The Naked Civil Servant (1975)

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Released 11-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Interviews-Cast-Quentin Crisp
Trailer-Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette,
Trailer-Death Of A Salesman, The Boy From Oz
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1975
Running Time 77:17 (Case: 102)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jack Gold
Fremantle Media
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring John Hurt
Liz Gebhardt
Patricia Hodge
Stanley Lebor
Katherine Schofield
Colin Higgins
John Rhys-Davies
Stephen Johnstone
Antonia Pemberton
Lloyd Lamble
Joan Ryan
Frank Forsyth
Shane Briant
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Carl Davis

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     "Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to a mountain of self-knowledge. I stumble toward my grave confused and hurt and hungry..."

     Thus ends Quentin Crisp's unflinching autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, published in 1968. As Crisp himself said, "An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing," and, as it was to transpire, that last instalment was still many years away - 31 long and eventful years in fact. His life has inspired several theatrical productions, a good deal of newsprint, and even the song, "Englishman in New York" by Sting. So who was this flamboyant but aloof individual?

      In 1908, in Surrey, England, Mrs Pratt, nursery governess and solicitor's wife, gave birth to her last child, Dennis. In the late 1920's, Dennis gave birth to the character that he would become for the remainder of his life, Quentin Crisp. The book which chronicled his first 60 years arrived at the burgeoning of the Sexual Revolution, and so found a ready audience who were at once scandalised and fascinated by this "living pamphlet" for effeminate homosexuality. In 1975, Thames Television adapted the book into a television biopic, starring John Hurt in the title role. Crisp himself introduced the piece which gave us the opportunity to compare Hurt's performance against the real thing. And what a performance! Not only are the mannerisms and affectations delivered with precision and realism, but the examination of the character within is poignantly and simply revealed.

      Given to blatant exhibitionism, Crisp endured almost constant beatings from local toughs who were threatened by his flamboyant style. He engaged for a time in street prostitution, although, in his own retrospection, he felt this was looking more for acceptance than income. Slowly, he began to assemble a group of friends who were in their own ways equally flamboyant and outrageous, finding himself in the arty world of Soho bohemia.

      Just before the Second World War he found work, lodgings and refuge by way of an unnamed ballet teacher, played outrageously in the film by Patricia Hodge. Being exempted from War service due to his "sexual perversion", he was employed at a government art school on the recommendation of the ballet teacher, thus becoming the 'naked civil servant'. In his own words, "The poverty from which I have suffered could be diagnosed as "Soho" poverty. It comes from having the airs and graces of a genius and no talent."

      The film portrays an individual who finds himself an alien to all that convention provides. It is produced with an element of sophistry and bitter wit that seems to reflect Crisp well. Its narration plays straight to the audience, emphasised by the use of caption boards, reminiscent of old silent movies. His search for enduring love remained unrequited, with the closest candidate being "Barndoor" (something of a different role for John Rhys-Davies, who we last saw as Gimli in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy!), with whom he shared his one room Chelsea flat for a number of tumultuous years.

      Although we are introduced to a number of his friends over the course of the movie, they are bit players in the solipsistic existence of Crisp. They have no flesh of their own - no thoughts, feelings or human resonance - they are simply foils for his observances. The film maintains a certain distance, even from the character of Crisp himself. He appears largely as a hapless sponge, drifting from circumstance to circumstance in an amazingly passive way. The only time we see any self-generated activity is when he chooses to defend himself against charges of perversion and solicitation levelled at him by two London constables. Ever mindful of his audience, he stands in the witness box and exposes the inaccuracies of their testimony.

      Having survived the court case, and with the war behind him, our last view of Crisp is in a park in London in the early 1970s. He wryly observes that the clothing that had earned him regular beatings from the town toughs was now the uniform of the youth culture. As four younger versions of those earlier toughs try to extort a pound each from him on threat of alleging he'd sexually assaulted them, he aloofly informs them that he is immune to their threats now. "I'm one of the stately homos of England," he sniffs, and minces away as the credits roll.

      Crisp moved to a one-room flat on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1980s. Although returning briefly for a cameo role as Queen Elizabeth I in Sally Potter's superb film, Orlando, he happily ensconced himself in Manhattan life, avowing that he had been, in his heart, an American since the first time his mother had taken him to the movies. There is some irony then in the fact that he actually died on English soil, on November 21, 1999, while preparing for a one-man show. If there is an afterlife (which he did not believe there was), a posthumous Crisp may have revelled in that last earthly detail.

"You fall out of your mother's womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave." - Quentin Crisp

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, full frame, which is apposite to its television origins.

     There are challenges to this transfer's sharpness levels at times, but given the age of the original stock, they may be forgivable. There is little low level noise present and contrast levels are generally very acceptable.

     The colours have also suffered from the age of the source material. Given that it was made for television, it has a somewhat overprocessed look at times, rendering skin tones a little on the ruddy side. However, the palette is quite broad and there is plenty of lush colour when warranted.

     There is evidence of transfer artefacts throughout, with film speckles and even some splice marks, but there is no aliasing to speak of, and grain levels are generally acceptable.

     There are no subtitles available on this DVD.

     This disc is a single sided, single layered disc, with no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The single English Dolby Digital 2.0 track available is adequate but not remarkable. The soundscape is very flat and central, with little sense of direction in evidence, but, while it's a little thin, at least it does not emerge as shrill as other soundtracks I've heard in the past.

     Dialogue is generally very clearly audible and there are no audio sync problems with this transfer.

     The music is almost non-existent in this piece. One never really feels aware of its presence. I think this is a good choice, as it restrains the piece from oversentimentality.

     There was no activity in either the surround speakers or the subwoofer throughout the presentation.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     The menu is silent, static and easy to navigate.

Interview With Quentin Crisp

     This is a composite of two interviews with Mavis Nicholson of Thames Television, the first in 1975 in London, and the second in 1989 in New York. Time has marched on, and we see a Crisp who is slowed by age, but nonetheless as witty and direct as ever. This is a worthwhile viewing and runs for 25 minutes, 11 seconds.

Umbrella Propaganda

     Trailers for Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette, Death of a Salesman and Peter Allen, Boy From Oz.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This does not appear to have been released in R1 so it's this or nothing.


     This is a fascinating little film which shows some of the features of the first 60 years in Crisp's life. It is made in a somewhat detached manner, probably reflecting the theatrical but strangely secretive manner of the subject himself. Hurt's characterisation is superb. A very interesting film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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