Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"There’s nothing to challenge or expand upon the average viewer’s pre-existing knowledge of who Janey is." | Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

As the vast majority of her fans will be aware, Janey Godley is seriously ill. Suffering from ovarian cancer, she doesn’t expect to have much life left to her, and the choice of this documentary to close this year’s Glasgow Film Festival felt like a tribute delivered whilst she was still around to see it. She might at least congratulate herself on having lived to see Donald Trump convicted on 34 counts, having gone viral for following him around a golf course with a sign reading ‘Trump is a cunt’. Janey has never been a shrinking violet. This film captures what was expected to be her last tour, and whilst that may indeed be the case, as long as she’s alive, she’ll be telling the world what she thinks.

Appropriately enough, the film begins with her walking onto a stage – an empty stage, as she and her daughter Ashley, together with dog-in-arms Honey, survey the arena where she’s going to be performing. Her agent, Chris, and best friend, Shirley, are also on hand – all the family. They are the people with whom she cheerily discusses her funeral – the people she knows will have her back.

Copy picture

Not everybody else does, and she knows that she’s partly to blame for that. The film doesn’t waste any time in dealing with the thorny subject of the racist and ableist tweets that got her in trouble in 2021. She has previously apologised for these and here we see her trying to reckon with them; it’s a shame to see her talked out of this self-reflection and reassured that only the ‘stakeholders’ matter – media companies etc., as if people of colour and disabled people were not stakeholders. “I have used phrases, words, comments with horrifically despicable undertones. First I got cancelled and then I got cancer,” she acknowledges – and later, “Ye cannae just pass that aff as comedy.” Still, one wonders if filmmaker John Archer might not have benefited from thinking for two seconds before soundtracking this with anti-Apartheid anthem Something Inside So Strong.

Janey has had a rough life and her strength in other areas should not be underestimated. The cancer is the least of it. She speaks candidly here about the abuse she suffered in childhood at the hands of her brother and her uncle, about the effects of growing up in a violent home and about her mother’s murder. She still really misses her mother, but worries at the idea of being reunited with all of her relatives in the afterlife. Her memories of her marriage are also grim at times, and of some of the people who used to visit the pub that she ran with husband Jim. If this sounds like a difficult watch, well, that’s true in places, but you might be surprised by how quickly you find yourself laughing.

Janey’s rough life has taught her resilience. It has also inclined to grab happiness at every opportunity, and to find tremendous joy in small things. The pure delight she shows at the fact that Luke Skywalker liked her Trump sign is a pleasure to see. Then there’s the comedy itself. We see snippets of her shows, and her famous dubbing of Nicola Sturgeon speeches, the former First Minister herself turning up to join in the fun. Ashley is in the early stages of a stand-up career but can easily hold her own in front of a stadium crowd already. She has the same fierceness as her mother, the same readiness to speak her mind, and although it’s not addressed directly, this speaks to a triumph on Janey’s part too – it’s not easy to raise a kid that well whilst dealing with everything else she’s been through.

Well supplied with old home movie footage and photos, the film also takes in visits to some of Janey’s former homes and other significant locations which bind together present and past, as she draws on events that happened there to form the bedrock of her observational comedy. There’s no shortage of rich material to explore, and with her natural charisma and storytelling talent thrown into the mix, the film easily entertains. That said, it misses opportunities to really get to grips with the issues, and too often feels as if it’s just skimming over the surface of something much more interesting. There’s nothing to challenge or expand upon the average viewer’s pre-existing knowledge of who Janey is, and although some of the conversations it sits in on feel extremely intimate in terms of subject matter, there is never any really sense of risk. It’s an affectionate profile of someone who might have been better served by a gutsier take – and the audience likewise.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2024
Share this with others on...
Documentary profile of comic Janey Godley.

Director: John Archer

Starring: Janey Godley

Year: 2024

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2024

Search database: