It’s been 26 years since the original, Oscar-winning comedy The Full Monty took the world by storm. Director Peter Cattaneo’s cheeky crowd-pleaser followed six unemployed steel workers in Northern England and their desperate, money-raising male striptease act amid the economic desperation of the ‘90s. It struck a chord with audiences everywhere, balancing humour with a truly eye-opening and heartfelt look at the effects decades of austerity had on the blue-collar workers of the country.
Perfectly cast, with a killer soundtrack and a critically-lauded script, The Full Monty cost relatively little, but grossed a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office. Along with films like Brassed Off and Little Voice, it heralded a new era of British filmmaking. As we sit squarely within the 2023 streaming era, with so many films–big and small–at our fingertips, it’s hard to remember what a major shift it was in the industry at the time. Monty itself was so popular, it spawned a hugely successful musical and more recently, an award-winning play. Now the original cast and screenwriter have banded together once more for a limited sequel series, courtesy of FX on Hulu and Disney+.
While the original film benefitted from a sense of community, fighting spirit and hope for the future, this latest series must deal with the socio-economic elephant in the room. The intervening years have brought with them a litany of broken government promises that have left England’s most vulnerable populations in worse shape than ever before. As Gaz (Robert Carlyle) bemoans late in the series, people in Sheffield should not be malnourished and starving in 2023. But the reality is that they are. So that sense of hope captured in the 1997 original has been lost–the fighting spirit crushed–and all efforts are focussed on just getting by. No attention-grabbing stunt will save the day now.
So from the get-go, the 8-episode series feels necessarily different. Screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Alice Nutter make a concerted effort to lift up the depressing state of the world with some madcap hijinks (mostly courtesy of Gaz), but the series is at its best when focussed on the realities of modern society and its effects on community and relationships.
We’re reintroduced to our core group–Gaz, Dave (Mark Addy), Lomper (Steve Huison), Horse (Paul Barber), Guy (Hugo Speer) and Gerald (Tom Wilkinson)–at the unfortunately named cafe The Big Baps. Run by Lomper and his perma-stressed husband Dennis (an excellent Paul Clayton), it’s a neighbourhood hangout that acts as the group’s Central Perk. Here they share their lives and problems and, in Gaz’s case, schemes. We find out that Gaz’s son Nathan has grown up to become a police officer, but also that he has a second child named Destiny, aka “Des” (a riveting Talitha Wing), a spiky teen with little interest in anything but music. It’s clear that Gaz has become even more unreliable over the last two decades so that most of his friends (and family) seem one white lie away from giving him the ‘ol heave-ho. We also meet the gang’s newest member, Darren (Miles Jupp), a hapless, middle-aged man trying to pull his life together after being fired for calling a co-worker “love”.
Though there are narrative threads that run through the series as a whole, each main character gets one episode in the spotlight. All of the core group, that is, except Gerald and Guy. In the case of Guy, actor Speer was released from the production after accusations of on-set sexual harassment and improper conduct, so his time is handed to newcomer Darren. For Gerald, it’s possible that Tom Wilkinson wasn’t able to commit the time necessary for a more meaty exploration of where his character finds himself. It’s a bit of a disappointment, given what an integral part of the original he was, but as an audience, it’s great to have the talented thesp there in any capacity.
Some of the individual episodes and arcs explored in each episode work significantly better than others. Throughout them all though, Dave remains the most likeable and relatable of the group– largely due to another pitch-perfect performance from Mark Addy. His marriage to Head Teacher Jean (Lesley Sharp), and how they navigate shared trauma and work to confront issues they’d long been ignoring, is one of the more rewarding and touching storylines offered up over the run of the series.
The subject most successfully tackled by The Full Monty also happens to be the hardest to watch. Horse’s mobility has become severely impaired over time, and with an inability to work due to both his age and his disability, he is completely reliant on the welfare and benefits system to keep a roof over his head and food on his plate. Watching him slowly slip through the bureaucratic cracks of the public welfare system, which seem less concerned with basic human survival and more concerned with checking boxes on forms, is equal parts heartwrenching and infuriating. It’s impossible to ignore that while Horse may be fictional, his situation is not. Paul Barber conveys every moment of confusion, indignity and frustration with real heart and empathy. The Full Monty wisely leaves aside the cheeky one-liners here and this portion of the story is all the more impactful for it.
Overall, the series takes awhile to find its feet but gains confidence with each successive episode. It’s at its very best when exploring the emotional interplay between these men and their families, both biological and found. Gaz, in particular, grates early on (despite Carlyle’s charming turn) but before you can truly grow tired of his childish behaviour, the character has a truly important epiphany and takes to heart the need to change. So when the series wraps, it’s on a melancholy note that feels earned by both Gaz but also by the series itself.
It’s unlikely that The Full Monty will satisfy viewers looking for a repeat of the cheeky 1997 original. But with capable, charming performances, and despite a somewhat uneven script, there’s enough here of substance and import to entertain fans of the original and maybe even earn a few new ones.