Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Mother of all comedies or just a complete drag?

Mrs Brown's Boys is Marmite TV – you either love it or loathe it. With the big screen version currently being filmed in Dublin, we ask two writers if the joke is still funny

Divided opinion: Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs Brown
Divided opinion: Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs Brown

FOR: Eddie McIlwaine

There's a certain four-letter swear-word which, when Kenneth Tynan became the first to utter it on live television all those years ago, caused an almighty uproar.

Now this same, awful word punctuates the script of Mrs Brown's Boys every Friday night – on BBC1, of all channels – and is set for its big screen debut.

And there are no letters to the Belfast Telegraph, not a complaint by churchmen and there are viewers I know who put off their drinking time in the pub to stay at home to hear this dressed-up Mrs B and her Boys being naughty with four-letter language in every other sentence.

She gets away with the kind of plots that would have Mr Tynan's jaw dropping in amazement if he were still around.

I have a good friend who was in Dublin with his wife a while back and innocently bought tickets for the stage version of the comedy drama, which is soon to be a sell-out – again – at The Odyssey in Belfast.

They still haven't recovered from the shock and have been in church regularly pleading for forgiveness for being there.

Well, I have to admit it: I enjoy Mrs Brown's antics, although when the credits roll I feel guilty and promise to stick to Emmerdale and Coronation Street in future.

Of course, I never do. I want to see if this man dressed up as a woman can dream up something even funnier than the show in which he was hypnotised and thought he was an Alsatian, lifting his leg and peeing all over the visiting priest. But, apart from its naughtiness, there is a certain originality about Mrs Brown's Boys on the silver screen, which has great appeal, too.

When the action goes wrong, when the scenery collapses, or someone forgets their lines, the cast just take a few steps back with the camera still rolling and do it all over again.

Mrs Brown has taken over from a fading Billy Connolly, whose age – sadly – is catching up with him.

I'll tell you this, though. When she takes a bow at the local multiplex, there will be a few folk slipping out of side doors, wearing dark glasses and hiding their faces in mufflers in case they are recognised.

All right, I will admit that this awful character makes me feel grubby, but I always go back for more.

The curious thing is that I know only a few honest people who admit to being fans.

Shame on the cinemagoers who are too ashamed to tell the truth.

AGAINST: Joe Nawaz

Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie was as grimly inevitable as the sun going down becoming innuendo, or rudely shaped vegetables popping up inappropriately in Mrs Brown's Dublin kitchen.

You can't fault the logic of Mrs Brown creator Brendan O'Carroll in pushing the popular franchise to the edge of the big comedy precipice.

When the struggling performer devised and assumed the persona of a foul-mouthed Dublin matriarch with a heart of gold, little did he know she would be aggressively grasped to the collective bosom of a TV-watching nation.

Mrs Brown is already a Bafta-mugging TV show and a movie is just O'Carroll finding another way to milk pay-dirt from the most unlikely cash cow since Jedward.

I had the dubious pleasure of watching Mrs Brown live in the Odyssey last year, adrift amidst a turbulent sea of rabid Brownites. I thought I could take it. It didn't matter that no limp, cheap pun, bland profanity, or clumsy innuendo was left unfingered.

I could endure the song where "A sailor at the dock shook his big hairy... fist". A gag about somebody being the unwilling recipient of somebody else's "big one" thankfully turning out to be a lucrative business proposition wasn't even in the show. But, if it had, I wouldn't have batted an eyelid.

What troubled me most was the self-perpetuating race to the bottom that Mrs Brown's Boys actively encouraged – and not even an amusing bottom, with a hilariously unfortunate oversized pimple on it.

I suppose, if one were to really take the trouble, you could discover the phenomenon of Mrs Brown hinged a lot on the twisted Hall of Mirrors reflection the show offers back to a lot of Irish and UK households.

It's endearingly lame and gratuitously expletive-laden, yes, but there's just enough recognition for us to laugh along with and not at her.

It's cheerful fare, yes, but also cheap and nasty.

Perhaps the most fitting innuendo in the stuffed Brown canon is in the proposed title of the movie, because, apostrophe notwithstanding, Mrs Brown's cinematic output has D'Movie written all over it.

"Who would connive in civilised outrage," said a recently deceased great man of letters, referring to standing against affront.

Or, as another deceased Irish legend once protested: "Down with this sort of thing."

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