June 25, 2016

Jennifer Saunders And Joanna Lumley Return In Absolutely Fabulous The Movie



I always loved this TV show! And now a movie to look forward to. 



Pop the Bolly, dust off the Lacroix — Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is here. What stonking good news, not least because most of us thought it would never happen. 

About four years ago, Jennifer Saunders told me she was definitely going to write it, but — hmm, how to put this nicely? — she's not the biggest fan of a deadline. 

Egged on, however, by our enduring thirst to watch her and Joanna Lumley troll the Botox out of the fashion industry (plus a $20,000 bet with her dearest pal, Dawn French), she has pulled it together like a trouper. 
Anticipation levels are verging on heady — everyone seems keen to get their Ab Fab on, among them the 60 celebs who pestered Saunders for cameos, including Kate Moss, Stella McCartney and Joan Collins. Everyone still loves Ab Fab, it seems — though obviously the question remains: will the film be any good?

We've secured a prized audience with Saunders and Lumley, so it's off to a north London photo studio. "Hello, darling," Lumley says, bunching up her long hair Bardot-style and wondering where she might dash for a ciggie.

 She turned 70 last month and her confidence is off the charts. Saunders, 58 next month, is entirely self-possessed, too, although on the surface a much cooler fish. People say they can find her stillness scary, but she isn't actually snooty so much as smart, a tad impatient and perhaps a little shy.

Frankly, in a job where meeting actresses mostly involves nutty egos and dull self-obsession, it's a pleasure to hang out with two grownups. After the shoot, the glam squad evaporates, Saunders makes a pot of coffee and we sit down to chat. Lumley is first, her fluting siren-of-the-establishment tones drawing you in like ... well, a siren. 

Apparently, the movie has been decades in the making. "I can remember down in Morocco," she says, recalling an evening from the mists of the 1990s. "I made Jennifer drink a lot of whisky and we talked through the night and we virtually had a film by the morning." Pause. "Forgot it all, of course."

Saunders: "Oh God, I was so hungover next morning I couldn't remember anything, apart from the fact that we'd tried to write to Julie Christie [Oscar-winning beauty and star of Dr Zhivago] to see if she would be in it. We were so pissed."

Lumley [panicked]: "Did we send it?"
Saunders: "No, thank God. It was a questionnaire with multiple-choice answers. I think one of the questions was 'Do you have your own teeth?'"

Lumley [genuinely shaken]: "Oh no. Why did we think that was clever?"
Saunders: "You kept saying, 'Darling, she will do it. I know she will.' Then we drew pictures of how awful we both looked."

They howl with laughter, the easy sort that only comes with old friendship. It's 24 years since they met in the producer John Plowman's office at the BBC, at Lumley's audition to play Patsy.  

Ab Fab, the old-school sitcom that became a world phenomenon, had started as a sketch on French and Saunders in 1990. It was the latter's big solo writing debut. Ruby Wax, her friend and script editor par excellence, had recommended Lumley as a co-star. Moments after meeting, they were plonked on two office chairs, pretending to be the now infamous fashion gargoyles Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone in the back of a car. 

But neither the comedy nor the friendship started well. Saunders sighs at the memory: "It was Ruby who said, 'You've got to use Joanna because she's just so funny.'" Lumley: "Which I then carefully didn't display." 

Saunders [cringing]: "We were both so embarrassed. I felt like a small child and she was a grown-up." Lumley: "I went rather feebly [adopts mad actress voice], 'Hello, Jennifer.' It was agony." And yet? "Well, they didn't sack me." 

Saunders [even more drily]: "It was too late to cast anyone else." 

Thankfully, after "bonding over a stiff drink", the chemistry clicked as they filmed the pilot. Can you believe that was a (terrifying) quarter of a century ago? At the dawn of Ab Fab, Princess Diana was still alive — "still married to Prince Charles", Lumley drawls. In the years following, the sitcom was not only the tale of a craven PR's eternal search to be fabulous, famous and thin, with her "fash mag slag" best friend in tow, but a storm gauge for the nation's silliest obsessions. 

Isolation tanks, amateur Buddhism, the Spice Girls, Spanx, vaginoplasty and the ascent of the billionaires have all been ruthlessly sent up. It saw at least two fashion trends come back (it might be three times for grunge) and became a huge hit around the world. At one point, Roseanne Barr wanted to make an American version, and French cinema has produced its own movie, Absolument Fabuleux (2001). None of it really worked, though: the magic ingredient has always been "Jen and Jo". 

Is theirs an unlikely partnership? Hardly. Despite a few years between them, they are both silly-but-sensible daughters of military fathers who, while trenchantly middle class in lots of ways, are vocal anti-snobs. Both have enjoyed long, low-key marriages, Lumley to classical musician Stephen Barlow and Saunders to actor and comedian Adrian Edmondson. "It's nice. Life, family," Saunders says, following it up with this advice for tending a marriage post 50: "Sometimes, just shut up." 

Thanks to The New Avengers and French and Saunders, they were both famous before they met, yet neither of their lives has been perfect. Saunders was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, while Lumley had various dramas with her son, Jamie, now 48. She concealed the identity of his father when he was growing up but eventually it was revealed to be the photographer Michael Claydon, but not before an obnoxious obsession in the tabloids had taken its toll on the family. 

It's not as if either of these women is prone to self-pity, though. Their public appearances include scoring the fastest lap for a woman on Top Gear (Saunders) or haranguing the government about Gurkhas' rights (no prizes for guessing that one). They do really get on. 

"People seem to want us — and I do, too — to see far more of each other," Lumley says. "We could spend a year not seeing each other. It's awful." Rare reunions involve "a couple of martinis" followed by "changing the world for good". 

They beam while I ask about that other star of the film, Kate Moss. 

The plot hinges on Saunders (as Eddy) accidentally killing the world's most famous clotheshorse by knocking her into the river at a fashion party. How on Earth did you get Mossy in the Thames? "Threw her," she says with a shrug. "Kate is a model, so she's known hardship. She said, 'I can't believe people are bringing me a cup of tea'. On modelling shoots it's just, 'Get in there', 'Shut up', 'Why have you got goosebumps?' She was a dream." Who was a nightmare then? "June Whitfield [who plays Eddy's mother]," she deadpans. "It was all, 'Where's my stairlift?' and 'I can't find my Sanatogen.'" 

With Moss missing/presumed dead, Edina and Patsy head to the south of France, where Patsy engineers a liaison to help bail out Eddy, who has — gasp — finally run out of money. One assumes high jinks ensue — the film has yet to screen to the press. Naturally, this sent tongues wagging that a big fat turkey was imminent. But the trailer is hilarious, and a couple of industry bods who've seen an early cut insist there is lots to laugh at and plenty of fun. 

With so much anticipation, is Saunders worried? "The only hope is that people realise that we're growing older," she says. "It's got to be personal, so it's about where I am." And where are you? "Well," she says, laughing hollowly, "busy growing into the thing one always dreaded most — which is not just your mother, but someone who can't keep up. I mean, I quite like Drake [the rapper]," she continues. But, like Patsy and Eddy, "you realise there is a day when you don't know what's happening at the forefront of fashion and music. And with the internet, I think it's even harder." 

At the mention of the web, Lumley groans. Is it an age thing? Last month, she turned 70 (jaws on the floor), but are "big" birthdays even a factor in her thinking? "I've never done anything about them, usually one is working," she replies rather grandly. "And I love getting older." What do you love about it? "Not being so afraid of things. A day like today [cover shoot, stylist and so on] — back when I was 20, even when I was a model — would loom ahead and I'd think, 'Will I be able to manage that?' Whereas now, you know it will be all right. You get wiser, and — touch wood — I'm still able to run up and down the stairs." Saunders nods. "Look at you," she coos, sizing her up. "Amazing." "I know," Lumley says, breathily sarcastic. "Sitting in a chair." 

She gets peeved with the British public's decades-long obsession with her looks. Which I get, but isn't it just flattery? "No," she cries. "It's just a pattern women's magazines have fallen into. It's always fashion, whether you're frightened of being old, whether you think you're ugly, or should you have a facelift." She's on the record as saying she hasn't. "I'm now also getting, 'What's it like for older women who can't get parts?' I say, 'Don't ask me,' " she says. "I'm sure it must be awful, but don't ask me, because I never stop working." 

Patsy fans, turn away now. She has even started to find fashion boring. She sighs. "Oh, Jennifer, I haven't confessed yet, I've turned into a misery guts." 

Saunders [breezily]: "Have you?" 

Lumley: "Yes, because you just think, 'Who's going to look at me and how could it matter?' I've got something 25 years old in the cupboard that looks roughly the same and I can surely wear that. I'm so mean and old-fashioned now that I'm shocked by how much clothes cost. Really shocked. You see a nice little macintosh and think, 'That's adorable and will be about £170', and it's £1000." 

Saunders: "Just wait until Zara does a knockoff." 

Do you think Edina and Patsy are feminists, I ask. Lumley instantly cheers up and starts braying with laughter. "Noooo." Saunders is tickled as well. "I don't think so." Really? You couldn't spin them as post-post-post-feminist heroes or something? 

Saunders: "Obviously, Edina would have thought she was — just like she thinks she's a socialist." 

Lumley: "Patsy wouldn't understand what the word means." Saunders: "But they're not political in that way, they're only self-serving and that's the truth. That's why they're so hideous." 

Yet almost universally adored. Is it because we're all secretly a bit hideous? Saunders: "I think we'd all like to be really selfish, but somehow they get away with it. That's why people like dressing up as them. When you're Patsy and Edina, no one is going to tell you off." Lumley [conspiratorially]: "Also there's a feeling that no matter how bad stuff is, you are on the brink of having the time of your life. Every bar you go into, every evening you hit the drink, it's going to be fabulous." 

Saunders: "Just buy a bottle of champagne and drink it. Don't take it all too seriously. It is what it is and we are who we are." 

By Giles Hattersly

With many thanks to The Australian

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