"It's not pork, Gilbert. It's power!"
Twenty-six years ago Michael Palin and Maggie Smith made a dark little art-house comedy of manners called "A Private Function," in which they had to share the spotlight with a pig.
Now it's Commander Michael Palin, an actor and travel documentarian honored for his TV work, and Dame Maggie Smith, the Oscar- and BAFTA-winning actress who's also won a Tony for her stage work. But frankly, pigs not withstanding, neither of them delivered their best work back in 1984. Palin was a little too unexceptionally bland in his performance as a local podiatrist, and Smith not quite acerbic or eccentric enough as his social-climbing wife. There's an energy missing in a good many scenes that ought to be there, given the premise, which offers characters in a tale farcical enough to have come from Chaucer.
The year is 1947, and, as now, the country is gearing up for a royal wedding. With postwar rationing still in effect, commodities such as meat are difficult to come by. So is social standing, because even in Yorkshire there's a hierarchy based on class. Gilbert Chilvers (Palin) is a podiatrist who spends most of his time traveling to his wealthy patrons and literally groveling (massaging, clipping?) at their feet. It starts to get to him, this feeling of being little more than a glorified pedicurist--especially when his wife (Smith) is even more fed up with their station. She would love to retire her sharp-tongued aging mother to one of the best old age homes in the area. Keeping her from it (and keeping Gilbert in his place) is a doctor (Denholm Elliott) who's not about to have an upstart podiatrist who competes with his real medical practice get even so much as the slightest toehold on a better social rung.
Things change when Gilbert learns that the town's leading citizens--the doctor among them--are secretly fattening up a pig to be slaughtered for a "private function" to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Suddenly, a battle of wits and a flirtation with blackmail turns into a closer encounter with a pig than either Gilbert or his wife could have imagined.
Some of the funniest scenes come from Maggie Smith's interaction with Liz Smith, who plays her aging mother. And I'll give away one of the running gags, simply because it's an example of what's most effective. The more that the couple has to do with the pig, the more that the smell of pig lingers, Maggie's character is prone to deadpan to outsiders in a hushed voice, "Oh, I'm afraid that's mother." And in the wings, Liz would be lurking, overhearing, and sniffing herself in a forlorn state of worry.
As is often the case, funny scenes and funny lines ("I think sexual intercourse is in order, Gilbert") are often a reminder that a film could have been funnier, if there aren't enough such moments. While Palin and Smith are good, the film felt as if great were called for to offset a screenplay that suffers from second-act sag.
"A Private Function" looks decent in 1080p High Definition 1.78:1 widescreen, though much of the film has a dark cast to it and there are a lot of shadows and dark corners. The most detail is evident in better lit scenes, but the there's still a nice amount of detail for a catalog title. The color palette tends toward the drab and slightly amber, as if to deliberately add a sense of age to the art design. Skin tones look natural, though.
The audio is an uncompressed PCM English 2.0 Stereo, with English SDH subtitles. It's fairly unremarkable, even with the film being mostly dialogue-driven. With a pig for a co-star one would have expected six-channel sound, but that's not the case.
No bonus features.
"A Private Function" entertains, but never dazzles or impresses with its script, performances, or even production design. It's just a fairly solid comedy of manners that feels, like so many, as if it could have been better.