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DVD/Blu-ray: The Naked Civil Servant | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Naked Civil Servant

DVD/Blu-ray: The Naked Civil Servant

John Hurt astounding as Quentin Crisp: welcome restoration of Jack Gold's classic television drama

John Hurt as Quentin Crisp, having his day in court

For those of us still mourning John Hurt, this lovely HD restoration of the actor’s favourite film is a real joy. Made in 1975 for Thames Television, it’s stood the test of time remarkably well. Funny, moving and often cited as a turning point in British acceptance of homosexuality, The Naked Civil Servant is based on the aphoristic autobiography of Quentin Crisp, who famously described himself as “one of the stately homos of England”. 

Born Denis Pratt in 1908 into a respectable suburban family, he reinvented himself as the flamboyantly camp Quentin Crisp, rent-boy, artists’ model, raconteur and writer. The synonymous 1968 autobiography brought him fame when it was transformed by the late Philip Mackie into a tight script which swishes gracefully through the highs and lows of Crisp’s life. It's a story that is both comic and heart-breaking, Crisp's resilience in the face of vicious homophobic attacks contrasted with his discovery of pre-war gay subculture and later a wide assortment of bohemian friends. Crisp's dream man – a tall, dark heterosexual – never appears, but a string of sad-sack partners (including a Polish emigré who descends into madness) and devoted female friends add to the rich portrait of a world where "pretty police" lurked to entrap gay men. Queen of the comic comeback, he appears as himself at the start of the drama and declaims: "Any film, even the worst, is better than real life."

DVD/Blu-ray: The Naked Civil ServantThe Naked Civil Servant does not feel cramped by its origins as television drama – smart direction by Jack Gold makes up for any small screen shortcomings. Although Gold was working with a small budget and tight shooting schedule (21 days), his use of exterior locations is judicious and the interior scenes are perfectly art directed. Aided by evocative music choices and excellent costumes, London from the 1920s through to the late 1960s is perfectly conjured up. Hurt, who was 35 at the time of filming, transforms slowly from ingénue to ageing roué with the aid of make-up and some stunning wigs.

When it was first broadcast, The Naked Civil Servant made both Hurt and Crisp household names. This release features both the original TV version (complete with breaks) and one reformatted for the big screen. Jack Gold, producer Verity Lambert and Hurt provide a chatty and informative commentary on the production history that must have been recorded for an earlier release (Lambert died in 2007, Gold in 2015). Hurt is fascinating on how he modulated his voice to convey ageing. Lambert describes her battles with the prudish IBA at the time. Also included are some tasty extras from the ITV archives – a documentary profile of Quentin Crisp from 1971 living in magnificent squalor, and a lovely, warm encounter in 1989 with Mavis Nicholson (his favourite interviewer) by which time Crisp was simply a national treasure. 

@saskiabaron


Crisp's resilience in the face of vicious homophobic attacks is contrasted with his discovery of pre-war gay subculture

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