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'Monty': Hearts of Gold, Not Buns of Steel

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Aug. 27, 1997

Stripped of their jobs, wives and in some cases, sexual potency, a sextet of British steelworkers turn their other cheeks in "The Full Monty," a wise and rousing crowd-pleaser about the resilience of the British working class. This warm, ribaldly funny, stubbornly upbeat story is very much in the vein of "Brassed Off," only these blokes don't form a band, they put on a burlesque show.

Though set in Sheffield in the late '80s, the film opens with footage from a 25-year-old promotional film celebrating the booming steel town's many wonders and future promise. Director Peter Cattaneo immediately cuts to the interior of an abandoned steelworks, empty except for rusting girders and Gaz and Dave -- two former employees who've come to steal scrap metal in hopes of making a bit of cash.

Gaz (Robert Carlyle), a boyish divorce behind on his child support, and his panda-bellied buddy, Dave (Mark Addy), are human casualties of the technology that brought not only the plant closures, but the loss of jobs traditionally held by men. Gaz is a happy-go-lucky idler, but Dave, whose wife is now the family breadwinner, struggles in vain to survive this blow to his manhood.

Gaz and Dave find further untoward changes in traditional gender roles when they discover most of Sheffield's females lined up to see the Chippendale dancers. Although the performance is "for women only," they slip inside and suddenly, Gaz has a brainstorm: We, too, can bump and grind our way to happiness.

To that end, the pair place Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), their former foreman and a ballroom dancer, in charge of the choreography. Then, with the well-endowed Guy (Hugo Speer), the balding Horse (Paul Barber) and the flat-chested Lomper (Steve Huison), they prepare to shake their inhibitions and rattle their jewels.

As their debut draws nigh, they realize that for the first time in their lives they are going to be judged as they have so often judged women, solely by their appearances. "Who wants to see this dance?" moans the paunchy Dave.

Inevitably, the Sheffield six begin to suffer personal crises, doubt themselves or just plan chicken out on their promise to take it all off, to do the full monty. Along with witty, appropriately rough-hewn repartee and genuine poignancy, writer Simon Beaufoy manages to sustain suspense to the last gyration.

The plot has more developments than Gypsy Rose Lee had feather boas: Dave considers resigning the troupe, Hot Metal, to become a security guard. Gerald, who becomes aroused by BBC nature documentaries, fears he'll betray himself in front of 400 women, while Horse worries that he won't live up to his nickname.

Size, as the women of Sheffield can attest, is not the true measure of a man, nor, for that matter, are youth, beauty and bulging muscles. There's nothing new in that, but sometimes the non-Chippendales of the world need to be reminded that courage, kindness, honesty and being able to laugh at yourself count for more than washboard abs and a full head of hair.

The Full Monty is rated R for profanity, off-color humor and naked behinds.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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