Film: A Private Function


Cast includes: Michael Palin (A Fish Called Wanda), Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)
Screenplay: Alan Bennett (The History Boys)
Genre: Very irreverent comedy (1984)

In brief: The year is 1947, and Brits are beginning to wonder, “what the last war was for.” Bacon rations have just been cut from meager to microscopic. Everything is in short supply, but the national obsession is about food. Government meat inspectors, aka the Gestapo, have a thankless job of trying to crush the black market. Meanwhile, there is one bright spot on the horizon… the royal wedding. In just a few weeks, Princess Elizabeth is to marry Prince Philip, and people all over England are planning parties to celebrate. In fact, Dr. Swaby, Henry and Frank are going over their guest list now. It’s to be a private function, for only 150 of the town’s most elite. The Chilvers won’t be on the guest list, of course. Gilbert Cilvers is the local chiropodist (foot doctor). But one day, people in their town “will sit up and take notice.” Gilbert is about to open a “surgery on the Parade.”

In the meantime, Gilbert’s practice is comprised mostly of housewives who need their toenails and calluses attended to. Although Gilbert has an automobile, he “can’t get the juice.” So he makes his rounds on his bicycle… and somehow seems to cross paths with Dr. Swaby at every turn. Dr. Swaby doesn’t merely dislike Gilbert… he detests him… “that jaunty, toenail-clipping sod!” Back home, Joyce Chilvers dreams of better times… both past and future. “We used to eat meat at every meal. My father wore a flower in his buttonhole. It’s not just steak; it’s status. It’s not just pork; it’s power.” As it happens, Gilbert gets wind of an illegal pig being raised on a local farm. If he can steal it, they can have all the pork they want. What Gilbert doesn’t know is that Dr. Swaby and his friends are planning to serve this illegal pig, Betty, at their private function in honor of the royal wedding.

Many American moviegoers underestimate the British when it comes to humor. While Brits may have an outward appearance of stiff upper lip, their humor is wickedly funny and wickedly irreverent. In fact, if you object to bathroom humor, you’d better skip this one. That’s not to say that A Private Function is fast moving or raucous. In fact the beginning is deceptively calm, as we start learning the characters and the conflicts in this picturesque little town. Things pick up, for obviously reasons, when Betty comes on the scene. Among other things, someone has given Betty some rhubarb leaves to eat. Rhubarb always gives Betty “the squids.” No matter… regardless of the ridiculous situation, Joyce is determined to handle it all with dignity.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for the fun, irreverant story, great script, and wonderful acting. It's a little slow to develop in the beginning... because there's a lot of ground work to be done. But it's totally worth it.

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