There are few people around who won’t be familiar with the comedy talents of the late Kenneth Williams, often considered one of Britain’s comedy greats and unquestionably a unique talent he has become synonymous with the saucy seaside postcard humour of yesteryear, something which may have fallen by the wayside in recent times as comedic tastes have arguably become more complex and at the same time fallen prey to the whims of political correctness.
Famed for his camp demeanour, elastic features and equally pliable wit, Williams found fame in varying degrees on radio, stage and screen. Yet despite his accumulated successes he would never garner the same satisfaction in his personal life.
BBC Four’s new drama Fantabulosa explores the complex life of Williams using his diaries as source material for the basis of the program. Outside the world of show business Williams was an exhaustive diary keeper. Chronicling his life and his interactions with others in a manner that was inkeeping with his razor sharp wit.
Fantabulosa covers his life in relative detail and introduces the world to a man who was forever seeking approval from an audience yet often appalled at the lengths he would go to get it. The drama explores as much as it can the close relationship Williams enjoyed with his mother yet the relative animosity he felt towards his father (who didn’t encourage his son to tread the boards). As well as looking at the divided feelings he experienced with regards to his sexuality.
Williams is brought back to life through the talents of Michael Sheen who does an admirable job of recreating the vocal talents of the Carry On star, although it has to be said I don’t think anyone could ever truly capture the visual essence of Williams with his slender yet animated build. However the BBC make up department have done a passable job of making Sheen look the part. The same goes for the cameos from other members of the cast. Ged McKenna and Rachel Clarke capture the look of Sid James and Barbara Windsor despite the fact that (especially with the former) these characters were one offs.
In essence Fantanulosa considers the age old reasoning that tragedy is nothing more than the flip side of comedy. Williams’ diaries reveal this fact.in detail with the theme of personal loneliness being something that haunted him throughout his life. Of course along the way we are treat to some of the more barbed comments that littered his memoirs and we learn that as well as being a man of some intellect he was also a man who could think of others with no small degree of contempt. Yet it is all these factors and more coupled with a fairly convincing rendering of the man who could make everyone smile but himself that makes Fantabulosa worth watching.
Fantabulosa! will be repeated Friday 17 March 10pm-11.20pm; Monday 20 March 12.30am-1.50am (Sunday night) on BBC Four.