BBC2 – 26th December 2015 – 60mins
Written by: Russell Howard and Steve Williams
Directed by: Al Campbell
LET’S GET READY TO RHABBLE
Write what you know, so the saying goes, and stand-up comedian and Good News presenter Russell Howard does just that in his first foray into scripted television and acting. Here he gives himself the very Russell-like role of Dan Coleman, a young guy who lives in London with his girlfriend of six months, Lisa (Hannah Britland). Rather than holidaying in Barbados with her family, for their first Christmas together Dan is taking Lisa home to the small town of Bamford in Bristol, to meet his less-than-usual family for the very first time… in their fairy-light “vajazzled” semi.
Headed up by vest-wearing, stubble-proud dad Dan (Neil Morrissey) and chatterbox mum, Sue (Sophie Thompson), the Coleman’s are an eccentric bunch of West Country personalities; they over-share and over-enthuse in a colloquial, classless way, but underneath the rapacious burping and risqué banter, they are a lovable, caring brood. But will Lisa appreciate their in-your-face wedding talk and dinnertime debate over her “womanly” figure? And will Dan and Lisa’s blossoming relationship survive a Christmas party at silver-tongued, celeb-chasing Uncle Tony’s (Greg Davies) pad?
The first half of this hour-long comedy-drama is jam-packed with witty dialogue, self-deprecating corkers and sherry-spitting blue humour (some of which I recognised from Russell’s stand-up repertoire) as the Coleman rabble fuss excitedly over the new arrival – but a disastrous case of mistaken identity (and some “unnaturally” lowered inhibitions) at the party shifts the atmosphere into a far more sombre, depressive tone – and it never really returns to fifth gear.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, as the story naturally progresses from Dan’s soul-crushing depression at losing the love of his life to a heart-warming and inspiring conclusion which brilliantly ties Dan’s plot into that of his young magic-loving nephew Bertie’s (Samuel Woodward), but it does leave the humour feeling a little front-loaded.
Thankfully, the script sizzles, even when it isn’t bustling with anecdotes about peckish swans, member nicknames or aroused roadkill, and my opinion of the wacky Coleman clan morphed from eye-rolling despair at their outlandishness to warm appreciation at their genuine concern and compassion, even if it is sometimes well hidden.
Bravo to Russell Howard and co-writer Steve Williams for a well-rounded script and to Russell for an emotionally-varied performance; A Gert Lush Christmas is a simple-but-relatable piece of feel-good Christmas television with a sentimental message which will leave you cherishing your own family, flaws, warts, wigs and all.
But next year, best jet off to Barbados!