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9 August 2017

Absolutely Fabulous will show future generations how fun life was before Brexit

As part of 90s comedy week, we ask: could the Remain campaign have done with some help from Edina Monsoon?

By Lizzie Palmer

Cast your mind back, if it’s not too distressing, to 29 June 2016. Journalists haven’t slept in a week, Nigel Farage is 30 pints down, and no one knows who is really in charge since David Cameron announced his resignation in the wake of the shock Brexit vote six days earlier.

But in London’s Leicester Square, carrying on as if Britain wasn’t in a state of abject political chaos, is the world premiere of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. “Right now, they haven’t even noticed,” creator and star Jennifer Saunders told Vanity Fair, when asked what Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone made of the referendum result. “They’re still in a drunken stupor and probably never knew if they were in the European Union, out of it, or if there ever was a government.”

This is probably true. Patsy and Eddy never appear remotely engaged with politics during the long-running BBC comedy (unless you count Patsy’s affair with a politician, immortalised in the tabloid headline “MP in drug-crazed sex romp shock with fash mag slag”.) But with its two leads’ obsession with Bollinger, Soviet vodka, French designer labels and international partying, Ab Fab is a love letter to being a citizen of the world – and the opportunities for hedonism that come with looking beyond the boring confines of Little England.

The Remain campaign was slammed for being too negative, with even many on the pro-EU side admitting that it failed to capture anyone’s imagination. Maybe what Britain Stronger In Europe needed was some help from Monsoon PR, Eddy’s barely-functioning celebrity firm, to show everyone just how fun life can be as an EU member. Right now, Britain may be preparing to send Brussels a £36bn divorce settlement. But when you have two rich ex-husbands like Eddy, some creative accounting can ensure they both end up paying for your luxury west London house.

Not to mention the sheer inconvenience of leaving the EU. Would Bubble, Eddy’s perpetually confused assistant, manage to navigate potential post-Brexit visa requirements when booking a spontaneous foreign trip when she can barely understand how to use a phone? Will Patsy and Eddy even be granted visas given their frequent lawbreaking and reputation for loud and disruptive behaviour abroad, on planes and in general day-to-day life?

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Could Joanna Lumley’s Patsy, who was born in Paris, actually be deported from the UK? It’s not like she could apply for settled status, having no ID documents displaying anything within a few decades of her real date of birth. And more importantly, what about the champagne, should our “no deal is better than a bad deal” government storm out of Brussels with only WTO rules to shape our future trading relationship? These are all deeply pressing concerns.

In fact, Britain’s somewhat directionless attitude to Brexit negotiations can be summed up quite nicely by Eddy when, drunkenly getting into the wrong side of a French car, she screams: “Shit! Someone’s taken the steering wheel.”

All this isn’t to say Eddy is a fan of rules and institutions. Hauled before court in season two for a string of offences including drink-driving and stealing alcohol, she goes on a lengthy rant at the judge: “I was trying to take control of my life, you know, only to find that it’s actually controlled for me by petty bureaucracy and bits of bloody paper – ignorant bloody petty rules and laws that just obstruct every tiny little action until you’ve committed a crime without even knowing it!” Sound familiar?

But she continues: “Why can’t life just be made a little easier for everybody? Why can’t it be more like the Continent, you know, where a man can just park his car on the pavement and then run down the street in front of charging bulls while letting fireworks off out of his bloody nostrils without anyone blinking an eye? Because it’s probably a local holiday and nobody’s at work because they all want to have just a LITTLE BIT OF FUN and they’re not intimidated by some outdated ‘work ethic’.” What’s to argue with there?

Eddy’s daughter Saffron, the sensible antithesis to her mother’s mad excess, is also about as far as you can get from an inward-looking Brexiteer. She embraces the educational opportunities of Britain’s university system – and who knows what’ll happen to that after Brexit – before travelling the world and eventually spending time in jail for giving asylum seekers fake passports. She is the close-the-border-we’re-full brigade’s worst nightmare.

Will Brexit mean we can never again have a whole fridge just for expensive champagne, disgrace ourselves by trashing a chalet in Val d’Isere, or get drunk for a week in the house of a random man thinking it’s the holiday home we have booked because we speak zero French, all of which Patsy and Eddy have done at some point? Obviously not.

But as the economy heads back in the wrong direction, the pound struggles and everyone faces increasing uncertainty about the future, Eddy and Patsy’s not-a-care-in-the-world-sweetie-darling international lifestyle is already looking pretty dated.

The central joke throughout much of Ab Fab is that mother Eddy behaves like a ridiculous teenager, while her prematurely middle-aged daughter is the nagging parent. But when younger generations watch the show, will they find this funny? Or simply come to the realisation that they are doomed to forever be Saffys, left to clean up their Leave-voting parents and grandparents’ mess.

This is part of the New Statesman’s look back at classic 90s sitcoms. Find the previous instalment, on Only Fools and Horses, here.

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