The Missionary - The Missionary(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse Films - 2019]Here's Richard Loncraine’s classic British comedy film from Handmade, the film and distribution company founded in 1978 by ex-Beatle George Harrison and his friend Denis O’Brien to help finance The Life of Brian. Several huge hits later (The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits, Tattoo, Venom and The Burning among them) in 1982 they would release a film taken from a concept by Michael Palin, The Missionary.
The film features a very strong ensemble cast, headed up by Palin in the lead role as the Reverend Fortescue, the missionary of the title, who is ably supported by the likes of Maggie Smith, Trevor Howard, Denholm Elliott, Michael Hordern, David Suchet, Phoebe Nicholls, and a very young Timothy Spall, whilst there is even a cameo appearance from Neil Innes as a barroom singer. Loncraine, who had previously directed the superb The Haunting of Julia and was just coming off the back of adapting Brimstone and Treacle for the big screen was the perfect choice to direct this piece that had been conceived by Palin.
The story goes something like this, missionary Charles Fortescue returns home to his betrothed, Deborah Fitzbanks (Phoebe Nicholls) after a successful stint working in Africa. Deborah, the daughter of his esteemed colleague, the Reverend Fitzbanks, played brilliantly by Graham Crowden is desperate that the couple is married so that they may start a large family, however, she shies away from Charles at every turn, preferring to wait until marriage before succumbing to base desires.
Shortly after his return, Fortescue is summoned to a meeting with the Bishop (the brilliant Denholm Elliott) where he is asked to set up a mission among the prostitutes of London, to find out why they do what they do, however, he must raise the funds himself. Deborah puts Charles in touch with the extremely wealthy Lord and Lady Ames (Trevor Howard and Maggie Smith). Lady Ames had taken a shine to Charles during a chance meeting earlier in the film and is offering to fund the mission in exchange for certain sexual favors. After reluctantly sleeping with Lady Ames, Charles receives the funds and sets up the mission, only for Lady Ames to pull the plug shortly afterwards when she arrives unannounced to find him worn out and asleep on the floor of his bedroom with his bed full of naked young women. In order to keep the mission running, the young women take it upon themselves to resume their former trade.
The Missionary is a lovely, sophisticated, well-acted, beautiful looking comedy film that has deservedly been brought back to life by Powerhouse films for this brand new Bluray release. The film looks great, the colors are vibrant, and the clarity of the picture is top-notch. It is such a pleasure to see this oft underappreciated gem of British cinema back in the limelight and being given this treatment to take its place alongside other Handmade titles like Time Bandits, The Long Good Friday, Withnail and I and of course The Life of Brian.
The disc itself features a wealth of great bonus material including separate commentaries from both Palin and Loncraine, as well as a great short documentary about the on-screen relationship between Palin and Maggie Smith. Also featured are various supplementals about the costumes, music, sound and more. Overall, this is a lovely release that is packed with bonus material and presents a great print of an oft-overlooked British classic. One that very much deserves to be reappraised.Darren Charles