Undertaking Betty provides a comedic romp behind-the-scenes at two funeral homes in the small village of Wrottin-Powys in Wales. This funeral film offers a fun way to start funeral planning conversations by showing both traditional and highly outrageous personalized send-offs.
Betty Rhys-Jones (Brenda Blethyn) is not happy with her life. Her husband is cheating on her with his secretary and Betty must tend to her overbearing mother-in-law Dilys. After Dilys chokes on multi-fiber oat bran, she reconnects with the local undertaker Boris Plots (Alfred Molina) who has been in love with her since childhood. He bares his heart and wins her over with fancy ballroom dancing (take note of the names of their cats – Fred the tuxedo cat and Ginger the orange tabby).
Boris and Betty decide to fake her death so they can run away from Wrottin-Powys and be together forever. However, Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken), the competing undertaker in town, complicates things.
Frank describes his contemporary approach to funerals saying, “Funeral fashion… it’s the next big thing… the catwalk corpse…. I want to create a whole new kind of funeral. Keep in mind the root word of funeral is ‘fun.’ Fantasy fun-erals will be the funerals of the future.”
The reality TV show “Best Funeral Ever” making a debut on TLC in January 2013 shows that theme funerals are a rising trend. Frank Featherbed in Undertaking Betty was a true visionary ten years earlier. He stunned funeral goers with costumes, music and props reflective of the passions and interests of the deceased.
The Star Trek funeral is not to be missed! Featherbed finds a metal pod coffin, red crew outfits and inspiring music. In the original Star Trek series it was always the nameless crewmen in the red shirts that were killed off when they beamed down to a planet.
And then there’s a big show for Mrs. Candace Pontefreece who must have been a fan of musical theatre. Frank puts together a song-and-dance routine, showgirls in rhinestones and feathers and a plethora of pink.
If you might want to make a big splash with your own send-off, Undertaking Betty offers these two examples for your inspiration.
Small Town Funerals
There’s an amusing countdown on the Wrottin-Powys population sign as various funerals are held. It goes from 7,511 to 7,510 (The Star Trek funeral for Mrs. Elsie Edwards); 7,509 (A traditional funeral for Mrs. Dilys Rhys-Jones); 7,508 (The big musical sendoff for Mrs. Candace Pontefreece); and 7,507 (An open coffin funeral for Mrs. Betty Rhys-Jones).
A professional rivalry between traditionalist Boris Plots and trendsetter Frank Featherbed illustrates a problem funeral directors face in small towns. In a town with a population of 7,500, the competition for handling funerals is fierce. You only have so many people die over the course of a year in a town that size.
Frank and his sidekick Delbert visit the funerals put on by Boris to “scope out the competition.” The scenes where Frank examines the hair and makeup on the bodies done by Boris are very funny, especially since at the funeral for Betty she is actually still alive in the coffin. Delbert has to keep Frank from touching the bodies.
Because this is a comedy and Boris does want to leave town with Betty, he winds up selling out his business to Frank who becomes an ally by the end of the film.
Coffins, Caskets and Cremation
Since the story is set in Wales, you’ll see more coffins than caskets portrayed in the funerals. Coffins are the six-sided boxes wider at the shoulders and narrower at the head and feet. Caskets are rectangular boxes. Coffins are the more traditional choice for caskets in Great Britain.
Yet this film pays no attention to the fact that cremation is the preferred disposition method in England. The cremation rate in England and Wales was about 75% in 2002 (the year this film came out). According to the Cremation Society of Great Britain, by 2011 the cremation rate climbed to 77% of the population.
Nonetheless, Undertaking Betty is a fun comedy that will make you laugh and open the door to talk about your own funeral plans with your family. Also known by the earlier title of Plots with a View, the DVD is available on Netflix and Amazon.com.
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and host of A Good Goodbye TV. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.