Watching Run For Your Wife with the senior citizens of N10

Tuesday February 19th 2013

Despite my evident enthusiasm for the event, I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t in attendance when Run For Your Wife inexplicably premiered at the 1683-seat Odeon Leicester Square earlier this month. But don’t worry because David Jason, Robert Lindsay and most of the cast of TOWIE easily made up for my absence, which was brought on not by choice, but by the fact that the premiere was sold out by the time I got around to buying my tickets.It might sound unlikely that close to two thousand people would be willing to pay £30 for the privilege of seeing Run For Your Wife in the presence of Danny Dyer, but bear in mind that writer-director Ray Cooney (pictured right) has met an awful lot of people during his 117 years on this Earth.

The film opened to less-than-spectacular numbers on Valentine’s Day, and five days into its run, is no longer receiving daily showings at any cinema in the UK. It is, however, receiving a spate of one-off screenings across the country today and tomorrow as this week’s Odeon ‘Senior Screen’ selection. Once a week, an 11am matinee at participating cinemas is dedicated to Senior Screen, a programme that invites ‘mature guests’ to ‘come along and meet friends for a mid-morning screening of some of the best recent films and some classics from over the years’.

Convincing Odeon to play Run For Your Wife as this week’s selection is a coup in two respects for the film’s previously unheard-of distribution outfit ‘Ballpark Film Distributors’. For one thing, it allows them to target an audience more likely to be familiar with the film’s source material: a long-running 1983 stage play also written by Cooney, then aged just 87. For another, it allows them to claim that the film played on more than 50 UK screens. Screen tallies are a serious business these days, with many secondary distribution avenues (Netflix, Sky Movies, etc.) willing to pay considerably higher prices for films that have shown on a large number of UK screens. In some cases, it can even be worth a distributor losing money on an over-ambitious theatrical release, just to recoup their loss at a later stage.

And so, this morning I joined half a dozen North London pensioners at the crumbling Odeon in sunny Muswell Hill for my very first Senior Screen experience. After handing over my £3 (!) to a slightly confused-looking staff member, and gratefully accepting my complimentary digestive biscuit and cup of tea, I found my way into the small, quiet screen and took a seat near the front. As I waited for the film to begin, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the other patrons, and was pleased to discover that the sense of community promised by the Odeon website was more than just a marketing gimmick. Topics of conversation included this week’s turnout, the film selection, and the previous week’s choice, Skyfall.

“The guy who acted the bad guy, whose name I can’t remember. I thought he was very good.”

“I do like a bit of action. What is it today, a comedy? That should give us a bit of a laugh.”

“Why don’t they play music before the film any more? Must be something to do with PRS.”

After a series of trailers for potential future Senior Screen selections (Song for Marion is a no-brainer) the film began, and I’m sorry to confirm that yes, it’s every bit as terrible as you’ve heard. Jokes come thick and fast, though their punchlines are generally identifiable only by the chasm of silence that Cooney elects to leave after each one, presumably to make room for audience applause. The set-pieces are even more cack-handed. Twenty minutes into Run For Your Wife, a chocolate cake is inducted into the proceedings for no discernable reason. Half an hour later, Neil Morrissey sits on it. It’s hard to believe that such a gag could have warranted a nine-year theatrical run in the 1950s, let alone 1983. I guess the past really is a foreign country. One populated exclusively by toddlers.

For his part, Danny Dyer is actually a ray of sunshine in an otherwise excruciating 94 minutes, his sincere attempts to engage with the dreadful material becoming an invaluable anchor in the midst of a barrage of gay stereotypes straight out of Are You Being Served? and a running joke about transsexuals that would make Julie Burchill’s thoughts on the subject look progressive. Even the film’s stupefying parade of cameos — including, unsettlingly, the very recently deceased Richard Briers, star of the original stage play — can’t compete with Dyer’s winning presence.

While Dyer’s performance wasn’t quite good enough to negate the awfulness of this morning’s cinema experience, the reactions of my fellow cinemagoers did made the trip seem almost worthwhile. It’s easy to stereotype older cinema audiences, both positively — I’m sure Cooney would have it that only a mature audience will really ‘get’ the film — and negatively — plenty of people will write Run For Your Wife‘s senior audience off as easily-pleased and old-fashioned. This morning, in a victory for sanity, young and old were united in disdain.