That’s it, I’ve done it. I’ve watched Carry On England. Mission accomplished. Many people “warned” me that it was one of the worst Carry Ons. It’s certainly not the best, but my viewing helped me understand better why it has such a poor reputation.
Carry On England (Gerald Thomas, 1976) takes place in 1940 “somewhere in England”, more precisely on a military base marked by the unusual presence of both men and women. This gender mix is part of an experiment for better or for worst. Captain S. Melly (Kenneth Connor) becomes the head of the camp, replacing Captain Bull (David Lodge) who was long-awaiting for an occasion to leave this place. Melly is assisted by Sergeant Major “Tiger” Bloomer (Windsor Davis in his second and last Carry On). The new captain soon realises that discipline is not the top priority at the camp, and he’s ready to make their life “hell” to change things. Notable members are womanizer Sergent Len Able (Patrick Mower) and his girlfriend Sergeant Tilly Willing (Judy Geeson); Bombardier Ready (Jack Douglas); Private Jennifer Ffoukes-Sharpe (Joan Sims), a strong woman who is in love with Major Bloomer; Private Alice Easy (Diane Langton), and Gunner Shorthouse (Melvyn Hayes). Carry On regular Peter Butterworth also makes a small appearance as Major Melvyn Hayes accompanied by Peter Jones as Brigadier during an inspection.
People will notice that Carry On England doesn’t feature many of the Carry On regulars, at least if we compare it to some of the previous episodes. At this point, many had left the series, and maybe it was for the best (for them). It makes me a bit sad that Kenneth Connor, who was a truly valuable actor in the series, was given THAT Carry On film as a true comeback and as a leading role. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good in the part, but as a whole, I think he deserved better quality. However, one thing I am grateful for this film is the casting of Judy Geeson. She’s lovely and promising in her part. The only film with her I had seen before was To Sir, With Love (James Clavell, 1967), released nine years prior to Carry On England. So, it was a good thing to discover more of her. Luckily, she knew how to shine in a mediocre film. That was Judy’s only participation in the Carry On franchise but, as you now know, her sister, Sally Geeson, was a short-time regular in the series as she appeared in three of its films.
I have to admit it, despite its many flaws, I did enjoy Carry On England enough (for what it’s worth). It remains an entertaining film (maybe not always in the best way). In my opinion, it didn’t work because it tried too much. It seems that the film focuses more on physical gags in an era where it wasn’t so necessary anymore, making us regret the subtlety and innuendos in the dialogues written by Norman Hudis or Talbot Rothwell. And here, I’m not necessarily thinking about the nudity. Once again, Jack Douglas was back with his un-funny mimics. Plus, weird (and grotesque) sound effects were added to the lot. Carry On England looks like a parody of Carry On films so, like the parody of a parody. Also, we immensely regret the too brief appearance of Peter Butterworth whom, unsurprisingly, delivers one of the best performances of the film.
Despite all that, there are some elements/scenes/dialogues that worked well with me. I can think, for example, of this scene where Melly and Bloomer, in attempt to create a panic, imitate an air raid, making explosion and aircraft sounds with their voices. “Boom!” It’s pretty stupid but funny, especially when Sgt. Able says “I could’ve sworn someone said ‘bang’!” In the same field of fun stupidities going on in the camp, the gun made of wood is another good example.
Some of the lines in the screenplay written by David Pursall and Jack Seddon (not regulars) also didn’t fail to make me laugh, such as:
1- Capt. S. Melly [addressing himself to a soldier coincidentally wearing the same moustache as him]: You’re beyond charged for impersonating an officer!
2- Capt. S. Melly [desinating a bra that Ready has in his possession]: What… what the devil is THIS?
Bombardier Ready: Ah! Eh, yes Sir, you see, those are…uh.. earmuffs, sir! (I wondered if this was a reference to Don’t Lose Your Head!)
3- Capt. S. Melly: Are you a ventriloquist?
Bombardier Ready: Oh no. Church of England.
Carry On England seems similar to Carry On Sergeant for its military thematic but, unlike the first-ever-released Carry On, it mostly makes you smirk. Anyway, if it would have been the first Carry On ever made, I’m not sure a series would have followed!
On its released, Carry On England was a failure at the box office and was withdrawn from some theatres only three days later. (1) That was the second box-office failure for the usually successful series after the failure of Carry On At Your Convenience (2), the only opposition being that At Your Convenience is now considered among the good Carry Ons.
It’s not surprising that only three more Carry Ons were made after this one. All good things must have an end!
Next, I’ll be reviewing That’s Carry On!, which is a compilation of the best Carry On moments, presented by the always appreciated Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Williams!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On England: Trivia.” IMDb. Accessed January 21, 2020, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074286/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv