Following directly on from the previous episode, Christmas finds the relationship between Bren (Victoria Wood) and Tony (Andrew Dunn) deepening – although the dramatic cliffhanger from last time (Tony and Bren enjoyed their first kiss, only to be interrupted by Bren’s estranged husband) has to be addressed first.
Although the first series of dinnerladies was traditional sitcom fare (in that each episode had a fairly linear plot) it’s clear that Victoria Wood had more ambitious plans for the second and final series. Sitcoms with continuing storylines aren’t unique (Brass is a good example of a show with a strong serial theme) but they are unusual.
The growing attraction between Tony and Bren is one of the major plot-threads of series two, but all of the main characters have their own individual story arcs which peak at different times. Drama mixes with comedy here, as Bren finds herself plagued by self doubt. She can see a possible future with Tony, but her life to date (exemplified by her disastrous first marriage) makes her convinced that she’ll “bugger it all up” somehow.
Tony initially reassures her that nothing’s changed between them, but then later he becomes distant and distracted – which suggests that he’s lost interest. He hasn’t of course (instead he’s rushing around attempting to organise an impressive Christmas and Birthday treat for her). It has to be said that this is a slightly clumsy piece of plotting, since it demands that Bren has to jump to the wrong conclusion several times.
With Victoria Wood doing the heavy-lifting, drama-wise, the rest of the cast get all the best jokes. Anita (Shobna Gulati) has her usual stream of bizarre conversational non sequiturs (today involving Disco Monks, thoughts of Michael Aspel, Sooty’s suitability as James Bond and bacon) whilst Jean (Anne Reid) and Dolly (Thelma Barlow) continue their gentle game of one-upmanship. Jean’s latest attempt to roll back the years (she’s wearing an all-in-one bodyshaper but is having a spot of trouble with the studs) causes much merriment amongst those waiting for bacon – most notably Bob (Bernard Wrigley).
Bob later returns with Jane (Sue Devaney) for a spot of singing and dancing which draws a round of applause from the studio audience. The unexpected arrival of Bren’s mother, Petula (Julie Walters), also – as always – entertains the audience. With Janette Krankie in tow as her equally down-at-heel friend, Janice, Petula causes her usual amount of strife and discord, although there’s a nice sense of community as everybody else – in Bren’s absence – elects to send her packing. If Bren has commitment issues then it’s in no small part due to her mother, who dumped her at an orphanage when she was a child (“I had her too early, there was too much going on. You can’t jive with one hand on a pram handle”).
There’s not a great deal of Stan (Duncan Preston) in this one, which is a shame, although he does have one lovely and typically bizarre monologue. “Did I ever tell you about the day I had to go to casualty with a dart in me head? If you take my head as a dartboard it went in here (pointing to his chin) low score. Double top I’d have been dead”. Although there’s method in his madness as he’s attempting to distract Bren, who’s on the verge of leaving Tony and the canteen forever.
But then it’s revealed that Tony hadn’t forgotten to get her a present – in fact he’s managed to smuggle the Black Dyke Band into the canteen ….
This is another of those moments where you have to suspend your disbelief somewhat – not only that Tony could persuade the Black Dyke Band to give up their Christmas Eve but also that they were able to get Bren out of the way just long enough to sneak them all in. Well it’s Christmas, so let’s be generous.
Slightly iffy plot mechanics aside, it’s still a touching moment and had the series ended here then it would have seemed like a natural conclusion. But there were four more episodes to come, meaning that everybody’s stories still had a little time to run.