Greatest Days review: Take That, Clitheroe, and an early summer movie delight

The cast of Take That musical Greatest Days.
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A party of a movie featuring the songs of Take That, Greatest Days is an ambitious musical you’ll love regardless of your musical tastes.

A confession: my shelves are not creaking under the weight of my Take That music collection, nor have I been to see the hit musical show The Band, penned by Tim Firth. These are two of the core ingredients of the film Greatest Days, which mixes up a selection of tunes that fans from both the first and second lifetimes of the five/four/three-member group will recognise. Thus, I came to this relatively cold. I can’t even weave a decent pun from the name of a Take That song into the opening paragraph. It’s a tepid start.

The film, however, is a wonderful surprise.

Greatest Days is, at heart, the story of Rachel (Aisling Bea), nearly 40. Working as a nurse, she wins a radio competition to see her beloved music idols ‘The Boys’ in concert (who serve as a sort of Greek chorus version of Take That throughout the film), and looks to reunite her old friends to relive old times. It’s then that we move backwards in time to meet late teenage Rachel too, played by Lara McDonnell, after which the film then jumps between two  time periods (complete with a 1990s branch of WHSmith) as it builds its story.

It’s a friendship tale at heart too, one boasting a fine array of performances from its ensemble, and proudly camped in the north west of England. Amongst a lively, energetic cast, bonus points to the wonderful Jayde Adams, and the amazing hair and work of the ever brilliant Alice Lowe. It’s the McDonnell/Bea double act that leads the way, amidst a feast of strong performances here.

The narrative then plays out against a surprisingly sparing collection of Take That songs. As tempting as it is to draw inevitable and not unreasonable Mamma Mia! parallels (it’s better than the first Mamma Mia! film, just shy of the outstanding Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), there’s actually a lighter use of big musical numbers here than in the Abba-themed movies of the last decade. But heck, when director Coky Giedroyc and choreographer Drew McOnie go for it and get the Take That tunes blasting, they go for it. It’s full-on cinema musical stuff.

Take one number that starts on a seemingly simple bus: it builds like an action sequence, continually upping the ante and all but bursting out of the screen by the time the last lyric is sung, and the last step is danced. I found myself watching it, constantly smiling at how it evolved and kept expanding. It was very, very clear that a lot of people had put in a shift. A further number on the tarmac of an airport even more so.  I found myself looking forward to rewatching certain moments even as they were playing out for the first time in front of my eyes. What’s more, it was quite lovely to see a warm overseas location on the one hand, and then a sizeable sequence in the English northern town of Clitheroe too. Geography matters here.

Scattered around the film, you get some practical tips for haggling at a jumble sale, a fair few surprises (one of which is almost certain to generate a sizeable chuckle), a subplot involving Marc Wootton’s character that’s a bit of a weak link, and a determination from the filmmakers that you’re going to get your money’s worth. The finale in particular is utterly joyful, a testament to the ambition you’re getting. I’ll go further: it’s really quite moving.

It’s a delightful cinematic treat this, with its front foot forward, and sporting influences as broad as Inception, Busby Berkeley and Spice World: The Movie.

Projected onto a big screen, and belted through a top notch sound system, you won’t find a better movie party all year. Feel free to add your own Take That song pun here. But however you feel about the band, this is a film that delivers a whole lot more than you might be expecting. An unexpected high bar to really kick the summer movie season off…

Greatest Days is in cinemas on 16th June.

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