The Curse of Steptoe (2008)

According to this biopic, it was the curse of success that plagued the makers of the hit TV sitcom 'Steptoe and Son'. Harry H. Corbett found himself typecast, Wilfrid Brambell was ill-equipped for fame and what was supposed to be a one-off show led to an English scriptwriting duo reluctantly writing a comedy series. The makers of this biopic should have been so lucky!

 

By the early 1960’s, Corbett was making a name for himself as Britain’s leading Method actor. It was an approach that clashed with his Steptoe co-star, who didn’t even get into character during rehearsals. It was just one of many differences between the two men that led to comedy gold in front of the cameras, but a poisonous relationship off screen.

 

Or so the makers of this biopic would have you believe. Despite manufacturing a feud that did not exist, the film does provide an interesting depiction of the gulf between the actor’s personalities and the characters they portrayed. Though Phil Davies fails to capture the impish malevolence of Albert Steptoe, his portrayal of a socially insecure Brambell will be a revelation to fans of the show.  Similarly, Jason Isaacs effectively depicts the despondency of a serious actor resigned to playing the fool.

 

Following the film’s broadcast, Corbett’s family complained to the BBC about the biopic’s inaccuracies, leading to the broadcaster banning any future screening or sale of the film. The Curse of Steptoe indeed!

cast, Jason Isaacs, Harry H Corbett, Phil Davis, Wilfrid Brambell
Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs

as Harry H Corbett

Phil Davis
Phil Davis

as Wilfrid Brambell

Zoë Tapper
Zoë Tapper

as Sheila Steafel

Clare Higgins
Clare Higgins

as Joan Littlewood

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Zoë Tapper, Sheila Steafel, Clare Higgins, Joan Littlewood, true story

“The suggestion that Steptoe ruined either actor’s career is nonsense. Both actors were kept very busy during and after Steptoe. Harry made numerous films and TV programmes and the money he made from Steptoe allowed him to take on less lucrative roles in the theatre... We can definitively say that Harry and Wilfrid did not hate each other. We can categorically say they did not fall out.”

Simon Blott, Harry H Corbett’s nephew and godson

 

"The committee concluded that… in respect of the portrayal of the relationship between Maureen and Harry, it found that the re-editing had not changed the nature of the relationship sufficiently for an audience to remove the impression of a casual relationship… The committee also wished to reiterate its earlier concern that whilst it did not want to inhibit writers and producers from using creative licence with a drama of this kind, it was important when dealing with facts not to unfairly distort the truth."

The BBC Trust

 

Eight years separated the final episode of 'Steptoe and Son' and the birth of Corbett's first child.

film clip, scene comparison, video, steptoe and son, ladies who do

Biopic features several rehearsals and scene recreations of 'Steptoe and Son'. Also replicates a scene from the film Ladies Who Do, which co-starred Harry H. Corbett.

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