Jhere are some British films that are essentially the convenience sandwich of big-screen entertainment. The movie equivalent of 24-hour garage tuna pitta mayo. And that’s sadly the case with The Nan Movie, a truly gruesome and depressing film about Catherine Tate’s old lady sworn character from her sketch show, in a brutal hour-and-a-half stretched script.
It arrives in UK cinemas without fanfare and with an embarrassing lack of clarity about who the director is supposed to be. Some official listings give him as former Donmar Warehouse art director Josie Rourke and some say Tate herself, but there’s nothing in the closing credits except to say the two are producers. Was that how British audiences felt when they walked out of the cinema after watching Holiday on the Buses in 1973, or Keith Lemon: The Film in 2012? Did they also suspect that their deep depression and self-reprobation were secretly shared by the filmmakers themselves?
The idea is that Nan (real name: Joanie) still lives in her London flat and is visited by her devoted grandson Jamie (Mathew Horne), a well-meaning liberal who drives a charity minibus for people with anxiety. and helps them do therapeutic crafts. Or, as it says on the bus: Crafts Undo Negative Thinking, which is one of the most fun elements.
Nan receives a letter from her long estranged sister Nell (Katherine Parkinson) from the cottage where she lives on an “island off Ireland”, who wants to see her as she is dying. Jamie offers to drive Nan there in his minibus, and their wacky road-movie adventures are intercut with flashbacks to the war, when Joanie and Nell were two London-Irish sisters during the blitz who fell out because they’re all the two fell in love with the same man: a handsome African-American GI played by Parker Sawyers (whose biggest role before that was playing Barack Obama in a movie about his first date with Michelle).
Maybe this movie could have worked if it just told the 1940 part of the story – there are flashes of good material here and there. Tate is a comic black belt and even this movie can’t completely erase that fact. But the modern sections with Nan accidentally going clubbing are very close to late-period Carry On, and sadder than anything by Ingmar Bergman.
It really is a terrible movie – emerging just as Catherine Tate unveils another multi-persona TV show, Hard Cell, about everyone in a women’s prison. Tate fans are hoping and expecting the best for this. But a 2027 movie about a Hard Cell breakout character probably won’t be a good idea.