By most accounts, post-war rationing in Britain throughout the late 40s and early 50s was a time of craving luxury items. Sneaky black-market purchases were necessary if you fancied that extra cut of chocolate or slice of bacon, and A Private Function captures that feeling rather well. Helmed and produced by the loveable bunch over at Handmade Films, this Malcolm Mowbray directed piece showcases a relatively simple story of a tightly wound couple smuggling a pig into their house as a way of getting around food rationing laws. The things people will do for a decent bacon sandwich, A Private Function has Michael Palin leading the way through a rather forgettable dark comedy.
Towing its dry sense of British humour along for the ride, the pairing of Palin and Mowbray is somewhat inconsistent. Palin is never really present for the funnier jokes; however sparse they seem to be. He brings that classic, nervous disposition to his leading role as Gilbert Chilvers, whose need for honesty and inability to think on the spot being a great catalyst for rambunctious moments of well-timed comedy. These moments never see the light of day, with a mediocre script drowning any chance of full-blown laughter. A handful of scenes feel like they’re trying far too hard to capture the zany surrealism of Monty Python, but it falls tremendously far from managing to replicate even an ounce of humour available from such a classic comedy troupe.
At least there are a few chuckle-worthy moments throughout, and most of these moments contain Richard Griffiths and Pete Postlethwaite. It’s a shame that they’re not around for longer scenes, but their supporting performances outshine Palin with a relative ease. Palin is far from bad, a solid performer in most scenarios, but forgettable at the best of times is never a good situation. It’s a shame this is the case, especially with such an interesting premise. Chilvers and his wife, Joyce (Maggie Smith), are tasked with hiding a pig from Inspector Morris Wormold (Bill Paterson), the latest investigator of illegal foods. There’s such a bountiful premise ripe for the taking, but the delivery of the script and rather bland direction ruins any chance of the film culminating in anything spectacular.
It’s far from awful though, as it amasses such a great collection of British actors, it’s hard to go wrong with Palin, Griffiths, Denholm Elliot and Smith sharing the screen with one another. They give it their best shot, but most, unfortunately, come up rather short of success. For those wanting a relatively easy watch, or are dying to take a look at some more work put out there by the producers at Handmade Films, then A Private Function will be a somewhat satisfying piece. There’s nothing of real value within, and it seems to have slipped through the cracks of nostalgia fuelled, middle-aged groupings, and it may just be because of how relatively forgettable it is on the whole.