“ Genre: Television - Naked Civil Servant / Theatrical Release: 1981 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Jack Gold / Actors: John Hurt, Patricia Hodge, Katharine Schofield, John Rhys Davies ... / DVD released 2005-09-12 at Network / Features of the DVD: PAL „
RELEASED: 1975, Cert. 15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 77 mins
DIRECTOR: Jack Gold
PRODUCER: Barry Hanson
SCREENPLAY: Philip Mackie
MUSIC: Carl Davis
John Hurt as Quentin Crisp
Stanley Lebor as Mr Pole
Shane Briant as Norma
John Rhys-Davis as Barndoor
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Made for and shown on Thames Television in 1975, plus being based on Quentin Crisp's autobiographical book of the same name, The Naked Civil Servant begins inside of Crisp's family home, when he was a young man. At constant loggerheads with his father, he, Quentin, holds one specific early memory in his mind, which is of him dressing up in girl's clothes, and dancing in front of a mirror. It surely (or even before) was at this point In his childhood that the infamous Quentin Crisp realised he was homosexual.
The TV film of The Naked Civil Servant follows a section of Quentin Crisp's life from the 1930s, through the second World War and right up to the 1970s, but the main crux of his story is set in the 1930s and 1940s.
Out in the big bad world and after having moved to London, Quentin has to contend with at the very least being a figure of fun, and at the worst, being a victim of bullying and violence....simply because he chose not to hide his sexuality under a bushel. Braving the social elements, this young man made it his business to be himself to the world. He dyed his hair, wore makeup, hung out with some very 'camp' friends and managed to courageously deal with every piece of prejudice cast in his direction with a calm demeanour and gentle, intelligent wit.
Quentin lived quite a colourful life. He had one or two relationships after having given up prostitution, eventually making the choice to view people as friends rather than potential lovers. He even attempted to join the army, much to the horror of the military personnel who interviewed him, and he managed to baffle a psychiatrist who was called in to diagnose him as being 'sexually perverted'.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is set in a courtroom, after Quentin was arrested by two plain-clothes policemen who filed a charge against him for soliciting. The dialogue throughout the whole of the film is superb, but it surpasses itself with its own brilliance during this scene as Crisp calmly managed to put his own side of the story forward with delicious eloquence.
It seems that Quentin was at his happiest when either alone, or hanging out with a group of arty-farty friends, as they accepted him.
What stands out for me most of all, is Crisp's attitude towards life. He had an amazing philosophy which although may not have served to make him a distinctly happy individual, he certainly appeared to be content with who he was and his lot....perhaps he had to be! It was a case of do or die, I suppose.
I am a great admirer of John Hurt as an actor, and have seen him play some very commanding roles....his lead in The Naked Civil Servant being no exception. Beautifully slotting into what seems like a second skin, Hurt gives an absolutely stunning and sensitive performance as the beguiling, charmingly endearing character of Quentin Crisp.
The rest of the main cast members also play their parts very well - particularly Stanley Lebor (a few years later to star as Howard in Ever Decreasing Circles) as Mr Pole, a Polish man who befriends Quentin, yet loses his mind and ends up in psychiatric care.
In the early part of the film when Quentin Crisp is feeling his feet, he meets up with and joins a small group of homosexuals/cross-dressers who accept him into their world and show him the ropes. As far as the cast members who played these parts, I do feel that they overdid the 'camp' element somewhat.....but I say that as an observation rather than a complaint.
There is a musical score to The Naked Civil Servant, but despite trying, I've never managed to notice it during the few times I've seen this film since its release back in 1975. I think I get so caught up in Crisp's life, his personality and charm, plus John Hurt's amazing acting skills, that the music doesn't seep into my awareness, so I am unable to comment upon it.
What I like about The Naked Civil Servant, especially bearing in mind that it is factual, is the contrast between the two worlds in which Quentin Crisp moved. The first of those worlds was the one we all see and know every day....after all, he had to get from A to B, cross the street, visit shops to buy food etc., and he frequently encountered blatant prejudice. The other world was Quentin's associations with his friends, people who loved and accepted him for what he was.
Amongst many things, what for me is most important about Quentin Crisp as an individual, is how he helped to push forward society's acceptance of homosexuality, bearing in mind that he put himself at great risk of ridicule and arrest, simply due to him being who he was....a gay man in a nation where being so was thought of as a disgusting and serious perversion, plus homosexuality was illegal until 1967. Even after its legalisation, disgust towards gay people prevailed for a very long time....and sadly in certain circles such still may exist, although thankfully our tolerance levels as a nation have improved beyond all recognition for the most part.
I have read Quentin Crisp's autobiography upon which this film is based, and it continues past the point where the film ends - but, I understand a follow-up was made in 2009 called An Englishman In New York, which apparently follows his life after he emigrated across the pond. I've not seen An Englishman In New York, but I do remember Sting's song of the same name which contains a couple of quotations directly taken from Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant book....hopefully one day I will rectify this.
The Naked Civil Servant has been issued with a 15 certificate, but I personally am unable to see why, because as far as I'm concerned, it contains nothing that could be deemed as offensive, or 'not for the children'. In fact, I feel it would be a very valuable film for young people to watch, as it may help them learn to understand the psychology behind homosexuality....beautifully conveyed by Quentin Crisp's own words....hence perhaps encouraging them to rid themselves of any potential prejudices which they may be in the process of developing - possibly passed onto them by their parents or peers. I also personally feel that parents really shouldn't have anything to worry about regarding young people seeing this film from the aspect of fearing it may encourage their offspring to be influenced into homosexuality - nobody can make someone else homosexual. A person either is or isn't, and I'd hope that this film would pass across that message perfectly.
All in all, The Naked Civil Servant is a beautifully acted film, with John Hurt perfectly cast in the lead role. It is mildly amusing in parts, very easy to watch and utterly fascinating. Of course it does come across as a little dated regarding the filming techniques, but it was made in 1975, and it wasn't old-fashioned then, so perhaps we shouldn't expect the film to have been made any differently.
I strongly recommend anybody and everybody to hunt down a copy of The Naked Civil Servant and be treated to a highly entertaining, heartwarming 77 minutes of pure brilliance. John Hurt did receive a BAFTA award for his wonderful performance, and it unquestionably was well-deserved.
At the time of writing, The Naked Civil Servant can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £10.97 to £38.00
Used: from £9.98 to £24.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
The Naked Civil Servant is a 1975 television film made for ITV and was based on the 1968 autobiography by Quentin Crisp about his various trials and tribulations as a flamboyantly gay man in a less than tolerant pre-war Britain. It was directed by Jack Gold and features John Hurt as Crisp in a performance that won the actor a BAFTA. The film is introduced by the real Quentin Crisp who tells us that it was a good idea to get someone else to play him because they were bound to do it better before adding that "any film, even the worst, is at least better than real life." The Naked Civil Servant, which is episodic in structure and more or less a series of vignettes - some comic, some sad - then charts the life of Crisp from living with his parents in the 1920s through to the war years, before ending with a nice epilogue set in the seventies.
It was this ITV drama that really made Quentin Crisp famous and lent widespread exposure to his story. His witty and enjoyable autobiography was well received but wasn't exactly a bestseller when it was released in the 1960s. This film version stays very close to the book and lifts many incidents and bon mots from the autobiography with John Hurt making a convincing and defiant Crisp onscreen with red-streaked hair and some shockingly outrageous scarves. "Exhibitionism is like a drug," says Hurt as Crisp in a theatrical drawl. "You get hooked!" We first meet a young Crisp (played by Stephen Johnstone very early on before Hurt soon takes over) living with his kind mother and completely bewildered father. He's packed off to art college after they seek medical advice to see if there is something wrong with him but a meeting with a transvestite prostitute introduces him to a cafe where there are other people like him. He's soon absorbed in this twilight world and wearing make-up but his determination to be himself leads to plenty of abuse and harassment.
The film shows how Crisp was always an outsider with transient friendships and numerous jobs that he was often not terribly suited to. He's also chased and duffed up on occasion but is depicted as a stoic character who refuses to be anyone else just to get by and retains a wry sense of humour even in the face of abuse and various humiliations. There is quite a funny scene where Crisp is required to undertake an army medical at the outbreak of war. He doesn't want to join the army - and is rejected for "sexual perversion" - but he is delighted at the prospect of another war as it will bring a large influx of American soldiers into the country. "On the day war broke out I bought two large boxes of Henna," says Crisp. Hurt frequently narrates the story as Crisp with much dry humour.
Although John Hurt dominates the film there are also appearances by Patricia Hodge as a ballet teacher he befriends and John Rhys-Davies as a lunk called "Barndoor" that Crisp has a relationship with for a time. Crisp's search for love proves to be a disappointing one on the whole that explains why he generally seemed to be rather pessimistic and aloof about human relationships. "Sex is the last refuge of the miserable." He later becomes friendly with a troubled Polish man - played by Stanley Lebor of Ever Decreasing Circles and Flash Gordon fame - which provides further gloom.
One of the highlights of The Naked Civil Servant occurs when Crisp is spuriously set-up and put on trial for soliciting and then makes a sham of the whole thing in court with his verbal dexterity, sense of humour and honesty. This courtroom sequence is both funny and also rather poignant. "My appearance sets me apart from the rest of humanity," announces Crisp. "It is not easy for me to make human contact. With strangers it is almost impossible. I learnt many years ago the golden rule of my life: In public places I do not speak to anyone if they do not speak to me, I do not look at anyone unless they demand that I look at them. That is the only way I know of getting safely to my destination."
The film has a muted, slightly drab look to reflect the low rent bohemia of the bedsits and cafes that Crisp frequented and this works relatively well, lending an authentic air to the drama. You don't always get a sense of a real bustling London though all the time and The Naked Civil Servant is a tad stagy on occasion. Perhaps one criticism of the film is that everyone beyond Crisp and his eccentric friends are often caricatures - fuddy duddy establishment types shocked at the notion of homosexuality or heartless brutes in cloth caps just itching to beat someone up because they might be different. Obviously The Naked Civil Servant is largely about the prejudice and abuse that Crisp suffered in less enlightened times but you'd like to think there were perhaps a few nice people in London during this time. It's interesting too how The Naked Civil Servant, despite its subject matter, contains nothing risque or controversial at all to modern eyes. Soap operas get away with far more these days than anything in The Naked Civil Servant.
Despite these minor quibbles and general observations though, this is undoubtedly a classic of British television and always hugely entertaining as a vehicle for the wit and wisdom of Crisp with numerous lines from his biography narrated by Hurt as we follow his adventures in bohemia. "Health," declares Crisp famously. "Consists of having the same diseases as one's neighbours." This is an excellent drama and makes an enjoyable double-bill with the 2009 sequel An Englishman in New York where John Hurt reprised his role as Quentin Crisp once again. Extras with The Naked Civil Servant include a commentary track with Hurt, the director Jack Gold and the associate producer Verity Lambert.