Tuesday, 18 August 2015
Personal Services (1987)
The second of David Leland's films inspired by the life of madam Cynthia Payne (the first was Wish You Were Here which concentrated on her youth, growing up on the Sussex coast) Personal Services marked the post-Python directorial debut of Terry Jones and secured him a place in cinema history - being the only director to have three films he helmed banned in Ireland (this, The Meaning of Life and Life of Brian)
The story follows Christine Painter (Julie Walters) a cash-strapped waitress desperate for a break. It comes in the surprising shape of prostitute Shirley (Shirley Stelfox) and Dolly (Danny Schiller) who inspire her to boost her earnings by turning her home into a brothel and offering her own 'personal services' including a 'Popozogolou', a sex act inspired by a brief bargaining dalliance with her landlord of the same name!
Before long, Christine's sideline becomes a success and she and her girls are soon catering for the kinky, which includes a number of Britain's establishment including barristers and high court judges, military men and Honourable Members. Throughout it all, Christine sees herself as providing a vital personal service to these men whose tastes she views as harmless and amusing. As Payne said herself; "What's wrong with wanting to slap somebody's bottom once in a while, so long as no harm is done? We all have our peculiarities, we just cover them up, that's all." (the comment was made regarding the downfall of Tory MP Harvey Proctor who, in 1987 - the year the film was released - was prosecuted for gross indecency, following the spanking and caning two under age male prostitutes. In March this year, Proctor's name has resurfaced once more over allegations of historic child sex abuse)
The film belongs to Julie Walters, an actress whom in the 1980s excelled as playing young women who, when faced with overwhelming odds, find within themselves an untapped reserve of resilience and toughness to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to the top. In Christine, she has one of the better examples of such a screen character, blessed with some wonderfully unselfconscious, blunt laugh out loud lines from Leland's wickedly funny script - the scene with Dolly in the toilets is hilarious. It's a typically and distinctly English movie, and the old absurdist Jones naturally finds more interest in the 'nudge-nudge-wink-wink' sauciness than he does in any implicit drama or morality regarding the situation - arguably the film's only weakness is in its depiction of prostitution as harmless and a bit of well paying fun.
A worthy companion to Wish You Were Here - we don't make 'em like this anymore.