Naked Civil Servant, The (1975) (DVD)
The Naked Civil Servant created a furor in 1975 when it premiered on PBS in North America with viewers threatening to yank their support of their local stations. It was a film ahead of its time about a man even more ahead of his time. The Naked Civi Servant is based on the autobiography of Quentin Crisp, a man struggling to live an openly flamboyant, gay lifestyle during a time when homosexuality was against the law in Britain. His outlandish behavior shocked the intolerant pre-WWII British society and provoked frequent homophobic attacks, but Crisp staunchly refused to compromise his lifestyle and went on to become a cult celebrity and an international gay icon, a 20th-Century Oscar Wilde. This colorful, heartwarming coming of age tale is by turns funny and tragic.
Between Oscar Wilde and Boy George, Quentin Crisp was the most important gay icon in England. The TV movie The Naked Civil Servant, adapted from Crisp’s autobiography and broadcast in 1975, had a significant social impact in the cause of gay rights, and it’s easy to see why. Packed with witty aphorism but also unflinching in its portrayal of the verbal and physical abuse Crisp received for being an openly effeminate homosexual; throughout most of Crisp’s life, simply being flamboyant was a political statement, one not always appreciated by other gay men who sought to pass unsuspected. The film briskly moves from when he stumbled into London’s gay demimonde to his bohemian social world and career as an artist’s model to a particularly superb scene when he was put on trial for solicitation. The Naked Civil Servant also brought the brilliant John Hurt, who played Crisp with intelligence and humanity, to wide acclaim. Hurt has since appeared in movies as diverse as Alien, The Elephant Man, V for Vendetta, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but Crisp remains a signature role for this unique actor. The fortuitous combination of Crisp and Hurt makes The Naked Civil Servant essential viewing. Extras on the dvd include a short television piece in which Crisp interviewed Tina Brown when she was editor of Vanity Fair and a sweet, reminiscing commentary by Hurt, director Jack Gold, and producer Verity Lambert. –Bret Fetzer