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A Private Function (1984)

We were all pleased at the turnout for Alan Bennett’s comedy film, set before the 1947 Royal Wedding. We were a little surprised too, as it’s been on TV over the years probably more times than Morecambe and Wise.

The evening was dedicated to our much-loved national treasure Michael Palin, 80 this year, with a range of shorts that showed his achievements in television. He played a rather meek and mild role in the film as a hen-pecked chiropodist. Not surprisingly, Maggie Smith stole the show as Mrs Chilvers, his scheming wife, with Liz Smith doing an eccentric turn as her mother.

Was this 1984 film, which dealt with an off-ration pig being fattened for a Royal Wedding celebration meal, too dated for today’s audiences? One member of the discussion group found it was “vicious, delicious and tasteless.” It was a farce with a pop at social class aspirations, something Alan Bennett does so well. It gave a grim and gritty view of post war England – it was a surprise to hear Denholm Elliott’s nasty doctor speak against the NHS. The costumes, scenery and settings were all on point.

One of our discussion team thought Mrs Chilvers, clutching a knife and egging her husband on to kill the pig, was like Lady Macbeth.

The anti-semitic references were not suitable (these were commented on at the end by a member of the audience) and it’s not enough to say they were uttered by the most unpleasant character, or they reflect the time. We don’t watch Till Death Us Do Part now because of its racist language and views. I am a vegetarian and some of the graphic meat scenes were horrible to watch – now the film would have a picket of vegans outside for its premiere.

Whimsical, dated, nostalgic, full of squirmworthy cheap laughs? One thing did unite us all. The cast was tremendous, a who’s who of fine British actors, including the late and great RSC star, Tony Haygarth, who lived in Tunbridge Wells.

Anne Goldstein

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