UK / Palace – Handmade / 92 minutes / 1990
Writer and Director: Jonathan Lynn / Producer: Michael White / Production Design: Simon Holland / Music: Hidden Faces / Cinematography: Michael Garfath
Cast: Eric Idle, Robbie Coltrane, Camille Coduri, Janet Suzman, Doris Hare, Lila Kaye, Robert Patterson, Robert Morgan
Writer and director Jonathan Lynn’s sprightly and inventive variation on the theme of Some Like It Hot was a deserved success in the United States, where it became the most successful British comedy since A Fish Called Wanda and was described as an “uproarious British import” by The New York Times .
The genre, smoothly established by Lynn’s entertainingly inventive screenplay and direction, is cross-dressing comedy, impure and simple. Minor London criminals Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane scheme to double-cross their ruthless gangster boss Robert Patterson, who plans to steal £1 million from a Triad gang. Patterson also intends to dispose of Idle and Coltrane but his plans are overheard by terminally near-sighted Camille Coduri, whom the love-smitten Idle has found a job at Patterson’s club. She warns Idle and Coltrane and they beat Patterson to the punch and make off with the stolen money. But when they go on the run with both the police and gangsters after them their getaway car runs out of petrol and they are forced to take refuge in a convent where they disguise themselves as nuns.
Their masquerade is successful, in spite of Idle becoming the target of the amorous attentions of father Tom Hickey. Coduri, having seen Idle and Coltrane hide out, turns up at the convent but fails to make contact with them. She is grabbed by Triad gangsters, who free her after she directs them to Patterson. Coduri walks into a lamp-post and is taken to hospital with concussion. Idle and Coltrane manage to get out of the convent and, aware that both Patterson and the Triads are after Coduri – who now realises Idle loves her – take the money and, pursued by Suzman and Sister Lila Kaye, who have tumbled to their masquerade, head for the hospital to save Coduri.
They make their escape with Coduri and one of the cash-filled suitcases after a series of close encounters of the farcical kind with both the police and Patterson and his hoodlums. The nuns find the other suitcase and declare the windfall a “miracle”, which they intend to use for their drug rehabilitation programme…
Lynn, who (with co-writer Anthony Jay) was responsible for the award-winning Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister television comedy series and directed the successful Hollywood comedy My Cousin Vinny with Joe Pesci in 1992, filmed Nuns on the Run over nine weeks on some 30 locations in London alone, as well as in Felixstowe and at Shepperton Studios, and made the most of his invigorating screenplay and his ideal cast.
The Sunday Telegraph said: “Lynn has written a thoroughly British film … too many British comedies fail to engage our sympathy for any of the characters, while American films usually make the opposite mistake of labouring the heroes’ humanity to the point of sentimentality. Lynn’s screenplay avoids both traps … this is actor-director Lynn’s triumph”.