Picks and Pans Review: The Missionary
And now for something completely different from co-producer, scriptwriter and star Michael Palin, a charter member of the Monty Python gang. Sure, his film is a comedy, set principally in Edwardian England and with lavish heyday-of-the-Empire details. But it is so sparing of slapstick that it rises mercifully above being Monty Python Visits Masterpiece Theatre. Palin plays a Church of England missionary who, upon returning from Africa to his long-faithful fiancée, Phoebe (Brideshead Revisited) Nicholls, is called to found a mission for fallen women by the London docks. He's waylaid first by a lady patron, Maggie Smith, who's desperate to shed her profoundly rich and boorish lord, Trevor Howard, and then by all 28 ladies of the street, to whom Palin ministers not wisely but too well. Love, honor and duty eventually prevail, but not before some timeworn hypocrisies among the rich and the clergy are ridiculed yet again. The performances are superb, in line with Palin's original hope for "a cast of excellent actors with a sense of comedy rather than comedians with a sense of acting." Is this a dig at his fellow Pythons? Though one funny sequence sends up Chariots of Fire, director Richard Loncraine and Palin can't resist lingering lovingly over landscapes and period finery. At this rate, Palin might turn into a totally serious filmmaker the next time out. (R)
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