Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Kenneth Cope, Hattie Jacques, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Terry Scott, Charles Hawtrey
Plot: A gang of crooks decide to disguise one of their own as a nurse in a maternity ward to get their hands on some contraceptive pills.
It says a lot about a film series when the 23rd outing is as strong as Carry On Matron. Carry On seems to be the franchise to challenge the rule of diminishing returns as each instalment further hammers home the comedic timing of the team at work here. While it is definitely true that Carry On films are not guaranteed successes, Carry On Matron is one of the stronger entries at this half of the great Carry On reign.
The plot revolves around Sid James, a charming career criminal, deciding that the quickest way to make money is to steal a batch of contraceptive pills from a local maternity hospital and sell them overseas to countries desperate to get their hands on cheap healthcare. However, after an initial scouting trip, James soon realises that the maternity hospital is a hive of chaos, packed to the brim with characters that are so wild and wacky, you would think they were in a Carry On film. After a meet-up with his cronies, the decision is made that James’ son, Kenneth Cope’s son trying to turn honest, should cross dress as a nurse, disguise himself as a trainee and get a layout of the hospital to make the heist easier. The film mainly revolves around Cope trying to keep his manhood hidden from the staff, which is made predictably difficult when he is greeted by his beautiful room-mate Barbara Windsor and Terry Scott (in his last Carry On appearance), as the lecherous doctor who wants to get his hands on as many of the female nurses as possible. As Cope navigates his way through life in the hospital, we are introduced to a range of supporting stars. Taking centre-stage as she has been deserving of for a long time in this franchise is Hattie Jacques as the titular Matron. Taking her stock role from the earlier Carry On films, the writers put her Matron as the connecting narrative device between the stories, as she patrols the halls of the ward, trying to make sense of the chaos. Her main segment of story is dealing with the registrar of the hospital, played as amazingly as ever by Kenneth Williams. Secretly harbouring a crush on Williams, Matron tries to get her boss through his hypochondriac tendencies which accumulate with him developing a theory he is slowly changing into a woman. Also on the side-lines, Matron is concerned about Joan Sims, a woman whose pregnancy is disastrously late, a fact Sims is using to her advantage, making fine work of the hospital’s free beds and meals. These storylines don’t so much connect as climax at the same time, so when the movie hits its final act, it is an explosion of comedy chaos that really shows off what the Carry On films do best.
And in all honesty, at this point in the Carry On franchise, it all comes down to the strength of the jokes. Originality has never been this series’ strong points, recognising the team’s strengths and applying them time after time again. I can commend Jacques’ performance here, but it is simply a more focused take on characters she has been playing. Sid James is as roguishly cheeky as ever. Barbara Windsor supplies ample support as the love interest who is spotted in her underwear. It goes without saying that little will surprise you with Carry On Matron. But it makes the writing all the important, as joke after joke, quite simply, works. The wordplay is delicious fun, as the actors work their way through sketches and gags that are written with the expertise that few people other than the Carry On crew have. Kenneth Williams flirting outrageously with the Matron is a sight that can be witnessed time and time again, as he shamelessly tears into the lines with his usual brand of impossibly energetic fun. Even when you can tell where the jokes are going (Sid James is about to pop out of that wardrobe, Kenneth Connor is about to be hit in the face by that door again), the timing is honed to the point where it makes you chuckle regardless. It’s little more than silly fun, but the Carry On team make that seem like an art.
Final Verdict: Going strong even on the 23rd episode in the series, Carry On Matron is a late surge in quality from the franchise.