Directed by Richard Loncraine
Written by Michael Palin
Starring Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, Trevor Howard, Denholm Elliott, Phoebe Nicholls
HandMade Films was a UK-based film company that had a long list of good films to its credit in the 1980s. It’s founding was due to a favor. The Monty Python group had discovered that the financing for Life of Brian fell through at the last minute, George Harrison stepped in to produce it.* The studio continued successfully for about twenty years, producing dramas like The Long Good Friday and comedies (often involving the Monty Python actors) like The Missionary.
In 1906, the Rev. Charles Fortescue (Michael Palin) is returning to England after ten years as a missionary in Africa, where his fiancée, Deborah Fairbanks (Phoebe Nicholls). Fortescue is soon given an assignment by the Bishop (Denholm Elliott) to help fallen women redeem themselves. To help set things up, Fortescue writes for money from Lord Ames (Trevor Howard) and is invited to their home, where he meets his wife Lady Isobel (Maggie Smith), who is especially interested in the project (and in Fortescue). But Fortescue goes into the work and begins to develop a . . . different way to bring the women to his church.
Michael Palin is perhaps the most underrated comedian in Monty Python, and shows off his acting in portraying Fortescue as an innocent who slowly begins to figure out what is going on. Maggie Smith is excellent (of course) as Lady Isobel, who is far from the prim and proper English lady. Phoebe Nicholls is a wonderful surprise as the aggressively naïve fiancée** and the rest of the cast is filled with veteran UK actors who know how to make the most of their roles.
The movie is more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but is an entertaining and somewhat bawdy delight.
* Eric Idle called it “the most expensive movie ticket every bought.”
** When asked what she thinks a fallen woman is, she says, “Women who have hurt their knees?”