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Private Function, A (1984, Michael Palin, Maggie Smith)



In A Private Function it is 1947. The war has been won two years before, but Britain still battles with rationing. ‘Bacon Down Again!’ scream the newspaper headlines when the bacon ration is sliced in half, while at the local cinema, the newsreel condemns the evil-doings of French black marketeers and declares, ‘But at least in England, it’s fair shares for all!’

Fair shares for some would be a more accurate description of the situation in a quiet little Yorkshire town, scene of some very inventive rule-bending, despite the dogged persistence of the local Ministry of Food Inspector – a man with no sense of taste or smell, but a fine nose for anything illicit.

The only excitement to compensate for the shortage of food and practically everything else is the forthcoming Royal event – the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. A small group of the town’s leading citizens are planning a magnificent banquet to mark the occasion: the guests are to be carefully selected, and a fine porker, affectionately known as Betty, is being equally carefully reared – well out of sight of local officialdom – to crown the feast.

New to the cosy little community are struggling chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Michael Palin), his wife Joyce (Maggie Smith), a piano teacher who doubles as a cinema organist, and Joyce’s 74-year-old mother (LIZ SMITH), a woman of voracious appetite and occasional incontinence. Gilbert’s social ambitions run little further than the next verruca, but for Joyce, feet are made for climbing the social ladder: ‘We’re better than this, Gilbert…It’s not just steak, it’s status.’

The hapless Gilbert is constantly humiliated by the local GP, Dr. Swaby, (Denholm Elliott), who cannot for the life of him understand why the town’s population need the services of that ‘jaunty toe-nail clipping little sod’. And his henchmen, Mr. Allardyce the accountant (Richard Griffiths), and the solicitor Mr. Lockwood (JOHN NORMINGTON) are no kinder. Suffering deeply a the indignity of it all, Gilbert and Joyce do not know which way to turn, until, quite by chance, Gilbert discovers some bacon ‘on the hoof’. Casting inhibitions to the winds, Gilbert and Joyce lay an elaborate plan to kidnap the animal: a deed that is to set off a train of complex and quite unexpected events…..

BILL PATERSON takes the thankless part of the Ministry of Food Inspector Wormold, ALISON STEADMAN is the spoilt chocolate-guzzling Mrs. Allardyce and mother of Joyce Chilvers’ obnoxious pigtailed piano pupil, and TONY HAYGARTH is the crafty Mr. Sutcliffe, who rears pigs – licensed and unlicensed. JIM CARTER is Police Inspector Noble, whose name belies his character, and PETER POSTLETHWAITE is the man whose skills no one who wishes to eat can do without – Douglas Nuttal the butcher.

production details
UK | Handmade | 94 minutes | 1984
Director: Malcolm Mowbray
Script: Alan Bennett, Malcolm Mowbray,

Pete Postlethwaite as Douglas J. Nuttol
Jim Carter as Inspector Noble
Bill Paterson as Morris Wormold the Meat Inspector
Maggie Smith as Joyce Chilvers
Alison Steadman as Mrs. Allardyce
Michael Palin as Gilbert Chilvers
Denholm Elliott as Dr. Charles Swaby
Reece Dinsdale as P.C. Penny
Richard Griffiths as Henry Allardyce
Tony Haygarth as Leonard Sutcliff the Farmer
John Normington as Frank Lockwood the Solicitor
Liz Smith as Joyce’s Mother
Rachel Davies as Mrs Forbes
Bernard Wrigley as Painter