series (under the moniker "Ist ja irre", roughly translated as "It's insane") was rather popular in Germany. Especially the Cleopatra-, Spying- and Camping-episodes were re-broadcast on TV numerous times. Of course, due to the often incompatible sense of humour, the German synchronization was changed quite a bit, often adding additional lines of dialog and jokes, possibly making the films even goofier. And of course, Kenneth Williams was the comedian that carried almost every film.
Don't expect "Fantabulso!" to be the story of the "Carry On"-films. Though obviously taking an inevitable part in the storyline, the film focuses almost exclusively on Williams and the tragic persona he must have been in real life. A man both driven by ambitious and a sense of narcissism (and that's putting it conservatively), yet too weak to fight off his inner demons, feels of inferiority, doubts or even coming to healthy terms with his sexuality. More so, there is very little – we might even say "none at all" – glamour, as one might expect from a person who was as popular in his heyday. Instead, seeing him ride his bike, living a completely mundane, middle-class lifestyle, we'd never guess that Williams was once a comedian celebrated beyond his locality. Which may have to do with British mentality and lifestyle; here even superstars tend to live rather regular lives off stage, unlike other countries, say the USA, where anybody who has even made an appearance in a reality show will not only pretend to be a diva, but be hyped as one as well.
Not surprisingly, most viewers, apart from the hardcore-fans, knew little to nothing about the cast and it really wasn't until "Fantabulosa" that I personally learned more about this tragic figure of British TV. There had been a similar tragic actor and comedian here in Bavaria, namely Walter Sedlmeyer (whose life-story was turned into the slightly similar film "Wambo", but unfortunately didn't have the benefit of a convincing lead-actor). Hugely successful and respected during his lifetime, considered a national icon and archetype in southern Germany, this changed in the late 1980's, when Sedlmeyer was found murdered and his secret life as a homosexual and tastes for s/m came to light.
We could conclude that "Fantabulosa!" has more than a few moments of length and, especially to those who are not familiar with many of the characters and occurrences, might even seem a tad boring. The reason that this never really is the case, is without doubt Michael Sheen, an incredible veritable actor, who has managed to enrich almost all films he starred in, be it in major roles or as support. It is telling when the actor looks nothing like the subject he portrays, but has the viewer convinced within an instant, that he IS Kenneth Williams. The body-language, the tone of voice, the quirks – Sheen is Williams in everything but physical appearance. To mind comes another biopic, namely Oliver Stone's "The Doors", which had people originally complaining that Val Kilmer looks nothing like Jim Morrison, but who got convinced otherwise at the moment that Kilmer (literally) entered the stage. Sheen's performance alone should be worth the price of admission, whether you're interested in Kenneth Williams or simply want to watch an outstanding performance.