What a surprise it must have been when The Full Monty first released. Robert Carlyle said it was a gruelling shoot, some of the worst experiences of his working life. That’s quite a harsh commitment to make for a film that was meant to be straight-to-DVD. Still, bolstered by the success of a little film known as Trainspotting, this working-class dramedy burst onto the scene with sudden and cataclysmically rewarding impact. It is not often we get to see strong ensembles take apart the working-class worries, how desperate some people can be to reunite their families and put some cash in their back pocket. How far would you go? Far enough to go the full Monty? Probably not. But that is what director Peter Cattaneo offers here.
From the golden era of working-class cinema, the 1990s offered the harsh, unremitting glances at troubled lives, but could also provide a rather light side to it all. Even the dregs were good, clean fun. Brassed Off and Fever Pitch have within them similar pointers. Strong casts, a commentary on how we escape the glum realities with hobbies or passions, and somewhere along the line a romance went wrong. It is comfortably set in its ways but provides enough difference as a genre to work particularly well. The Full Monty has the benefit of Carlyle and Tom Wilkinson, who in their performances here offer a good balance of old, nose-to-the-grindstone workmanship and the new age who are fighting back against the system. Under the boot of unemployment, we are all the same, it is how we get out that makes the man.
Gaz (Carlyle), for instance, is running schemes with best mate Dave Horsefall (Mark Addy). They steal and fix and conspire, not because they are hoodlums or bad people, but because they are angry and have nowhere else to turn. They are not content to re-join the rat race that shafted them in the first place. More power to them. Their fight against a structure that commodifies them as well as their work is displayed exceptionally well, and it is with these moments that their drive to keep themselves independent are founded. Moments of comedy cut through with clarity, but underneath all the wordplay and well-written moments, there is a sense that these people are not just real, but on their last legs. This is their last chance, and the desperation they feel echoes through the crew with great effect.
The Full Monty does go full Monty, and that is where its endearing brilliance comes from. It is everything necessary, appropriate or possible. Ticking all three is crucial. It is necessary to show the strife these characters are in, appropriate to build on that with light pangs of comedy, and it is made possible by the odd closure their endeavours bring. Stepping out of their comfort zone is the only way they can afford to make ends meet, and underlining this bold step into the new world is that forceful shove so many were burdened with as factories up and down the North of England were closed. The steel mill has closed, never to open its doors again. It is a sad reality of modern innovation, but The Full Monty makes an interesting case study for why unemployment rose so swiftly. What was the alternative for those truly wishing to work? There wasn’t one. They could collect dole and strip off their clothes for a bit of extra cash. What alternative did they have?