Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Naked Civil Servant - Blu-ray / DVD Review

The Naked Civil Servant - Blu-ray / DVD
“But it’s my crusade. It’s part of my existence. To make them understand,” says Quentin Crisp. And a worthy crusade, which we will all understand, by the worthy watch, that is, The Naked Civil Servant.

In this day and age of sexual liberation, it may be hard to remember a time where we were sadly, not free to be who we wanted be. If you can cast your mind only as far back as 1966, when it was illegal to be homosexual. You would be a criminal to love, or to engage in same sex relations.

In the United Kingdom, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 would change that when it decriminalised homosexual acts, between two men over the age of 21. It is only as far back as an amendment to the act, in 2000, that the legal age of consent would match that of a heterosexuals, to the age of 16.

Adapted from the autobiography by Quentin Crisp, it takes a brave man to boldly go against what is, I quote, “considered normal.” And for the first half of Quentin Crisp’s life, homosexuality was of course, illegal.

Born Denis Charles Pratt, Christmas Day, 1908, he would go on to defy conformity. Again, I quote, be “a martyr to the cause.” And to stand for being whoever he wanted to be.

This for me is why The Naked Civil Servant is so socially significant.

We have all come to know what an exceptional actor the late Sir John Hurt was, but his portrayal of Quentin Crisp, when you really watch, is truly remarkable.

“Well, I flatter myself that London has never seen a performance like that since Sybil Thorndike’s, St Joan,” says Hurt in voiceover. And as such could be said for his BAFTA winning performance.

The purity of his performance, in his deeply moving monologue, proceeding this quip, will bring a tear to your eye. 

John Hurt plays Quentin Crisp
We discover that Crisp has an aversion to housework, “After the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse.” But Hurt wipes away the surface, to discover the layers beneath. Because when you look past the accurately portrayed flamboyance of self-confessed exhibitionist, Hurt reveals so much more of his inner life.

1976 when The Naked Civil Servant originally aired, was only nine years after the de-criminalisation of homosexuality. I would image the decision for an actor to accept this part, would have been a brave one too. Did Hurt himself wittingly or not, set his own precedent within his own profession?

Sadly, a question I will never be able to put to him now.

The nuanced performance is so subtle and gradual, as we travel through the decades of Crisp’s life revealing his state of mind, confidence and acceptance of himself. It truly is the work of a genius.

And to today, I believe that Crisp would approve of his make-over as The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition.

Quentin Crisp
The Blu-ray and DVD also comes with some insightful bonus features of interviews with the raconteur and self-confessed effeminate homosexual, which will further amplify the accuracy of John Hurt’s performance.

“People hate what they don’t understand,” says Crisp. Sadly that statement is as true today, as it ever was.

And that’s why it is so important that work like The Naked Civil Servant doesn’t get forgotten. It entertains, but more importantly it educates. It teaches the very real dangers people faced because they were different. But most of all it teaches us acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves, but most of all each other.

The Naked Civil Servant can be seen in select cinemas nationwide 28th May, 2017.

And is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 5th June. Distributed by Network.

Words by Claire Bueno

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Celebrating 40 Years of Abigail’s Party

Celebrating 40 years since the BBC broadcast of Abigail’s Party. Actress Alison Steadman OBE, and producer Margaret Mattheson reminisce about this wonderful play, and the wonderful experience making this cult classic.

I’m a lucky individual. I get to see films and then interview the filmmakers all about it, it really is the perfect job. And on Sunday, 14th May at the Arthouse cinema, Crouch End, following a screening of Abigail’s Party, I had the opportunity to exercise my passion.

“OK, you’re up,” said the duty manager.

I was so caught in conversation with Margaret Mattheson about the current state of television, I’d lost track of time, as we walked towards the screening room.

“Errr, but where’s Alison?”

“She’s on her way, she’s a little late.”

Well, that threw the interview I’d planned out the window. Time to follow Abigail’s Party director, Mike Leigh’s lead, and …. Improvise!

I made my apologies to the audience that our star, Alison Steadman was going to be joining us imminently and commenced with the Q&A.

“So, what was it about the play that attracted you in the first place?” OK. I confess to going into default mode.

The BBC producer began her answer, as the door flew open and in walked the tour de force that is, Alison Steadman.

“I’m so sorry,” she appealed to the audience.

She took her seat, and the Q&A could truly begin.
Claire Bueno interviews Alison Steadman & Margaret Mattheson
Alison picked up the question, and took us back to when they originally performed the play at the Hampstead Theatre.

The actors had no script, not in the traditional sense. Mike Leigh’s improvisational technique was such that that the five actors built their own characters, they were not allowed to talk about each other’s characters and on stage the performance was completely improvised.

I imagine thrilling and terrifying at the same time!

At the time the BBC broadcast a series called Play for Today. This series heralded plays that became series in their own right, such as Rumpole of the Bailey and Boys From The Black Stuff.

Margaret explained that Abigail’s Party’s broadcast happened serendipitously.

The play scheduled to film, fell through and they needed to fill in with another one; urgently. Cue Abigail’s Party.

Alison was pregnant at the time, which made recording this play even more time sensitive.

Margaret informed us that Abigail’s Party was filmed chronologically in three days, with a three camera set-up. They wouldn’t do it like that now.

Alison enlightened us that at the time the BBC worked to time. But the crew were so impressed by the performances and the quality of the work, they were happy to work through until 10pm.

On her character, the overpowering Beverly, Leigh had asked Alison, “What did Beverly do for a living?”

“She sells beauty products in a department store.”

So, as part of her preparation, Alison visited a department store in Essex and watched how the demonstrator, with a tiny microphone mouthpiece worked the crowd. Alison noted how the demonstrator picked out a girl in the audience with no make-up who would have the biggest transformation to impress her audience. And from this demonstrator, Beverly was created.

Having performed Beverly on stage and projecting to an audience, did Alison have to tone her down for TV?

“No.” Was Alison’s answer, she was going to play her big!
Cast of the BBC broadcast of Abigail's Party

I asked if the secret to the play’s success was the characters having relatable traits. They could been anyone’s neighbours.

“I hope they’re not mine!” Margaret and Alison laughed unanimously.

Forty years on, would Margaret and Alison like to revisit Beverly and see what she’s doing now?”

“No, I don’t really like sequels,” said Margaret.

And for the lady who, as a child loved to do impressions and make people laugh. Who confessed was no good and English and Maths, and whose mother would turn off the TV so she could impersonate Hilda Baker. Would she like to inhabit Beverly once more?

She confessed if it hadn’t been for the Play for Today recording, it would have been incredibly difficult to have let the part, the play and her fellow performers go. But no, she is happy to leave Beverly where she left her back in 1977, though she imagines she’s on her fourth husband now.

Alison recalled how Mike Leigh had to sit and write the script as it was being performed, and that it had to be dramatically reduced to 90 minutes to fit the BBC’s time slot.

Well, that 90 minutes has lasted the test of time. The themes may have changed; women needing permission from their husbands to take driving lessons, for instance, but some things don’t. Solid performances that reveal something new with every viewing, solid direction from a director who understands the magic of acting and the institution that is the BBC.

Happy Birthday Abigail’s Party.
Words by Claire Bueno

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Midnight Sun Review

Opening scene: Close-up of a man’s torturous face as we zoom out to reveal the man strapped to helicopter blades rotating to his grisly demise. Brutal, but I’m hooked!

Midnight Sun DVD & Blu-ray release
I’m a sucker for a detective drama, I’ve watched a lot, and Midnight Sun does not disappoint.

Midnight Sun is a Scandi-noir crime-thriller from the critically acclaimed writers of The Bridge, Måns Mårlind and BjörnStein. So those credentials speak for themselves.

What I have always admired about Scandinavian filmmaking, be it film or TV, is the bravery in their writing. They are not afraid to shock, and they not inhibited by political correctness. They serve the story, and tell it, how it needs to be told.

Our thriller is set in Kiruna, a small mining village in Northern Sweden. And is infused with the indigenous Sami mysticism, as abstract members of the community meet their untimely death, in the most imaginative of ways.

The acting is flawless. You really have to congratulate Leila Bekhti and Gustaf Hammarsten, who really keep you on your toes with their performances. As detective team Kahina Zadi and Anders Harneskare neither are particularly sympathetic characters yet, you are compelled to watch them to discover if they are what they seem.

And as you can imagine with a show set in Northern Sweden, you are going to be swept away by the scenery alone but doesn’t hide away from the challenges presented by living in constant daylight.

Following its recent broadcast on Sky Atlantic, Midnight Sun is now available on Blu-ray / DVD and is worth the investment in time as much as financially.

Thank goodness for the binge watch, as I was gripped from beginning to end of Midnight Sun.

Cert. 15 | Running Time: 8x 1hr episodes | RRP: DVD £29.99 & Blu-ray £34.99

Words by Claire Bueno