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The Great McGonagall [1974] [DVD]

3.2 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Frequently Bought Together

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Product details

  • Actors: Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Julia Foster, John Bluthal, Victor Spinetti
  • Directors: Joseph McGrath
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Fabulous Films
  • DVD Release Date: 9 Feb. 2004
  • Run Time: 89 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00015N4TS
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,555 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

Spike Milligan plays McGonagall, an unemployed weaver who decides to devote his life to poetry. He falls in love with Queen Victoria (Peter Sellers) and dedicates his work to her, despite a distinct lack of interest on her part and talent on his.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I can't believe this is finally coming out on DVD! I'm going to preorder this once I've finished this review. Spike Milligan at his ridiculous, Dadaist, hilarious, genre-subverting best. Milligan plays real-life, failed Scottish poet William McGonagall, a misunderstood genius in his own mind, (rightly)derided by all for his terrible poetry, convinced that if he can just trudge to Balmoral, Queen Victoria herself (Peter Sellers in this case)will give him an audience and probably a knighthood. Like Zappa's '200 Motels' no attempts are made to disguise the fact that this is a film, filmed in a decaying theatre, Milligan even breaks off and chats with the director at one point. Some might balk at the 'blacked up' actors, but I believe that he's making more of a point about Imperial attitudes to their conquered subjects than any actual racism on Milliagan's part. All in all an odd masterpiece.
Now, when's 'The Bed-Sitting Room' coming out?
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Format: DVD
I first encountered this film when it was released on VHS by "fabulous". The transfer at that time was poor--presumably there is only one print remaining--and the DVD reissue is little better.

It's surprising to see this described in other reviews as a movie Goon Show. It's not. Doubtless this misconstruction is caused by the appearance of Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria and Valentyne Dyall (appeared in a few Goon Shows). Whilst the Goons indeed found William McGonagall (and Valentyne Dyall) hilarious, this film actually belongs with Spike Milligan's Q series of the 1970s, and veers more towards the punning and near-the-knuckle racial stereotyping common in Milligan's work of that era rather than the absurd, cartoonish and timeless world of the Goon Shows.

The director, Joe McGrath, was best known as a BBC television director, having directed much of Milligan's output and some of the Not Only... But Also... shows. He had however directed a televised Goon Show performance for Thames in 1968.

The film tells the story of the life of William McGonagall, an unemployed weaver and tragedian, and one of the 'worst' poets who ever lived. He's best known for his poems celebrating the completion of the bridge over the River Tay, and subsequently describing its collapse. In fact, it's perhaps unkind to call McGonagall one of the worst poets; his approach where a line could be as long as necessary to get a rhyme in could be regarded as a precursor to rap by 75 years, if you're feeling generous. Here's an extract from The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay !
That has caused the Emperor of Brazil to leave
His home far away, incognito in his dress,
And view thee ere he passed along en route to Inverness.
Read more ›
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First and foremost it must be said that this is not a biopic of William McGonagall. What it is, is nothing more than a visual Goon Show. Anyone who remembers with affection radio's Goon Show will immediately recognise the style of humour which launched Spike and Peter's careers, complete with some of the most familiar voice characterisations. Unfortunately, this will fall flat on anyone who is unfamiliar with this style of comedy and who expects sophisticated "modern" humour. To really enjoy it requires a sense of the ridiculous and a complete suspension of reality.
The supporting cast of well known performers such as John Bluthal and Victor Spinetti enter into the spirit with gusto and the manic visual style of comic genius Julian Joy Chagrin as Prince Albert fits in perfectly. A lot of the scenes caused me to laugh out loud, especially the one where Queen Victoria sits at the piano playing a jazz version of "I'll Remember April," the sound being dubbed from an Errol Garner performance.
Altogether a very enjoyable production and a must for Goon fans.
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I was a bit disappointed in this film. It had a bit of an odd structure; all set on stage like putting on a play. Typical Milligan style so a must for any fans of him - madness all through, very zany. And perhaps some of it was ad-libbed (if not all?). The recording was poor quality as it appeared so dark; you could hardly distinguish the black from the other colours so it put me off a bit. As hard to view sometimes. Anyway if you like Spike and love Peter Sellers as I do this is the film for you.
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This film is typical of Spike Milligan's later work. For me, it teeters on the edge of being funny, but doesn't quite make it. It's neither narrative comedy nor satire, and I suppose the best word for it is surreal. The best comedy has a certain underlying consistency of method and style and I think the very random element of Milligan's late humour works against him. If everything is unpredictable, there's no real element of surprise to the jokes.

This is one for the committed Milligan fan. I can't see it making any converts.
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Funny, surreal yet full of pathos. Spike Milligan manages to portray McGonagall to perfection. The setting, Wiltons Music Hall. is perfect for the 'suspension of disbelief' needed here and the background music which accompanies each 'poem' is a master-stroke, conveying the fact that, although we now all laugh at MacGonagall's verses, he genuinely believed in his talent. The cruel mockery to which he was subjected is part of his true story............ but the last laugh is on the mockers of course because MacGonagall's name is known by many today, whereas many Victorian poets, considered great in their time, are now forgotten. Valentine Dyall proves that a 'blacked up' white man can play an African, and Queen Victoria will never be the same to me after this Peter Sellers portrayal of her. More steam I say!
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