'Queenie's Castle' DVD review
The 1970s were a peculiar time for the 'sitcom'. For every bona fide classic such as Porridge there were half a dozen real stinkers of the caliber of Backs To The Land, And Mother Makes Three etc. For every piece of classic genius comedy writing (Fawlty Towers, Reginald Perrin) you had a whole swathe of shows that seemed determined to treat sophistication as a dirty word (Mind Your Language, Love Thy Neighbour). The middle road along this situation comedy path is trodden by Queenie's Castle.
Queenie's Castle follows the travails of Queenie Shepherd, a fearsome matriarch who rules the roost of the local council estate. She shares her house with her three 'good for nothing' grown-up sons together with her equally feckless brother-in-law. Her husband is conspicuous by his absence, and it is left up to Queenie to keep the household together, by knocking sense into her little layabouts in her own inimitable way. A fly in the ointment comes in the way of Miss Petty, the Residents' Association secretary, who takes a very personal interest in attempting at every opportunity to get the unruly family evicted from their council flat on grounds of their anti-social behaviour. There is at least some peace the residents can enjoy whilst the Shepherds make their regular extended visits to their local pub - The Builder's Arms. Keeping three unruly sons in order would seem to be a full time job, but with a hungry household to feed, Queenie has to live on her considerable wits and to organise her useless sons to help put food on the table.
Queenie's Castle is something of an enigma. It was very popular when it was originally transmitted in the early 1970s, but its unsophisticated written approach and acting style leaves one wondering quite what that says about the state of the nation at that time. Given that the series was written by the considerable talents of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall it is surprising to the extent of which their quick wit, as evident in the fabulous TV series Budgie, and in particular, the wonderful film Billy Liar, is underused here.
Diana Dors performance as Queenie is rather forceful, and at the same time has a distinct air of subtly letting the audience in on the deficiencies of her appalling family (employing the tactic that served Tony Hancock so well). Diana Dors was still a very big name at the time, even though her cinematic prime had well since passed, and the series seems to be in large part conceived as a star vehicle for her.
Her supporting cast includes many future small screen stars. Coronation street's Lynn Perrie plays the Residents' Association secretary busybody Miss Petty, with some considerable "Dick Emery-esque" comic elan. Fellow Coronation Street star Bryan Mosley (Alf Roberts) appears extremely at home in the sitcom medium and, all things considered, gives the most assured and effortless performance of the entire cast. Freddie Fletcher gives a similarly thuggish performance that is familiar to many from his appearance in Kes. Barry Rutter is given precious little to do as the 'simple one', and his next sitcom Our Kid (1973) would prove his ease and skill working in the sitcom genre. Tony Caunter (or Barry's Dad Roy Evans from Eastenders) never has to try too hard as the layabout Brother-In-Law / Uncle), it's still difficult seeing him in roles in which he is not a Policeman (he has played that great many during his considerable career). There are also some fine bit parts for fellow soap / comic actors Roy Barraclough and Kathy Staff.
The humour, especially in the first series, relies too often on the very broad characters playing up to their singular character traits, this is not helped by the tendency of the character being pot rayed overdoing every aspect of their boorish behaviour. The early shows also rely heavily on some fairly ridiculous contrivances, which given the writers pedigree, you would have thought could have been more skillfully handled.
The second and third series show considerable improvement. With the quality of both the script and the plot lines dramatically increased, which allows the characters to become much less one dimensional and the performances to be far less over the top. Given the much improved quality of this third and final series it is a shame that a fourth series was not made. However Dors and Caunter would go on to reprise their basic characters in all but name in the 1973 Yorkshire TV series All Our Saturdays.
Queenie's Castle originally ran for 3 series from 1970 to 1972 and was a considerable ratings success. But Queenie's Castle seems a relic of a bygone age in that has dated far more readily than its contemporaries (such as On The Buses). The heavy handed writing and acting style, most especially in series 1, will not necessarily endear it to the more sophisticated modern audiences (even fans of a modern equivalent i.e. Shameless). However the latter two series stand up in their own right, and are well worth checking out.
All 18 original episodes are included in this set on 3 DVDs. All episodes in colour except*
We Humbly Beseech: Everyone's forgotten that it's Queenie's birthday…
The Great Debate: With the television broken Queenie decides to broaden her family's philosophical outlook in a debating parlor game involving Princess Margaret, Gandhi, Jack Charlton, Tommy Copper and Callan.
They Also Served*: Raymond thinks he's found an unexploded bomb. The whole estate is evacuated, but Queenie and her family won't budge.
Just Good Friends*: Queenie is attempting to rekindle a friendship with Herbert, an old flame…
Trial By Fury*: After the boys "borrowed" van runs over a bicycle, Queenie convenes a court at The Builders Arms to ensure justice is seen to be done.
Unaccustomed As I Am: Queenie is honoured to be asked to present awards at the school prize-giving ceremony - until she discovers that the headmaster has some other ideas up the sleeve…
Sweetness and Light: Having accused her of being bad-tempered, the boys bet Queenie £5 that she can't be nice to people for five days…
The Ladykillers: An elaborate spread has been put up as Queenie's youngest son is bringing his first girlfriend back for tea!
The Breadwinner: The cupboards are bare, and Queenie's all out of credit.
Industrial Relations: Queenie is fed up with her layabout family and all the housework, so she decides to go on strike to obtain a fairer division of labour - fairer for Quennie anyway.
On the Wagon: After the entire family end up in court on drunk and disorderly charges, Queenie signs them up for the local AA meeting but there is a shock in store…
Castles in the Air: For once, Queenie seems to have struck lucky on the pools. But then there is always a twist.
The Prowler: Queenie is forced to banish sons from the flat along with brother-in-law Jack. But has she overstepped the mark this time?
New Broom: At the local police inspector's retirement party, Queenie and the boys meet his disconcertingly zealous successor and decide that they have to act fast to “take care” of him…
The One that Got Away: Jack decides to go fishing, but having been spotted emerging from a fishmonger's with a huge conga eel, his fabulous ‘catch' fails to impress...
England Expects: It's Queenie's wedding anniversary and Douglas's birthday!! This calls for a double celebration and the Shepherds do it their way as always…
Mr. Faintheart: Queenie decides that the miserably single Douglas needs some training in the art of seduction…
The Patter of Tiny Feet: In the eyes of her princelings, Queenie can do no wrong. But now their loyalty faces its greatest challenge yet.
Click here to view the Queenie's Castle: The Complete Series DVD press release by Network DVD
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