This review contains spoilers.
In some curious and forgettable circumstances I found myself reading Gangsta Granny to one of my younger relatives a couple of years ago. Hailing from the David Walliams stable it was expected to be ripe with gags and puns about the modern world but behind the humour there was a moral tale about people’s neglect of the elderly. At Christmas time it seems ideal fare for families grazing round the TV for feel-good laughs and a life lesson, so unsurprisingly the BBC nabbed the rights and set about adapting it. Written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (two of the penmen behind Gnomeo and Juliet. The one with Jason Statham as a garden ornament. Yeah, that one) with more than a little help from Walliams himself Gangsta Granny has been brought to the small screen in style.
Miss Marple herself, Julia McKenzie is the eponymous septuagenarian and McKenzie played her with a twinkle in her eye, as the type of Gran you’ve always wanted: a bit dull but sweet and caring. She is visited on a weekly basis by her grandson Ben (child actor Reece Buttery is very, very good) who resents having to play Scrabble, slurp up cabbage soup and go to bed at teatime but when he discovers her hidden past things start to change. Gran is a gangsta (how in any way that word is relevant to being a thief I don’t know), a former cat burglar who stopped after she had Ben’s father (Walliams himself, caked in fake tan). Ben is successful in drawing her back into the game and together they set out to fulfil Gran’s goal – to steal the Crown Jewels.
Miranda Hart is universally known for her gauche persona (commonly seen on her semi-autobiographical show Miranda) so it’s surprising that she’s taken on the role of Ben’s bronzed mother. Hart has come prepared with a broad Essex accent that, if you watch Miranda, she is known for ridiculing. She acts gamely against form and while it’s still a comedic role, it’s proof that Miranda Hart can do other parts (see: Call the Midwife). Also supporting the A-list cast was Joanna Lumley in the peripheral role of the Queen. Lumley brought her traditional comic timing to things but she was wasted in her bit part. Rob Brydon starred as Mr Parker, Gran’s prying neighbour, and too Brydon’s talents are squandered. In addition singer Robbie Williams popped up midway through proceedings – joining the intensely orange cast – as a hybrid of Strictly Come Dancing’s Bruno Tonioli and a clichéd Spanish flamenco dancer.
Gangsta Granny ended on perhaps not the most cheerful of notes but it was refreshing to see a primetime drama, directed at younger children, tackle an issue many young people face today. The montage depicting Gran’s final days was moving and well done by director Matt Lipsey (Little Britain, Psychoville), in no way being saccharine about the subject. Ben and his dad’s graveyard conversation also left the door open for more interpretation – was the titular pensioner really the ‘Black Cat’?
Whilst not a completely smooth drama (Joanna Lumley’s dancing, anyone?), Gangsta Granny delivered exactly what you’d expect from a Christmas family programme: funny, heart-warming and rollicking drama.
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