Tony Hancock’s limited film career mirrored his more productive television career. The first film he had a starring role in, The Rebel, was written by his regular writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Its success encouraged another film, The Punch and Judy Man, but by now Hancock had split with his writers and was seeking a more profound direction for his comedy. On both the small and silver screens, this quest was destined to fail.
Similarly, this biopic starts off impressively before becoming mired in Hancock’s introspection. After a splendid scene recreation from one of his most celebrated television episodes, 'The Blood Donor', the film dwells upon the comedian’s disputes with his wife, writers and, more fatally, himself. So while the biopic cannot be faulted for providing a comprehensive depiction of Hancock’s later career, including the making of The Punch and Judy Man, his 1966 performance at the Royal Festival Hall and failed Disney venture, the portrayal of his personal life omits any redeeming features that enable the audience to empathise with his decline.
Alfred Molina gives a fine performance in the title role, but his Hancock is a mean drunk who is rarely seen without a glass or bottle in his hand. Providing the film with some sorely-needed heart is Frances Barber as Hancock’s second wife, Freddie. Towards the end of their relationship, she is seen robotically swallowing pills one after the other. Hancock’s response that she should take enough to finish the job, is not only indicative of the couple’s dynamic but more tellingly, an indication of where the viewer’s sympathies should lie.
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson did not attend Tony Hancock’s 1966 performance at the Royal Festival Hall.
‘We thought: see this man die a death? We couldn’t do that. But in the dramatisation, the actors came in with smug looks on their faces and sat down. They were meant to be us. You could see they were thinking: Go on, let’s see him die a death now.’ ‘When I met the author, I lost my temper and hit him.’
Apart from a splendid scene recreation from Hancock’s 'The Blood Donor' episode, biopic includes a couple of scene recreations from The Punch and Judy Man. Also featured are recreations of Hancock’s performance in Disney’s The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin before he was axed from the film.