The marvellous Victoria Wood returned to our screens the other night with her first Christmas special in nearly a decade - a show which reunited her with, among others, her old friend Julie "Mrs Overall" Walters.
Here, to savour while we're still in the mood, is a not-remotely-serious documentary, showing how it was all was put together. Sort of.Mike Ward, Daily Star, 30th December 2009
Victoria Wood's Midlife Christmas (BBC1, Thursday), nine years in the coming and worth the wait, was just as good as Morecambe and Wise. Every sketch was polished till it shone, right down to the big finish, a Busby Berkeley production number where bespectacled blokes in beige woollies and their wives in underwired undies danced exhilaratingly to Let's Do It.
In an extended sketch, Bo Beaumont (Julie Walters), an actress whose career had been all downhill since she appeared as Mrs Overall in a low-budget soap, and her dowdy, devoted assistant, Wendy (Victoria Wood), went through a series of disastrous TV auditions from I Am a Celebrity (based on a Japanese endurance game) to Dancing On Ice with Torvill and Dean (memorable for Julie Walters extraordinary legs, collapsible as sugar tongs). We left them at home enjoying When Gastric Bands Wear Out.
Another sketch, Lark Pies to Cranchesterfield, the sepia-tinted tale of a poor flitcher and his daughter, Araminty, who left home to better herself in the post office ("Our Araminty's going to 'ave 'er 'air straightened!") caught programmes like Cranford and Victorian Farm Christmas full in the small of the back. Much as the Manchester express caught Bessie ("Cow on the line!") as she grazed unaware on the railway track in Cranford.Nancy Banks-Smith, The Guardian, 28th December 2009
Victoria Wood, God bless her, had a crack at Lark Rise to Candleford in her Christmas Eve special, Victoria Wood's Midlife Christmas, packaged and presented as a kindly gift to middle-aged couch potatoes. The target was a whale in a barrel, frankly, but there were still some fine jokes, including the scene in which Cranchesterford's teenagers exchanged embroidery text messages, stitching like fury and then handing the frame over to a nearby urchin to deliver. There were also some terrible jokes, though knowingly and lovingly handcrafted to be terrible, so that it didn't matter. Given its content, the line "I could have been a corn tender", uttered by the family paterfamilias when he wistfully recalled his unfulfilled ambition to go into the seed trade, was surely an unbeatable candidate for corniest gag of the Christmas break. Julie Walters was on good form too as Bo Beaumont, fruitlessly struggling to build public presence after years of playing Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques. She walked out of Strictly Come Dancing because she couldn't master the three-step warm-up Anton du Beke tried to teach her, was passed over for a new Delia series because her signature dish - crackermole, a sardine on a Tuc cracker - didn't appeal, and pulled out of Who Do You Think You Are? when it becomes clear that she was going to have to reveal her true name and date of birth.Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent, 28th December 2009
Her return to television has been hotly anticipated. But did Victoria Wood's Christmas show live up to expectations?Vicky Frost, The Guardian, 24th December 2009
Even devotees of BBC1's cute historical drama Lark Rise to Candleford would admit that it's deliciously spoofworthy, what with its myriad of quaint Victorian niceties and arch dialogue. So it will surprise no one that the masterly Victoria Wood presents Lark Pies to Cranchesterford as part of her much-anticipated Christmas special, telling the touching story of young Araminty, who leaves her rural hamlet for a job in the Post and Potato Office.
Midlife Christmas promises to be a real treat for anyone who thinks Wood has been away from television for too long. Yes, she did Housewife 49 (very successfully), but that was a drama and Wood is queen of the sharp, pitch-perfect sketch show.
Here she looks stern as Sir Alan Sugar's sidekick Margaret Mountford in an Apprentice send-up, and we revisit Bo Beaumont (Julie Walters), the pretentious actress who plays Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques. Guests include Delia Smith, Torvill and Dean, Anton du Beke and Reece Shearsmith.Alison Graham, Radio Times, 24th December 2009
Now that our appetite has been whetted by Monday's retrospective, Victoria Wood - Seen on TV, here's the queen of comedy's brand new special in which she tries to help all those so shattered by the sheer slog of festive preparations. "Christmas is a stressful time," says Wood. "By compressing an evening's viewing into 60 minutes, we hope families will have more time for other festive traditions such as arguing with relatives and defrosting turkeys under the hot tap." Sketches, spoofs and silliness abound. Long-time collaborator Julie Walters is on hand to play the wonderful Bo Beaumont, the once-popular Acorn Antiques actress who believes she's still a star despite her reduced circumstances and innumerable failed attempts to get on every reality show from Strictly to Dancing on Ice. This scenario allows room for appearances from Anton du Beke, Torvill and Dean and Delia Smith. Then there's "Lark Pies to Cranchesterford", an affectionate spoof of just about every costume drama ever made, and "The 2009 Mid-Life Olympics" (events include 4 x 400 hedge trimming). All of which amounts to as entertaining yet reassuringly traditional an hour of fun as only Wood can serve up.Gerard O'Donovan, The Telegraph, 23rd December 2009
In her first Christmas special since 2000, Wood presents a sketch compendium dedicated to the vagaries of middle age. There is an episode of Lark Pies to Cranchesterford and the return of Julie Walters as delusional soap duchess Bo Beaumont. The one-liners crackle but there's an air of exhaustion to the proceedings, with skits on txt spk and the menopause so quarter-baked you start to wonder whether it might be time to reassess Wood's hitherto incontestable Grade II-listed status. But then along comes Walters with another joke about biscuits and, phew, everything goes national treasure-shaped again. In a nutshell: lumpy.Sarah Dempster, The Guardian, 23rd December 2009
Victoria Wood does not appeal to everyone but she does have a large and devoted following - almost a cult - which includes my mother-in-law, whose enthusiasm is undimmed by dementia. "Christmas," says Wood, "can be a difficult time for those struggling with that bonnet-free wasteland between the last Lark Rise and the next Cranford" - and so she steps in to fill the gap with Lark Pies to Cranchesterford, the heartwarming story of a young girl who leaves her rural hamlet for a job in the Post and Potato Office. In among the sketches are personal-injury commercials, unlikely sporting events and a dance number in which the midriff bulge is given the Busby Berkeley treatment. She will be joined by long-time collaborator Julie Walters alongside Delia Smith and Torvill and Dean.David Chater, The Times, 19th December 2009