T.here are some British films which are basically the convenience-store sandwich of big-screen entertainment. Cinema’s equivalent of the 24-hour-garage tuna mayo pitta bread. And that, sadly, is the case with The Nan Movie, a truly horrendous and depressing film about Catherine Tate’s sweary old-lady character from her di lei sketch show di lei, in a storyline stretched out to a brutal hour and a half.
It arrives in UK cinemas with no fanfare and an uneasy lack of clarity about who the director is supposed to be. Some official listings give it as former Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke and some say Tate herself, but there’s nothing on the closing credits, other than to say that both are producers. Was this how British audiences felt when they stumbled out of the cinema having watched Holiday on the Buses in 1973, or Keith Lemon: The Film in 2012? Did they also suspect that their profound depression and self-reproach were secretly shared by the film-makers themselves?
The idea is that Nan (actual first name: Joanie) is still living in her London flat getting visits from her devoted grandson Jamie (Mathew Horne), a well-meaning liberal who drives a charity minibus for people suffering with anxiety and helps them do therapeutic craft activities. Or, as it says on the bus: Crafts Undo Negative Thinking, which is one of the funnier bits.
Nan receives a letter from her long-estranged sister Nell (Katherine Parkinson), from the cottage where she lives on an “island off of Ireland”, who wants to see her because she is dying. Jamie offers to drive Nan there in his minibus, and their wacky road-movie adventures are interspersed with flashbacks to the war, when Joanie and Nell were two London-Irish sisters during the blitz who fell out because they both fell in love with the same man: a handsome African American GI played by Parker Sawyers (whose most prominent role before this was playing Barack Obama in a film about his first date with Michelle).
Perhaps this film 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 black-belt comic and even this film can’t utterly efface that fact. But the modern-day 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 film – emerging just as Catherine Tate is unveiling another multi-persona TV show, Hard Cell, about all the people in a women’s prison. Tate fans are hoping and expecting the best for that. But a 2027 film about a breakout character from Hard Cell probably won’t be a good idea.