Two British comedy institutions collide in Twice Round the Daffodils: the Carry On films and the Doctor series. The result however is not quite as jolly as you might expect. The film is more of a drama with jokes, than a comedy. This is no bad thing, however.
Not only does the film feature Carry Ons stalwarts Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims, but it is based on the same stage play, A Ring For Catty, that provided the inspiration for Carry On Nurse. It was also Norman Hudis, the man who wrote the first six Carry On films, who penned this adaptation. Let’s not forget Mr Carry On himself, Gerald Thomas, directed it. Fans of the first two Doctor films will find that Donald Sinden plays a moustachioed woman-chasing RAF officer who is very similar to moustachioed woman-chasing Doctor Tony Benskin.
The least funny thing about Twice Round the Daffodils is that it is set in a TB sanatorium. Although by the 1950s the disease had ceased to be a death sentence, it was no laughing matter and still killed thousands of people each year. Six men are confined to a ward where they are looked after by two pretty young nurses, principally Nurses Catty (played by Juliet Mills, sister of Hayley) and Dorothy (Amanda Reiss). Their task is rehabilitate the patients so they are strong enough to walk two times around the daffodil bed in the garden.
The motley selection of men includes John (Donald Houston), a blustering Welsh miner struggling to come to terms with his condition, melancholy Bob (Ronald Lewis) who’s feeling the effects of already been in the ward for some time, sensitive young poet and orphan Chris (Andrew Ray), not to mention the raffish Ian (Donald Sinden), Kenneth William’s catty, chess-obsessed Henry, and a cheery soul in the form of George (Lance Percival). Unlike in the Carry On films, these characters aren’t purely eccentric stereotypes, but suffer like real people.
Not a lot happens really. To give you an idea, one plot strand follows George who secretly learns chess so he can beat Henry – and then does. Wow. The real strength of the film comes from the personal dramas and conflicts of the men: Bob has to deal with a girlfriend (in the form of Nanette Newman) who has gone off with another man. Even Kenneth Williams’ and Donald Sinden’s characters, are lonely men whose stories that catch the attention, despite being mostly played for laughs. And death or at least a painful bronchoscopy is an ever-present reality.
Let’s not forget the jokes and the romance. The humour mostly comes from two key players, Donald Sinden’s lecherous cad who doesn’t translate quite as well to our era as Kenneth Williams’s bachelor. As ever with Williams, its the way he spits out fairly amusing lines like “some people aren’t all that interested in mail, not matter how it’s spelt” (mail/male geddit?) and “that’s no way to bash a bishop” that makes them actually funny. Three of the men develop crushes on nurses, and although you’ll have to see if there is finally a ring for Nurse Catty, these relationships are more cute rather than Carry On smut.
All in all Twice Round the Daffodils isn’t the camp carry on that you might expect. It’s a wonder that one play adapted by the same screenwriter could produce two such different films. This one is light, but unexpectedly enjoyable.
Twice Round the Daffodils is out on Monday 30 April, 2012.