Written by Siân Bevan

Arts

Rated or Dated: Absolutely Fabulous

Ahead of Eddy and Patsy hitting the silver screen tomorrow, Siân Bevan decides whether the original still passes muster.

Still fabulous? Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley). Photos: BBC.

Still fabulous? Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley). Photos: BBC.

What and why: Sweetie darling, you know damned well what and why. The classic sitcom, which will be cited in 200 years as not only a bit of vintage telly but a groundbreaking showcase for female comedy talent, has a film coming out tomorrow. An actual film in the actual cinema of the sitcom that used minimal sets, had characters who were known nationally and inspired a Pet Shop Boys song.

The series spanned from 1992 (yep, 1992. Take a moment, it’s OK) until 2002, with some specials thrown in the mix. From an idea concocted by French and Saunders, it won Baftas, a National Television Award and even an Emmy. The awesome Ruby Wax was a script editor and the cast involved so many funny dames, it’s basically a feminist manifesto draped in Lacroix.

It’s time to look back to the beginning, when Patsy and Edina first stumbled down those stairs into the kitchen: before the fire, before the baby, before the guest stars got so distractingly A-list.

Rated or dated: In some ways, Ab Fab is really dated. Wonderfully dated. It’s like a hysterical historical document, set in time by the size of the mobiles, the costumes, the title sequence and sheer inspiration of the super-90s high-spending, snobbish and ridiculous world they live in.

In other ways, it’s timeless. The childishness of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley is flawless. They pout, stomp and look ridiculous. They’re so unbelievable that it’s utterly believable and we side, time and again, with them and their brattish, selfish shenanigans.

The horny, drugged-up Patsy, who snarls at her best friend’s daughter and skives work wherever possible is a perfectly styled hero of our times. There should be a bit of Patsy in everyone, able to glam it out when the world goes against us.

Patsy, Saffy and Edina
June Whitfield as Mother and Julia Sawalha as Saffron are also quietly extreme in their own right. Mother quietly settles in the corner of a scene, delivering killer lines, while Saffy counterbalances Eddy with a normal so normal it’s completely weird.

Part of Ab Fab’s uniqueness is the combination of tomgirlish slapstick and genuine affection. The cast are never afraid to look grotesque, but they all have a sweetness. Bubble, the hapless assistant played to perfection by Jane Horrocks, is a glorious clown: the useless pinnacle of the environment of nonsensical PR. The moments where Patsy gets jealous of Saffy, or when Edina gets intimidated by a cool ex-school pal are like peering through cracks of neon and seeing a tiny, beautiful watercolour hiding inside.

As time went on, more characters entered the frame, with Lulu and Emma Bunton appearing regularly and stars such as Minnie Driver and Kristin Scott Thomas all getting in on the gags. But the heart of it, when it narrows down to quick-fire dialogue between the characters in the basement kitchen, that’s where it shines. A pout, a tantrum, or Joanna Lumley gently sniffing and wiping her nose is where Ab Fab’s magic lies. For those moments, it’s still super RATED.

@sianbevan

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Written by Siân Bevan

Siân is a writer, performer, creator of joyful things and sometimes she tries to explain things to young people. She’s a mainly vegan feminist who loves elephants, is scared of the dark and likes stories most of all.