The Bargee on DVD

Saturday, 27 February 2010 10:51

You could call this ‘Harry H Corbett Afloat!’ It is a slice of nostalgia from Optimum, an amusing if ultimately unsatisfying film from the combined pens of Galton and Simpson. Promoted as encapsulating “the beautiful settings, feel and romance of Old England”, this film does go some way to convey the latter days of the barge-haulage way of life; the 'bargees' of the title.

And perhaps that's the only real disappointment of the film, that the setting is only ever a slightly out-of-focus backdrop, onto which the two writers have projected a fairly mundane story; a story which could have been so very much richer had they more fully embraced their setting. Harry H Corbett, awarding-winning actor though he may have been, feels unlikely as the lothario Hemel Pike, whose stop-over destinations along the canals are arranged as trysts with a succession of pretty women.

The Bargee on DVD

It's Pike's ambitious love-life that propels the thin plot, steering between the deft comedy to be expected of its illustrious writers and a few unfortunately inane and wit-free lapses that aren't. 

Some of the numerous British comedy talent on display is wasted; some criminally underused - Ronnie Barker for one. Derek Nimmo doesn't stray from the characterisation that dominated his television career and Eric Sykes looks permanently uncomfortable as the ridiculous and over-played private sailor, in his admiral's hat, life-jacket and 'obviously' comical motor launch – and I don't think elongated cigarette-holders are a winning comedy prop under any circumstance.

The whole exercise feels as if the normally self-assured Galton and Simpson, so accomplished on the small screen, were afraid to push their limits too far, preferring instead to embrace an almost 'Carry On' writing template – though Sid James would have been even less convincing in the lead role!  And I almost expected to meet Suzy Kendall in a cameo, as the film goes a little "Up the Junction" in the last half-hour, with marriage and the end of the bargee's way of life interjecting a far more serious note into the proceedings – but it all ends in a whirl of fluff and forgiveness.

I do wonder if Galton and Simpson shouldn't, perhaps, have tried to tackle the theme of this film as a comedy-drama, as they did in some of the more poigniant episodes of Steptoe and Son, rather than as such a broad comedy.

In the role of Pike, Corbett does at least put some distance between this character and his most famous television portrayal, for Pike, unlike Steptoe, is quite happy with his lot in life, becoming confounded when his care-free existence is threatened by change.

Picture and sound quality remain good throughout, though the latter is in mono. The only extra on the disc is the original cinema trailer, the voice-over of which could almost be describing a totally different film!

In all it's an amusing if uninspired film, and yet one with so much potential.

“The Bargee” is available on 15 March 2010 from Optimum Home Entertainment. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of approx 102 minutes, and a RRP of £15.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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