San Ferry Ann, the title of a 1965 silent British comedy film, is a play on words and refers to the French phrase ça ne fait rien. If I’m translating it correctly–it means it doesn’t matter. The French phrase became bastardised by the British during WWI and ended up as San Fairy Ann–similar to murky buckets (merci beaucoup). San Ferry Ann is a further bastardisation and refers to the ferry that ships British holidaymakers over to France. My impression of French cinema that explores the behaviour of the French on holiday is that the films provide opportunities to the fictional characters to reshape their lives amidst philosophical discussion. At the same time I’ll admit this impression is drawn mainly from watching the films of Eric Rohmer. But when it comes to exploring the British on holiday, the emphasis seems to be on the worst sort of bad, boorish behaviour accompanied by an adverse reaction to foreign food–well a resistance to anything foreign. And of course the underlying question is why go abroad in the first place if you want everything to be the same?
The film follows the exploits, trials and tribulations of a handful of British holiday makers in France, and the plot taps into a number of British and French stereotypes, but it’s all great fun and the comic gem makes for a pleasant 55 minutes of nostalgia with a lot of familiar faces of British comedy.
The film begins with the British tourists in line to board the ferry to France. There’s a camper van with husband (David Lodge) and wife (Joan Sims). They bring along a set of parents, Grandad (Wilfred Brambell) and his Mrs. There’s an amorous honeymoon couple (Rodney Bewes and Catherine Feller) and a couple of hitchhikers (Barbara Windsor and Ronnie Stevens).
Since this is a silent film (apart from a few unintelligible phrases), the comedy is strictly visual. There’s boozing in the ferry’s duty-free pub, seasickness, driving on the wrong side of the street, and more than a few hassles with a French gendarme and a bicycle-riding Frenchman wearing the stereotypical onions around his neck. French toilets also come in for some ribbing. Grandad Wilfred Brambell is one of the best characters is the film–he strips off to sunbathe, finds every excuse to ditch his boring family, and strikes up a hilarious relationship with a former German soldier he meets in a war museum.
Of course, since the subject is British tourists abroad, there’s more than one scene in a restaurant, and Joan Sims’s disgust at French cuisine had me in stitches. She’s only happy with a pint of beer and a plate full of chips. Keep an eye open for Warren Mitchell as the snotty maitre d’.