Friday, May 1st, 2020

Fantabulosa: the story of Kenneth Williams a legendary funny Brit Queer Icon

Michael Sheen as Kenneth Williams


The late great Kenneth Williams could easily be described as Britain’s own Charles Nelson Reilly. Both men were celebrated classical trained actors who worked with all the major stars of their day, but they actually found their own fame with their outrageously camp and genius comic humor which made them both much loved national treasures. They were also both wonderfully raconteurs with a wealth of old-school show-business immensely enjoyable stories which seems a thing of the past in these days of instant faux celebrity. 

Out of the limelight these two men were completely different. Williams a closeted homosexual despite his public persona was a deeply unhappy and troubled soul whose life was a constant list of phobias and unhealthy obsessions.  His somewhat morbid fear of actual one-on-one sexual activity trapped him into a leading a celibate life , although as this  movie based on his life hints, he may have had the odd encounter.  The accent being on ‘odd’.  

This fun-loving character on stage and screen was a total neurotic out of the limelight and struggled valiantly for years to be part of society that he seemed to have such disdain for. Yet despite the gloom and doom (or maybe because of it?) this dramatized story of the man behind the clown is totally gripping.

Starting with William’s unhappy childhood in London living over his father’s barbershop with a mother who spoilt him rotten and literally never left his side.  She was  even there when he was an old man himself, through him entertaining the troops in WW2 to his life in Repertory Theatre in the Provinces and then to his eventual stardom.  The emphasis here in this biopic though was very much on the man himself and not the body of his work.

Made for TV in 2006 Fantabulosa has a stunning tour-de-force performance by Michael Sheen who’s made quite a career out of portraying real-life characters from recent British history (Tony Blair in ‘The Queen‘, David Frost in ‘Frost/Nixon’, Brian Clough in ‘United’). For this role he quite rightly won the prestigious Royal Television Society Best Actor Award, and was also nominated for a BAFTA (British Oscars).

The movie is available in the US (the free link is below) and it was a sheer joy to re-live the happy memories of someone who brazenly filled our lives back in the UK with such glorious raucous laughter.  In the mid 1960’s no Sunday afternoon was complete in our house without listening to ‘Our Ken’ on the radio. We loved the invention of a whole glossary of ridiculous terms for gay life back in the day when homosexuality was still illegal, and in fact this movie’s title is one such term of their ‘polari’.

Queergurud discovered and fell in love with Charles Nelson Reilly when we moved to the US, and likewise we think Kenneth Williams will appeal to people in other countries if they just get a chance to see what a fantabulosa person he was. Start with this film, then check out ‘An Audience With Kenneth Williams‘ on YouTube to see/hear what you have been missing. Then try this hilarious interview from 1974 with Russell Harty , also a closeted homosexual, so the piece is brimming with innuendoes  which we are guessing went totally over  the heads of mainstream England..


Posted by queerguru  at  12:57

Genres:  biopic, comedy

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