The Full Monty (1997)
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Hugo Speer, Lesley Sharp
The Full Monty is not just a northern comedy about men who take their clothes off, it is a celebrated film from the height of the UK’s mid-to-late 90s boom period that was nominated for Best Director, Screenplay and Picture at the Oscars, winning the award for Best Music. It’s a film that earned the prestigious BAFTA for Best Film, the Audience Award, Best Actor and Supporting Actor while receiving a further 8 nominations. This 1997 release has spurned a musical, a stage play, and inspired an ITV charity show. Again, this is not just a film about men who take their clothes off.
Taking place where we left off from Mark Herman’s Brassed Off (1996), The Full Monty presents South Yorkshire after the pits; in this case after the closing of the steel mills. We are presented with a historical promotional film about “Sheffield: City on the Move”, a piece that illustrates The Full Monty’s city setting of Sheffield as a thriving place of industry and leisure. But, as the brass band quietens and the footage fades to black, the title card reads “25 years later” and we’re met with the impactful juxtaposing image of Dave (Addy) and Gary (Carlyle) in the middle of an abandoned mill, attempting to steal an old girder from their former place of employment. Not only does the wide shot of the cavernous mill indicate the size of the loss of work, but the actions of the characters forges the connection between the men and their ability to make money from their bodies. After all, as Gary says to Gerald (Wilkinson) later in the film, “you’re just like the rest of us: scrap”.
The Full Monty is arguably about a man’s place in a changing world, a world in which women have more of the power. Peter Cattaneo’s piece presents women as thriving (relatively), and apart from momentary throwbacks to misogyny that remind us of the old fashioned ideas of masculinity our protagonists must unlearn in their ever-devolving situation, the women are the family members with power, in employment, and the ones who are to choose how they spend their money. They have taken over the space of their men, from their workplaces to their working men’s clubs and right through to the men’s toilets. Ultimately, they become the audience to which The Full Monty’s colourful cast of protagonists much cater (both within the narrative and more widely as a box office commodity), though the group’s acceptance of this fact is not without push backs: “Where’s your pride man? She’s already got you hoovering.”
The Full Monty is about all things masculinity in the late 90s – Gary has to work out how to be a father now he is single and on the dole; Dave is unsure of his place in the home and his marriage now that his wife is the sole earner; now unemployed, Gerald cannot keep his wife in the middle class life that she has become accustomed to. Different notions of masculinity are presented, there is not a one size fits all idea of what it means to be a man, or more specifically a working class man. The most important thing for these men is making money in a world that is making it increasingly more difficult to do so, embracing the historically feminine act of stripping to embrace a new form of masculinity that comes to ensure their place as the breadwinner.
With iconic scenes that earn belly laughs, such as the group dancing in sequence at the job centre and the auditions in which they discover Guy (Speer) as the “talent” of the team, and sombre moments of contemplation for the reality of those who lost their jobs during the shutdowns, including themes of suicide, The Full Monty is as against the “one size fits all” of genre filmmaking as the characters are written in opposition to the “one size fits all” ideas of typical masculinity, the result being a British classic with all the intimacy of great European films and the charm of the northern England’s best, humour and tragedy sitting side by side for a film filled with heart and (pardon the pun) balls.