Saturday, December 11, 2021

#2,675. A Private Function (1984) - Spotlight on England


Michael Palin has always been my favorite Monty Python alum, and both he and co-star Maggie Smith do a wonderful job as the mismatched husband / wife of director Malcolm Mowbray’s 1984 comedy A Private Function.

ut this is far from a two-person movie; it features a supporting cast that’s every bit as impressive as the leads.

Palin and Smith play Gilbert & Joyce Chilvers, an upwardly mobile couple (if Joyce has anything to say about it, that is) in Post-WWII England.

The small Yorkshire town in which they reside has decided to stage a celebration in honor of the Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Unfortunately, food rationing restrictions put in place during the war have yet to be lifted, making it difficult to plan a menu for the festive occasion. So, some of the town’s more prestigious residents, including Dr. Charles Swaby (Denholm Elliott) and Accountant Henry Allardyce (Richard Griffiths) decide to thumb their nose at rationing by illegally raising a pig to serve as the main course.

Hoping to improve their standing within the community, Gilbert - following Joyce’s lead - kidnaps the pig from the local butcher (Pete Postlethwaite). Joyce is convinced this theft will force the town to notice them, but are the Chilvers truly prepared to keep such an animal hostage in their modest home?

A Private Function features some very funny moments (especially the scenes in which Gilbert and Joyce try to control the pig they’ve so callously unleashed on their humble abode), and the filmmakers did a fine job recreating the late 1940’s time period.

But it’s the cast that makes this one such a treat. Palin is quite good as the meekly Gilbert, a door-to-door foot doctor whose wife looks down on his profession of choice (“Can we please not bring feet to the table?”, she snaps when Gilbert tries to discuss his day over dinner), whereas Smith is hilariously frantic as the wife who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the town’s upper crust (“It’s not just pork, Gilbert”, she says at one point, “It’s power!”).

As for the supporting players, Denholm Elliott is at his pompous best as the snobbish Dr. Swaby, while Griffiths’ Allardyce eventually finds himself enjoying the pig’s company, looking on it more as a pet than a main course. Also strong are Bill Paterson as an uptight meat inspector who comes snooping around and Liz Smith as Joyce’s mother, who is afraid of being put in a home yet acts more senile with each passing scene.

Written by Alan Bennett (who also penned the screenplay for 1994’s The Madness of King George), A Private Function and its wonderful cast of characters will have you smiling ear-to-ear. If you’re a fan of British comedy, this is one you won’t want to miss.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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