At A Glance
“But it’s my crusade. It’s part of my existence. To make them understand,” says Quentin Crisp. And a worthy crusade, which we will all understand, by the worthy watch, that is, The Naked Civil Servant.
Directed by Jack Gold
Written by Philip Mackie
Based on the autobiography by Quentin Crisp
Released by Network
2017, 77 minutes, 15
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from 5th June
John Hurt as Quentin Crisp
Patricia Hodge as Ballet Teacher
John Rhys-Davies as Barndoor
The Naked Civil Servant - Blu-ray / DVD Review
By Claire Bueno
In this day and age of sexual liberation, it may be hard to remember a time where we were sadly, not free to be who we wanted be. If you can cast your mind only as far back as 1966, when it was illegal to be homosexual. You would be a criminal to love, or to engage in same sex relations.
In the United Kingdom, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 would change that when it decriminalised homosexual acts, between two men over the age of 21. It is only as far back as an amendment to the act, in 2000, that the legal age of consent would match that of a heterosexuals, to the age of 16.
Adapted from the autobiography by Quentin Crisp, it takes a brave man to boldly go against what is, I quote, “considered normal.” And for the first half of Quentin Crisp’s life, homosexuality was of course, illegal.
Born Denis Charles Pratt, Christmas Day, 1908, he would go on to defy conformity. Again, I quote, be “a martyr to the cause.” And to stand for being whoever he wanted to be.
This for me is why The Naked Civil Servant is so socially significant.
We have all come to know what an exceptional actor the late Sir John Hurt was, but his portrayal of Quentin Crisp, when you really watch, is truly remarkable.
“Well, I flatter myself that London has never seen a performance like that since Sybil Thorndike’s, St Joan,” says Hurt in voiceover. And as such could be said for his BAFTA winning performance.
The purity of his performance, in his deeply moving monologue, proceeding this quip, will bring a tear to your eye.
We discover that Crisp has an aversion to housework, “After the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse.” But Hurt wipes away the surface, to discover the layers beneath. Because when you look past the accurately portrayed flamboyance of self-confessed exhibitionist, Hurt reveals so much more of his inner life.
1976 when The Naked Civil Servant originally aired, was only nine years after the de-criminalisation of homosexuality. I would image the decision for an actor to accept this part, would have been a brave one too. Did Hurt himself wittingly or not, set his own precedent within his own profession?
Sadly, a question I will never be able to put to him now.
The nuanced performance is so subtle and gradual, as we travel through the decades of Crisp’s life revealing his state of mind, confidence and acceptance of himself. It truly is the work of a genius.
And to today, I believe that Crisp would approve of his make-over as The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition.
The Blu-ray and DVD also comes with some insightful bonus features of interviews with the raconteur and self-confessed effeminate homosexual, which will further amplify the accuracy of John Hurt’s performance.
“People hate what they don’t understand,” says Crisp. Sadly that statement is as true today, as it ever was.
And that’s why it is so important that work like The Naked Civil Servant doesn’t get forgotten. It entertains, but more importantly it educates. It teaches the very real dangers people faced because they were different. But most of all it teaches us acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves, but most of all each other.