Absolutely Fabulous femmes behaved badly and didn't need to talk only about men

British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous makes it to the big screen with more bad behaviour from the female leads as they age shamelessly and party on

Edina "Eddy" Monsoon and Patsy Stone are once again living it up in an absolutely fabulous manner as stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley reprise their ever-popular British sitcom characters for a long- awaited, champagne-soaked outing on the big screen.

Absolutely Fabulous broke new ground when it first aired in 1992 for showing women behaving badly and also for starring women whose lives did not revolve around men.

"All the earlier TV shows hinged on girls wanting men, having boyfriends, losing boyfriends," says Mandie Fletcher, director of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, and episodes of the television show.

"But Absolutely Fabulous was unique in that it was not about all of that. It was about a female friendship. It still is about two female train wrecks who are good friends and who are hilarious. And that, I think, is pretty unique."

Absolutely Fabulous was unique in that... it was about a female friendship. It still is about two female train wrecks who are good friends, and who are hilarious. And that, I think, is pretty unique.

MANDIE FLETCHER, director of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Lead actress Saunders created the series, evolving it from a sketch she wrote with Dawn French, which aired on their comedy series French & Saunders in 1990.

The first three series of Absolutely Fabulous were then broadcast on the BBC from 1992 to 1995, followed by a series finale, a two-part television film titled The Last Shout, in 1996.

The show has since enjoyed two comeback series in the early 2000s and a number of special episodes - all of which sold around the world.

Still, it was not enough for fans, who have been clamouring for the ditsy duo to return.

The set-up in the film echoes the series, following the antics of Eddy (Saunders), a booze and drugaddled public relations guru, and her even more hedonistic sidekick, Patsy (Lumley), in their desperate bid to keep appearing young.

Saunders, 58, says: "We have done a number of series and we did three specials in 2012 and there's always been an idea for a film. But it was only recently, with the growth of digital cameras making it a lot cheaper and easier that it became more viable to do a film.

"We noticed that a lot of TV series were being made into films and we thought, 'Well, let's have a go.'"

As with the series, the film- makers knew they had to "find the funny" if the film were to work.

Fletcher, 61, says: "Jennifer, Jo and myself didn't think of women's issues in particular as we were making this. We are funny people and we were just trying to find the funny."

That said, she is proud of the film's lack of reliance on men. She points to the Bechdel Test created by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, which is a simple gauge of female representation and gender inequality in film.

To pass the test, a film must have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

"If you look at Ab Fab, I think that we pass that Bechdel Test with flying colours," says Fletcher.

"And I think it is fantastic that people love the series and our movie so much because it is quite uncompromising."

Not only does the Ab Fab brand portray independent women behaving badly with no male influence, but it also hits the zeitgeist, showing us a world in which people are ageing in an increasingly shameless manner.

"It is the truth that we do stay younger and it is rather cool," says Saunders.

"My mother looked middle-aged by the time she was 30, it seemed to me, and now, she is dressing younger than ever. Genetically, we should all be dead by the time we are 40, but now we have this other 40 years to live and we are sort of flapping about in the wind."

Ab Fab has also proved somewhat prescient in its presentation of Eddy's down-to-earth daughter Saffy (played by Julia Sawalha), whose constant caring for her mother and Patsy leaves her weary.

In Britain and much of the Western world, it is often the post-World War II "baby boomer" generation that behaves badly while youngsters are better behaved.

Stories of rock star excess, for example, seem to apply to the likes of The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses - the bands of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - rather than to their modern-day counterparts.

"It is extraordinary," Lumley, 70, says. "There are a lot of Saffys in the younger generation."

Saunders agrees, saying: "I think that is true. It's probably because they have seen such ghastly behaviour.

"But also they realise they have to pay their own way through university now. We never had to do that. They start life with debt and you think, 'My God, that must change your mindset.' By the time you get a job you must think, 'I am going to work now. I can't mess about.' We used to mess about a lot."

For all the changes in the world, it is somewhat comforting to see Eddy and Patsy behaving as badly as ever.

"Well, one day we will all be dead," Saunders says, "so let's just have as much fun as possible."

•Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie opens in Singapore tomorrow.


Absolutely Fabulous TV scenes

The leading ladies and their director on Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie pick their favourite moments from the original series.

Jennifer Saunders: I love the moment when Patsy and Eddy are very old and they are living with Saffy in some big house. Patsy suddenly spots a flower, sniffs the flower, but sniffs a bee up her nose. But because she has no septum after all the drug use, the bee just flops back into her mouth and comes out. They both start laughing. Then Patsy's pants fall down.

Mandie Fletcher: I think that's my favourite moment, too.

Joanna Lumley: We laughed so much that day I thought I might die. Eddy just picks up the pants and whizzes them into a bush.

The director was quite cross with us for laughing so much, which made us even worse. It was like laughing in church. We couldn't stop. It was hysterical.

We couldn't do another take. And we were dressed as old people, which made us extremely happy.

Saunders: Another of my favourites is when Patsy has a small lump in her breast and she has to do a breast check and she doesn't know what it is and Saffy has to do it for her.

And there's a moment where Saffy goes, 'Oh God, what's that?' and it is just an old bottle top.

Oh, I also love the moment when they burst in on the morning of Saffy's wedding and they wax Saffy's moustache.

Lumley: I love very much when Edina goes for a run around the block and she's so equipped with water bottles and and sports shoes and everything and she goes off about one mile an hour. Her arms are going frantically, but she's just so hopeless.

Fletcher: If it's not the bee moment when they're old and Patsy sniffs the bee, then I think I have to go for any scene with Eddy falling out of a taxi.

You can't do it enough for me. I am always looking at a scene and thinking, "This isn't as good as it should be. I wonder if someone could fall out of a taxi."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Girls just wanna have fun... and dress young'. Print Edition | Subscribe