Image Entertainment // 1984 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // February 24th, 2011
A pilfered pig provides a little bacon after the blitz.
Styles of comedy, like different cuts of meat, are an acquired taste. Sausage eaters are not necessarily ham fans. Fans of Will Ferrell don't necessarily spark to Monty Python. Enjoying standup doesn't mean you'll automatically like sketch comedy. As I made my way through Malcolm Mowbray's A Private Function, I realized that, despite my enjoyment of much of the work of the film's writer and performers, this twee post WWII comedy fell into the sausage category. And I guess I'm just more of a ham man.
Though the war has been over for two years, England is still subject to rationing of staples such as meat. So when Gilbert Chilvers (Michael Palin, A Fish Called Wanda), a mild-mannered chiropodist, discovers the presence of a pig being fattened for a celebratory dinner, he gets an idea: egged on by his status-seeking wife (Maggie Smith, California Suite) Gilbert tries to man up and purloin the porcine contraband.
In the post-Python years, each of the troupe's members carved out a specific niche for himself that actually enhanced the legacy of the years they spent working together. Terry Gilliam made a name for himself as a singular -- and singularly maddening -- director of both classics such as Brazil and The Fisher King and noble failures like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Tideland. Eric Idle mined the Python archives to create the massive stage hit Spamalot. Terry Jones went the academic route, authoring tomes on Chaucer, the Roman empire, and the Middle Ages. John Cleese made a fortune as both an actor and a producer of industrial training films. And Graham Chapman worked steadily as a writer and actor until his death in 1989.
The most unpredictable after-Python work probably came from Palin, who was acknowledged by his former mates to be the nicest and most agreeable of the troupe. Immediately after Python shut down, Palin co-authored and starred in Ripping Yarns, a series of subtly funny tales that recalled movie serials and Boys Life magazine. After co-starring with Cleese in the classic A Fish Called Wanda, Palin set off on what would become a twenty-year career creating offbeat travel series Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole.
Palin brings his inherent decency to Gilbert, whose life consists of clipping the toenails of the privileged and being browbeaten by his wife. As the upper-crusters, led by the dismissive and condescending Dr. Swaby (Denholm Elliott, Trading Places), plump their sow to be the main course at a dinner celebrating the marriage of Princess Margaret, Chilvers and others of his stratum suffer the indignity of exchanging rationing coupons for horsemeat.
The British have long used class struggle as a basis for both comedy and drama, and Bennett himself has examined it as part of Beyond the Fringe and in his solo works like the monologue series Talking Heads. In A Private Function, Bennett returns to that well, but the laughs are tepid and the situation thin. Even with such dependable old British performers as Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Bill Paterson (Comfort and Joy), director Malcolm Mowbray delivers a film that is barely a trifle, and something, ironically, that might have played better as one of Palin's thirty-minute Ripping Yarns.
Though A Private Function doesn't measure up as a comedy, Image's Blu-ray presentation is smashing. The colors are bright and sharp, the blacks are rich, and there are no artifacts to be seen. The PCM 2.0 stereo mix is fine, though the unadorned audio on a film such as A Private Function doesn't really give it a chance to shine. Extras are limited to a trailer for the film.
A Private Function is the kind of film that recalls the twee Ealing comedies of the '50s -- yet another example of the disparities among the myriad types of funny. If you're a right propah fan of this particular brand of Brit wit, dive in. If your tastes run more toward the raucous, though, politely decline the invite to this Function.
Guilty by reason of whimsy.
Review content copyright © 2011 Chris Claro; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R