Sweetie, darling. They’re back.
Twenty-four years after the television series first aired and four years after the last television special, Edina Monson and Patsy Stone and the rest of the “Absolutely Fabulous” family are back. But this time, they’re on the big screen for “Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie.”
It opens Friday, July 22 at local theaters including Landmark E Street Cinema, Bethesda Row, the Angelika Mosaic and the AFI Silver. Fandango has details.
And as the ladies will tell you, their schemes and their costumes are bigger and better than ever.
For any poor souls who may not have caught the television series on the BBC or Comedy Central, Jennifer Saunders, who writes the scripts and plays Edina, offered a quick description of the pair in a recent interview: “They’re utterly useless,” she said. “They’re inseparable friends and they walk in chaos.”
Joanna Lumley, who plays Patsy, chimes in, “a chaos of drink and cigarettes and Champagne.”
And, Saunders adds, “a few illegal substances. And generally in very bad shoes.”
Then and now, Eddy (the short, frazzled brunette) runs a small public relations firm. She’s surrounded by her exasperating and exasperated extended family: straight-laced, long-suffering daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha); slightly befuddled but wickedly funny Mother (June Whitfield); and, exceedingly eccentric assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks).
Patsy (the tall glamorous blonde) is an editor for a fashion magazine and her career has remained miraculously intact. In fact, Saunders notes, “actually, Patsy doesn’t change at all. She’s just sort of embalmed and remains exactly the same.”
Eddy, on the other hand, she says, “has gotten older and fatter.” When the movie opens, she’s acquired a granddaughter named Lola (played by newcomer Indevarna Donaldson-Holness). She’s broke and her business is floundering. Her only remaining clients are a boutique vodka and ‘60s pop icon Lulu (playing herself), who refuses to sing her signature song “Shout” as often as Eddy would like.
To rebuild her bank account, Eddy decides to sell her memoirs. When that plan spectacularly fails, she decides to enlist fashion model Kate Moss as a client. She crashes a launch party hosted by Patsy’s magazine and rushes to greet the supermodel. Unfortunately, she accidentally pushes Moss into the Thames.
Hounded by the paparazzi and the police (including Saffy’s new boyfriend Nick, played by British comedian Robert Webb), the pair flees to the French Riviera for more Champagne and hijinks.
Saunders wrote the movie script for her co-star and her long-time writing partner Dawn French (“The Vicar of Dilby”).
“I write it to amuse Joanna, really,” Saunders says. “I think if you wrote it with too many people, too many audiences in mind, you’d die of the pressure.”
Yet she hopes the movie will appeal to both fans of the original and newcomers.
“I just basically write what I think will be funny, and what I wanted is if people could see this film, and not have known the series and still enjoy it, but that it would also satisfy people that knew the series extremely well.”
The script only got written when Saunders made a bet with her long-time friend and collaborator, French. On their 2013 Christmas show, Saunders made the resolution to finally write the script. Knowing that Saunders is a legendary procrastinator, French said that Saunders would have to pay her £10,000 if the script wasn’t completed in a year.
True to form, Saunders delayed writing. When their 2014 Christmas show aired, she handed French a fake manuscript: 30 pages of actual dialogue and 60 pages that literally said “blah, blah, blah” over and over. An amused French caught on to the joke, so Saunders was forced to finish the script by New Year’s Day. She even gave the fake manuscript a brilliant cameo in the movie.
Saunders is delighted and moved by the enduring popularity of her outrageous characters.
“Back in 1990,” she says, “we never imagined in our wildest dreams we would still be sitting here having done a film of that show. It’s quite extraordinary, and we feel very, very lucky.”
She does note, however, that she had to be more careful in her writing these days.
“Quite a bit, to be honest,” she says, “only because people are much more ready to be offended these days. Also, if you write a movie, you have a raft of lawyers telling you who you can offend and who you can’t offend, and who’s going to sue you and who won’t. So, it was quite an issue, I have to say. … It also makes me a bit sad that, if anything, that people seem to want to go back to an old model of normality and sitcoms seem to want to be about ordinary families and things that aren’t very interesting. I just think it’s a bit sad. It’s a shame that life is still depicted in a very straight way, I think.”
Luckily, Patsy and Edina remain as outrageous as ever, and on the big screen they’re surrounded by dozens of celebrities in delicious cameos. Superfan Chris Colfer (“Glee”) plays Edina’s hairdresser Christopher and Rebel Wilson (the “Pitch Perfect” movies) appears as a rude flight attendant who’s undone by Patsy’s icy glare. There are cameos by both Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Everage, along with Jon Hamm, Graham Norton, Joan Collins, Jerry Hall, Eddy’s arch nemesis Stella McCartney, Jean Paul Gaultier and, of course, Kate Moss.
Saunders was delighted by all the star power her producers were able to wrangle.
“You always end up with the people who are available on the day and who you love and who you know and who are easygoing and happy,” she says. “We just said look, ‘We’re having a party. Will you come and be in it? Lots of people turned up and were incredibly generous.”
The Ab Fab production staff also wrangled about 90 drag queens for a fabulous scene set in London’s infamous Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which offers “the best in alternative entertainment” and has been “serving confirmed bachelors and friends since long before Kylie was born.” The drag queens, including fashion icon Jodie Harsh, “Britain’s Got Talent” finalist La Voix, and several stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” help Saffy track down her missing mother, but only after she has offered a surprisingly moving rendition of “At Seventeen” by lesbian icon Janis Ian.
Saunders offers some of the credit for the ongoing appeal of the show to the powerful friendship between the women.
“I think as far as the characters go, they live for each other, and they live a life they don’t apologize for,” she says. “They don’t need men. They don’t need a relationship in order to have fun and get on in the world.”
Over the years, both Saunders and Lumley have both been supporters of the LGBT community. After all, they know who their fan base is.
“Oh, it’s been our pleasure, actually. We owe the gay community a huge deal, too, because they’ve helped make the show popular and we love having them as fans.”
On a lighter note, Lumley, who has served as a judge at several Edina and Patsy drag competitions, offers a few pointers for anyone who wants to make an appearance in Patsy Stone drag.
“She’s very easy to copy because she’s quite tall,” the former fashion model says. “You just want to get your good, yellow wig on. Lots of lovely, red lips. Good stockings. Nice pair of high heels. Glass of champers. Cigarette on the go. Dark shades on. You’re there.”