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Missionary The (1982, Michael Palin, Maggie Smith)

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The Reverend Charles Fortesque (Michael Palin) has been spreading the word in Africa these ten years. But the new century – the 20th – presents concerns nearer home and the Bishop of London (Denholm Elliott) requires a new broom in the East End. Fortesque must raise funds and Lady Ames (Maggie Smith) can help, provided he understands the quid pro quo . Fortesque, whose innocence may be his strongest card, gradually learns that raising fallen women sometimes requires that he too rises to the occasion.

The quibble on the phrase ‘missionary position’ is not the whole of this Palin comedy, nor is the need, urgent in the early 1980s, to escape the constraints of Monty Python expectations. Palin is sensitive to comic tradition and much of the craft displayed here would not disgrace the Ealing Studio (though the frankness would). Moreover, that self-styled Cockney barrow-boy of a director, Richard Loncraine, is as clever a foil to Palin’s careful tastefulness as he is to Ian McKellen’s dogged self-regard in Richard III and Dennis Potter’s manipulative intellect in Brimstone and Treacle.

In the end, though, the unalloyed pleasures are the obvious ones: the unashamed scene-stealing by Smith’s top-drawer tramp, Elliott’s energetic bishop and Michael Hordern’s other-worldly butler. For the most part, the film is a well-bred, rather safe comedy, heavily dependent on Palin’s well-attested winsomeness.

production details
UK | Handmade | 90 minutes | 1982

Director: Richard Loncraine
Script: Michael Palin

cast
Michael Palin as The Reverend Charles Fortescue
Maggie Smith as Lady Isabel Ames
Trevor Howard as Lord Henry Ames
Denholm Elliott as The Bishop of London
Graham Crowden as Fitzbanks
Phoebe Nicholls as Deborah Fitzbanks
David Suchet as Corbett
Michael Hordern as Slatterthewaite
Timothy Spall as Parswell
Tricia George as Ada
Valerie Whittington as Emmeline
Roland Culver as Lord Fermleigh
Rosamund Greenwood as Lady Fermleigh
Janine Duvitski as Millicent
Tilly Vosburgh as Fermleigh’s Maid
Hugh Walters as Fermleigh’s Doctor
Derrick O’Connor as Gym Trainer
Neil Innes as Singer at Gin Palace
David Leland as Long Haired Man at Gin Palace
Sophie Thompson as Mission Girl
Frances Barber as Mission Girl
Tony Steedman as Lord Quimby
Damaris Hayman as Lady Quimby
Anton Lesser as Young Man at Shoot
David Dixon as Young Man at Shoot
Frank Mills as Sir Cyril Everidge
Charles McKeown as Friend of Raggy Masterson
Julian Curry as Friend of Raggy Masterson
Hugh Fraser as Wedding Usher
Peter Bourke as Best Man
Arthur Howard as Fermleigh’s Butler
Anne-Marie Marriott as Fitzbanks’ Maid
Dawn Archibald as Mission Girl
Ceri Jackson as Mission Girl
Janine Lesley as Mission Girl
Sasha Mitchell as Mission Girl
Francine Morgan as Mission Girl
Sally Watkins as Mission Girl
John Barrett as Old Man Outside Hotel

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