Babs is a very hit and miss one-off drama about the life of British national treasure Barbara Windsor, who’s played by not one, not two, but a total of four actresses, plus the lady herself.
Her youngest self is played by Florence Keen, giving great support for the titular lady when she started as a child star, followed by Jaime Winstone as she becomes a young woman and on into her Carry On career. All of this is overseen from start to finish by her late 50s self as Samantha Spiro, both adult actresses being brilliant in this. In her latter guise, where we begin in 1993 – just before she started work on Eastenders and when she met her current husband, Scott (Charlie Archer), she’s reminscing back to earlier points in her life from when she first stepped on a stage during World War II, to the point where everyone she’s known comes back to visit her or appear before her while acting out scenes from her life in years gone by.
Her late father, John (Nick Moran), reminds her that when she was young and got herself in trouble, he told her, “take some time, think through what happened, go back over everything, work out what you did wrong, and don’t do it again. Take a deep breath, and soon you’ll be on the sunny side of the street” (cue the song popping up now and again)
What follows is a very uneven and bizarre drama as she talks to her dead parents – her mother, Rose, played by Leanne Best, we see them splitting up, Ms Windsor’s disastrous marriages, particularly with jailbird Ronnie Knight (Luke Allen-Gale), working with Joan Littlewood (Zoë Wanamaker), and even meeting the Kray twins – both played Rob Compton, similar to when Tom Hardy portrayed them in Legend, which is a nice addition. Occasionally, you’ll also hear the lady’s famous laugh, but it’s clearly overdubbed from the original. No-one can imitate her. As such, the real Babs popping up with cameos from time to time.
Note also that Samantha Spiro has played Barbara Windsor twice before – once in 1998 at the Royal National Theatre in Terry Johnson’s play, “Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick”, and again when he also adapted for TV in 2000 as “Cor, Blimy!”, opposite Benidorm’s Geoffrey Hutchings as Sid James.
In fact, despite their depicted love affair, Mr James doesn’t get a single mention in this!
Overall, though, Babs isn’t brilliant but it passes 90 minutes without too much discomfort. However, the last 15 minutes are the best when Spiro and Moran are sparring off each other as they discuss the difficulties from their lives. The rest of the time it’s very much just treading water.
Babs is available to pre-order on DVD, ahead of its release on May 15th. If you missed it, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission, and click on the DVD packshot for the full-size version.
Director: Dominic Leclerc
Producer: Jules Hussey
Writer: Tony Jordan
Music: Rob Lane
Babs: Samantha Spiro
Barbara: Jaime Winstone
John Deeks: Nick Moran
Rose Deeks: Leanne Best
Joan Littlewood: Zoë Wanamaker
Herself: Barbara Windsor
Ronnie Knight: Luke Allen-Gale
Scott Mitchell: Charlie Archer
Gerald Thomas: Nicholas Asbury
Lionel Bart: Daniel Ben Zenou
Aida Foster: Marty Cruikshank
Ronnie Kray: Rob Compton
Reggie Kray: Rob Compton
Julie Deeks: Julia Ford
Warren Beatty: Tom Forbes
Ronnie Scott: Ross Green
Bernard Cribbins: Rob Hughes
Teen Barbara: Honor Kneafsey
Peter Charlesworth: Alex Macqueen
Jayne Mansfield: Jerry-Jane Pears
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.