Greatest Days: Take That musical nails that awkward adolescent longing for pop-mag pin-ups

Aisling Bea gives a strong performance as a grown-up teenybopper who reunites with old schoolfriends to see their favourite boyband’s come-back gig in this witty and wistful jukebox musical.

Jayde Adams, Amaka Okafor, Alice Lowe and Aisling Bea in Greatest Days (2023)

For teenage girls, boy-band fandom can be a source of joy, consolation, bonding and sexual awakening. All of these aspects are explored and celebrated in Coky Giedroyc’s witty and wistful adaption of Take That jukebox musical The Band. But never forget, between the homemade posters and the dirty day-dreams, there is something charmingly ridiculous about the passion of adolescent girls for their pop-mag pin-ups. Greatest Days nails this awkward longing perfectly. When ‘the boys’ come to comfort Rachel in her darkest hours, they are as likely to be squirming out of kitchen cabinets to serenade her while she makes spaghetti on toast as striking catalogue-model poses on the brow of a hill.

Comic Aisling Bea stars as grown up Rachel, who still loves her teen idols but has lost touch with the schoolfriends back in Clitheroe who shared her obsession. When she wins tickets for a come-back gig in Athens, the women stage their own reunion, while flashbacks fill us in on their 1993 selves. Bea gives a strong performance as a teenybopper struggling to move on, with Lara McDonnell excellent and tuneful as her teenage incarnation. Jayde Adams, Alice Lowe and Amaka Okafor make the most of the film’s more predictable plotlines and gags as Rachel’s grown-up besties. Those jokes work best when served very dry (an optimistic Ceefax headline about Britain in the EU) or slightly surreal (when Greek fountain statuary springs to life). Building on the 90s-set quirkiness of her 2019 Caitlin Moran adaptation How to Build a Girl, Giedroyc’s direction is as bold as it is affectionate.

The musical sequences are central, but work better as jokes than as spectacle. ‘Relight My Fire’ transforms a night bus into a gay disco (a nod to Take That’s early gigs), with the driver a resplendent drag queen. When the airport tarmac hosts a 1930s Hollywood production number, it’s clear the budget falls far short of Busby Berkeley’s dreams. The songs themselves, covered by the cast, lose a little of their anthemic power too. This is perhaps the point, though. The backflipping crooners who follow Rachel around are just a tribute act: it’s the girls themselves who are the real stars.

It wouldn’t be a tribute to Take That without the spectre of a break-up, and lots of tears, as the film strives to remind us that we can admire, as well as cringe at, our younger selves. The film’s most poignant moment has to be the cameo on a Greek train by the real band. It’s not that ‘the That’ are playing buskers, it’s that, blub, there are only three of them.

 ► Greatest Days arrives in UK cinemas on 16 June.