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A Private Function

October 4, 2018

1947 in a small town in England. The war has been won two years ago, but there’s still rationing of meat. When princess Elizabeth is going to marry, a group of businessmen wants to impress (or probably bribe) the local government by giving a big party. They want to slaughter an illegally raised pig for this event. Unfortunately someone steals the pig.

With its gentle, witty portrait of postwar Britain and its sly digs at bourgeois aspirations, this comedy has the stamp of Ealing about it. Scripted by Alan Bennett, it is an often hilarious mixture of well-observed social comedy and sometimes laborious earthy humour, much of the latter being inspired by the bodily functions of a pig being fattened for a feast to celebrate the 1947 royal wedding. Michael Palin does a nice line in mortified meekness, but he is upstaged by Maggie Smith, as his scheming wife, and Liz Smith, whose eccentric antics and distracted ramblings provide some of the highlights.

Life with Gilbert is not easy for a woman of Joyce’s refinement. He lacks the graces to which she’s accustomed. ”Well,” he might say with pleasure, sitting down to the evening meal, ”Mrs. Rhoades’s ingrown toenail has turned the corner.” ”Please, Gilbert,” says Joyce, ”don’t bring feet to the table.”

In addition to Gilbert, Joyce has a second cross to bear – her aging, always famished Mum (Liz Smith), who sneaks pieces of bread when Joyce isn’t looking and exists in mortal fear of being packed off to ”a home.” In private, Joyce is very severe with Mum though, when they’re in public, she inevitably introduces Mum with a cheery, ”Imagine, 74, and never misses a trick!”

”A Private Function” is about Gilbert and Joyce’s rise to the top when, by accident, they learn of the existence of the unlicensed pig and decide to abduct it. ”Remember,” Joyce says fiercely when Gilbert, like Macbeth, has doubts about killing their guest, ”pork is power!”

The movie was set in post-World War II Yorkshire in 1947. At this time, the film’s writer, Alan Bennett, was a teenager living there.

According to Michael Palin, this is the only film ever to credit a ‘Bucket Boy’. During filming, the crew were having difficulties dealing with the pig defecating on set. A young man was hanging around near the set, saying he’d “do anything” to get into films. They invited him on set, gave him a bucket, which he was to hold under the pig.

 

Joyce Chilvers: I think sexual intercourse is in order, Gilbert.

 

Dr. Charles Swaby: In Westminster Abbey tomorrow morning, a young couple are getting married of a purity and a nobility scum like you just can’t comprehend.

 

Joyce Chilvers: I want a future that lives up to my past.

 

Dr. Charles Swaby: Now, under this National Health Service, any poorly little pillock can come into my surgery and say “I’m ill! Treat me!” Honestly, sometimes I wonder what the last war was FOR.

Morris Wormold the Meat Inspector: My experience has been, Mrs Forbes, that when people say they are only human, it’s because they have been making beasts of themselves.

 

[the pig has been abducted] Grand Hotel Manager: I can put my hands on two turkeys in Bradford.

Frank Lockwood the Solicitor: Two? TWO? We’ve got a hundred and fifty people coming! And Jesus isn’t one of them!

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