The truly tragic death of Victoria Wood earlier this year prompted Alison Carr to rewatch lots of her work. Would TV film Pat and Margaret still delight the way it did in 1994?
What and why: As a Victoria Wood mega-fan for over 20 years I made it my business to see as much of her work as possible and amassed a perilously high pile of DVDs.
After her death in April, I commenced a tribute rewatch and among it all I rediscovered a gem I had largely overlooked all these years – her BBC television film Pat and Margaret.
First broadcast in 1994, Wood wrote and starred in this comic drama that pairs her with Julie Walters as estranged sisters reunited on a Surprise Surprise-esque TV show.
Wood is Margaret Mottershead, a Lancashire waitress with a crispy perm who spends her days slinging chips in a motorway services. Walters is Pat Bedford, a glamorous American soap star with an exercise video and a diet book, who snaps at her assistant, “When you deal with me, Claire, think icon.”
Margaret’s reappearance in Pat’s life after 27 years is less than welcome, threatening to expose a past that she has worked hard to bury beneath a carefully cultivated superstar image. These polar opposites are ripe pickings for Wood, who skewers Pat’s celebrity lifestyle and, as ever, gives Walters all the best lines:
“I, sexy yet vulnerable – and I’m quoting from Harper’s here – I, Pat Bedford, of Glamour, have been exposed on nationwide television as having some dubious connection with an overweight northern waitress with all the sexual allure of an airline salad. I, who came sixth in the World’s Most Envied Bottoms poll, 1992 – only two below Claudia Schiffer – am now publicly linked to a woman whose buttocks practically skim the carpet.”
Rated or dated: The story goes that when Wood first took an early draft of the script to LWT, they rejected it with the words “A film is not a sketch.” Yes, this was her first full-length TV drama for over 10 years, but it is absolutely not a drawn-out comedy routine.
These two women thrust together are well-rounded characters with dreams and hopes, heartbreaks and disappointments. Monstrous Pat has good reasons for wanting to forget her upbringing, and meek Margaret has fight in her, bringing Pat down a peg or two and standing up to boyfriend Jim’s mother (the fabulous Thora Hird).
“As longtime collaborators, Victoria Wood and Julie Walters play off each other to perfection. And watching it now, knowing that Wood is no longer with us, knowing that Walters called her loss ‘incalculable’, there is an inescapable poignancy to their time together on screen.”
I can’t help but think that Wood’s real-life experiences must have come into play – exploring being a ‘normal’ person versus a celebrity persona, dealings with the press, how fame affects relationships with friends and family. It’s all dealt with in the classic Wood style, everything that made her the national treasure she was.
It’s very, very funny, capturing the minute and absurd in everyday lives. It’s touching and bittersweet but never sentimental. When Margaret asks her mother if she ever loved her, she is met with “I don’t think I knew what love was ‘til I bred my first Afghan.”
The supporting cast includes Wood regulars Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston, but it is Wood with Walters that we’re all here to see. They go together like tuna ‘n’ sweetcorn (something there for the true believers, call me if you get it).
As longtime collaborators, the two play off each other to perfection. And watching it now, knowing that Wood is no longer with us, knowing that Walters called her loss “incalculable”, there is an inescapable poignancy to their time together on screen… well… *sniff*… No, you’re crying.
It’s joyous too, a celebration, two women, friends and performers who found a fit with each other, at the top of their game.
Victoria Wood was my hero and revisiting her work has been a real treat. She was a prolific, varied, talented and bloody funny trailblazer. There will never be another like her. I wish wish WISH there was new stuff to come, but what a legacy she has left behind. I mean, it’s gold. Every word:
“I’m glamorous, I’m attractive, I have enough sexual charisma to open a factory – she’s fat, northern, working class – of course she wants to be my sister. I absolutely sympathise. Life is very tough for these northern women. I did a cameo on a Barbara Taylor Bradford – it was heartbreaking.”
Oh, and rated or dated? RATED. Like there was ever any question.
Alison Carr is a writer for Forward Theatre Project’s Clothes Swap Theatre Party that opens on 22 July at Derby Theatre.
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Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.