Robert Carlyle as Gaz in The Full Monty. Image: Disney+
The Full Monty is back. More than 25 years after the story of unemployed ex-steel workers in Sheffield finding renewed hope by losing their clothes became the highest grossing film in UK history, the characters return. This time, in a new eight-part Disney+ series. Just as the original film fused comedy and politics, this series explores big issues facing the UK today – from the cost of living crisis to the DWP’s cruel policy failure on disability benefits.
Between comic set pieces featuring dog-napping, pigeon fancying, body snatching, singing and dancing, The Full Monty paints a picture of a welfare system stripped of all compassion, care and cash through years of austerity.
The failings of the DWP’s new disability benefit system are highlighted through the character of Barrington ‘Horse’ Mitchell – played by Only Fools and Horses legend Paul Barber – who reprises his role from the original film.
Despite Horse’s inability to walk any distance and other serious health issues, he is declared fit to work – and the appeals process is shown as not fit for purpose.
Horse is forced to attempt the journey from Sheffield to a benefit assessment appointment in Castleford on his mobility scooter. The alternative is sanctions for failing to attend.
He is then bombarded with confusing questions he doesn’t fully understand, his answers twisted to fit the inflexible questionnaire format. Horse’s distress while his PIP benefits are stopped, with no notice, leaving him facing massive hardship and starvation, is palpable.
“No benefit for eight weeks. Zero pounds. Zero pence,” he says. “I haven’t eaten in days. I’ve got no gas to make a decent cup of tea. And I’ve got no money to feed the fucking meter.”
The Full Monty creator Simon Beaufoy and co-writer Alice Nutter did their homework. The writers consulted with the Sheffield branch of DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) to ensure their depiction of a man trying to navigate the new system was accurate.
“We are proud to say that the writers of the new The Full Monty made huge efforts to spend time with PIP claimants,” DPAC Sheffield wrote, following The Full Monty series premiere in Sheffield.
DPAC Sheffield’s Jen Dunstan also told us: “It is so important to us that creatives directly involve disabled people when writing a disabled character. It really meant so much to us that this was something that so clearly also motivated Alice Nutter too.
“One of the mantras of the disability rights Movement is ‘Nothing about us without us’. Spending the time Alice took talking to PIP claimants, learning all about the process, is exactly the type of thing we are referring to.”
The DWP is currently rejecting a record number of disability benefit appeals. It has been accused of ignoring court rulings to take the toughest possible line on claimants.
We see the real-world impact of the cruelty of the shift in DWP policy, as part of the move to universal credit, in Horse’s plight.
Horse’s journey also shows that this series, like the original film, has sharp teeth beneath its cosy, comic exterior. This is no nostalgia project for Beaufoy and Nutter. As Lomper’s husband Dennis says in episode one, “Everything is political.”
Sheffield Spires Academy school – where Dave (Mark Addy) is now caretaker and his wife Jean, (Lesley Sharp) headteacher – is falling into disrepair due to a lack of funding. There’s not enough in the kitty to fix the toilets, let alone fund music lessons. “I never thought when I did my teacher training I’d end up as a chuffing accountant,” Jean says.
We already know children going hungry have lower life chances. And that teachers are increasingly reporting children attending school hungry. In The Full Monty, a comic story about Dave’s quest to stop food going missing at the school evolves into a depiction of food poverty.
With food prices surging by 19.1% in the 12 months to April 2023, food poverty is on the increase. Record numbers of people are turning to food banks in the UK. Around 760,000 people – more than the entire population of Sheffield – sought help from the Trussell Trust for the first time between April 2022 and May 2023.
“There’s no shame in having to use a food bank,” Dave reassures the young boy responsible – the writers again sensitive to important issues.
In our cover story interview, star Robert Carlyle, who returns to the role that won him a Bafta in 1997, said that the stories of the new generation were just as important as those of Gaz and co.
“It’s disheartening. You just hope there’s a brighter future for them,” he said. “Let’s hope it’s not going to take another 25 years to fix these issues.”
The belated Disney+ sequel series of The Full Monty is more than just a chance to revisit some old friends. This is serious comedy drama. And it depicts the devastating inter-generational impact of austerity.
Read the full interview with Robert Carlyle, about the politics of The Full Monty, the joy of revisiting one of his most famous roles and why he hopes the series heralds a change of government, in The Big Issue. On sale 5-11 June.
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