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|Index||15 reviews in total|
Personal Services is an exceptional film that has been underrated, ignored
and obscured by the avalanche of goon comedies which crowd the late 80's
90's. Its portrait of a kindly brothel keeper do-gooder (which might be
described as the kinky, middle aged s&m version of Austen's Emma) is so
packed with outrageous imagery, one could forget to admire its level headed
attitude toward sex. The glee it takes at exposing the absolute silliness
adults on the subject, as well as its constant stabs at the hypocrisy of
British middle class makes it stand out. Neither of those subjects are
particularly unknown to British comedy, of course, but Personal Services
never lets up, and skewers so many shoddy English values at the rate of
The film is a strong departure of style for Terry Jones, its director, whose former The Meaning of Life would lead us to imagine another style altogether. Certainly he is drawn to the material for its surrealistic and madcap flavor, but he surprisingly brings qualities of realism, detail and nitty-grit to the episodes that help keep the film grounded in a believable social milieu.
The script, by David Leland (Mona Lisa) is a fictional account that follows the rise of Cynthia Payne, the English madame who became the darling of the English press after several arrests in the middle 80's. Leland also wrote and directed a film released the same year (Wish You Were Here) which captures Payne in her teen-age years, but Personal Services is much tighter, rapid-fire and more ambitious.
The film veers between outrageous comic episodes and very real emotional moments that reflect the social realist scenes of earlier English films like A Taste of Honey and Room at the Top. The struggle of a woman deciding whether to take the plunge and become a prostitute; the scene where the heroine confronts her distant dad at her sister's wedding; the scenes that reflect the loneliness and isolation the heroine feels may not seem appropriate in a pull-out-all-the-stops laugh fest, but they help to deepen the themes of the film, and give it both depth and breath. One of the more melancholy themes that stays dominant in the film is the deep emotional price one must pay for being a non-conformist.
The vivid imagery Jones brought to the Monty Python films serves an equally symbolic purpose here. The image of a prostitute with angel's wings flapping pitifully about a moonlit garden as she tries to escape the policeman who tackles her is an image which welds perfectly the film's sacred and profane themes and is unforgettable. And there are so many daring, in your face scenes the discipline scenes in the brothel; the exposure of Dotty in the john; the marvelous gift the madame gives both her father and son and they keep the film more surprising and fresh than most sex comedies of the 90's.
Julie Waters gives one of her wittiest, shaded, and full performances but she is only one the many character actors in the film are perfect in tone and work together in extraordinary ways. The film serves as a reality check about one's own up-tight attitudes about sex. (Your own squirming should be a revelation! ) American viewers need to be very much on their toes, however, because some of the funniest dialogue is rapid (with authentic accents) and often thrown away. Also helpful is to realize the slang expression `willie' does NOT refer to a dolphin, but to a guy's you know what.
I am always running into people who discovered this film on their own, and hold it high on their list of the greatest comedies. I urge you to discover it for yourself!
This film has a preface that it is fiction, and though the writer David
Leland was inspired by a book by Cynthia Payne - the infamous British Madam
- this is not the story of Cynthia Payne. The disclaimer is repeated at the
end, and then we see that the production consultant was Cynthia Payne.
Perhaps there was a legal necessity for Madam Payne and the film-makers to
provide this escape clause, since the film's madam, named Christine Painter,
was charged with possessing obscene material for gain and running a brothel.
What makes this madam's brothel different is that Christine's clientele is gentlemen over 40 with a taste for kink, though the bondage and discipline we see is very mild. You would have to be extremely prudish to be offended by such behaviour. What makes these scenes so funny is how ordinary the customers are, which only reinforces the hypocrisy of the laws that consider prostitution a crime, and the insight the "tarts" have into men's sexuality. I loved the line "When the balls are full, the brain is empty", and the madam's argument that wives would never be wanting for anything as long as they kept their men "de-spunked".
As Christine, Julie Walters delivers a brilliant comic performance. She is a no-nonsense uppity woman, constantly in motion, who has never cared for sex but enters into the business for economic reasons. The ads posted in a shop window are deliberately double entendre-d eg large chest for sale, french polishing available. Walters looks surprising voluptuous here though as she becomes more successful she starts to resemble a drag queen. When she attends her sister's wedding, there is a confrontation scene with her father, and we see what a fool he is for not appreciating her.
Director Terry Jones came from the Monty Python group but it is to his credit that the humor is not juvenile or in poor taste. Walters does have an odd scene where she is suddenly in an exotic location and spying on a couple having sex, another where a revolving camera glorifies her romantic fantasies, and the circumstances of a missed "normal" date hint at that old chestnut that whores are doomed to die lonely. But overall the tone is light and positive. Special mention is made of Shirley Stelfox as the stern "Nanny", and Danny Schiller as the maid with an undetermined sex.
beautifully acted, unexpectedly moving, hilarious, and at times very, very dirty, this film is "inspired by" the life of cynthia payne, one of the most notorious madame's in britain's history - julie walters is brilliant as a woman who evolves from a waitress struggling to make her rent, to a successful businesswoman running a brothel that caters only to "kinky sorts" - through all of it, she raises a son, forces her father to come to terms with the person his daughter has become, and has difficulty with the "charles and diana" ideal of love that she can never find for herself - perhaps the greatest quality of this film, though, is its ability to shock at every turn - just when you thought you'd seen just how honestly funny kinky sex can be, think again...
Very funny movie, one of my favorites. The entire cast was great but Julia Walters was excellent, as always. "Popazokaloo" should have become a household word, apparently not enough people saw the movie. The scene in the loo will make you laugh till you cry. I find it interesting that the men I know that have seen the movie don't find it as amusing as the women who have viewed it do. (Watch it and draw your own conclusions about my observation.)
The story of Cynthia Payne (London's notorious 'Luncheon Voucher Madam') could have easily been made into a tawdry little sex farce, but underneath all the kinky detail is a film aspiring toward something more than just another naughty biography. Julie Walters' vivid performance, bristling with barely suppressed nervous energy, creates a memorable portrait of a working class girl who, to make ends meet, opens a cheerfully uninhibited suburban brothel catering to the milder perversions of errant older gentlemen: costume fantasies; flagellation; transvestitism, and so forth. There's plenty of wit (much of it with a sharp edge) in David Leland's screenplay, which despite its forthright lack of inhibition is remarkably tolerant of (and even sympathetic to) the shortcomings of its characters. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and hide the guilty), but the facts are essentially true (despite a pair of disclaimers) and Terry Jones' direction shows more tact than otherwise might be expected from a former member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a troupe never known for their subtlety or discretion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Often it is said that you can define a country by the way it deals with
that thorny business known as sex. Personal Services is as English as
it gets about sex. Based very loosely on the life of English madam
Cynthia Payne, Personal Services takes the character of Cynthia Painter
and follows her progress from London waitress to a brothel keeper or
It starts with an accident. Madam is renting out flats but her clients (particularly one) don't pay her rent so she has to pay her landlord in a different way, by offering him sexual favours. Pretty soon, she starts to do this on a regular basis. Usually her clients are old men or men with a particular 'kink' such as wearing rubber and being locked in a cupboard with only a panic button for company. Others prefer being treated like naughty school boys and being spanked by matron or mistress. All this is done in the only way it can be done, the English style, accompanied by ribald comments about male anatomy, cups of tea, transvestites called 'Dolly' and, of course, the law, the police and eventually the crown court judge (who happens to be a Painter client).
It is Belle De Jour without Catherine Deneuvre and with a lot more fun and more honesty. And of course, loads of tea and biscuits.
Julie Walters (ex-nurse) is brilliant in her portrayal of a seedy London brothel owner. Very English comedy - which sends itself up and has just the right amount of "Carry On" element to make it work. As Julie herself says in the film "fresh from a chicken's gonga".
Loved this movie. Some of the scenes make you squirm. Some unpleasant surprises that are somehow funny. Can't help but like the characters - especially the military man who needs some mahogany polished.
As a fan of Monty Python, I've watched every movie directed by either
Gilliam or Jones, and one day I will manage to watch every single movie
featuring them, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and the other guys. "Personal
Services" was a bit hard to find, and although I've ranked it slightly
below average, the experience of watching it was actually quite a
Since it's based on a real story, I won't waste any time mentioning the plot in my review. The storyline is indeed engaging, and as for the dialog, I believe a decent effort was made by both the writers and the cast. Altogether, Jones' comedic genius is visible and works in many scenes throughout the movie.
However, this was one of the first - if not the first - directing enterprise for Jones after his work with Monty Python, during which he shared directing duties with Gilliam. It's interesting to notice how the director attempts to forge his own style, specially in this case where he was a part of a big ensemble of extremely funny people.
Jones managed to mature his style over his next films, to the point I'd say his last one, "Absolutely Anything", is perfect almost in every way. This movie is the beginning of that and, although it's not brilliant, it's entertaining and worth your time. In some instances it almost looks experimental, like something out of film school. But even when it looks like that, it still feels better than many movies with terrible plots or solid directing. Sometimes a funny person doing a sloppy job directing a good story is enough to make a movie watchable. At least I think it beats renowned directors showing off their Cinema credentials, with an uninteresting plot.
If not anything else, this movie helped me solidify this notion: there is probably nothing more important in Cinema than a good storyline.
This film is a forgotten British Masterpiece, if only for its portrayal of something we still find difficult to come to terms with now in 2016. Everyone has a little inside them of what is shown here, awakening that, sometimes is beyond our own choices, but for us to begin to understand what makes people tick, this film really needs to be watched. There is a little nudity, but more important, there is good all round acting and a solid belief when you reach the end that your time has not been wasted. If you can indeed find a copy i fully recommend you open a bottle of wine, get out the popcorn, close the curtains, lock the door, put out the granny, and enjoy.
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