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The Missionary

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The Missionary is a critically acclaimed British comedy film from 1982, directed by Richard Loncraine and featuring performances by esteemed actors Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, and Trevor Howard. Renowned for its unique blend of wry British humor, social commentary, and well-defined character portrayals, The Missionary has earned its place as a cult classic in the landscape of British cinema.

Michael Palin takes the lead as Reverend Charles Fortescue, a devout and naive missionary, who arrives back on British soil after having spent a decade administering spiritual guidance to the local tribes of Africa. His return is fuelled by a new mission that tests not only his faith but his moral compass as well. An eccentric benefactor, played with resolute fervor by Trevor Howard, assigns him the task of ministering London's female prostitutes, intending to redirect them from their wayward path towards a life of virtue.

However, the task proves to be far more challenging and complex than Fortescue initially anticipated. His faith, commitment, and even his celibacy, become the subject of tremendous trials, compounded by his encounters with the women he grapples to reform. His struggle is amplified by the simultaneous balancing act he conducts in his personal life.

One of the most notable features of the film is the performance of Maggie Smith, who plays Lady Isabel Ames. She is Fortescue's love interest and the wife of an oblivious local aristocrat. Smith plays her role to perfection, displaying impressive depth in her character's assortment of emotions and desires. Her portrayal of a lonely and wealthy woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, serves to heighten the complexity and conflict in Fortescue's life.

The humour in The Missionary is representative of the classic British comedy, set in a social context and brilliantly merged with sexual innuendos and light-hearted satire. It not only elicits laughter but also subtly comments on the hypocrisies of the society and the inequalities plaguing Victorian England. Though based out of this specific era, the themes even find resonance with the modern world, making The Missionary a timeless classic.

Director Richard Loncraine beautifully employs his cinemagraphic skills to construct this humorous and engaging narrative set against the backdrop of 1900s London. From the sights and sounds formed by the city's hustle and bustle to the more secluded and intimate settings like Fortescue's dilapidated mission house, every detail contributes to the film's authenticity and visual grandeur.

Penned by Michael Palin, who himself also takes a seat in the producer's chair in addition to his leading role in the film, the script successfully combines light-hearted humour, drama, and romance. The screenplay unfolds smoothly, the dialogues are crisp, and the narrative retains its allure for the audience throughout.

A pivotal aspect in The Missionary's enduring appeal is the strong performances by its cast members, apart from Palin and Smith. Trevor Howard delivers a compelling performance as the eccentric and privileged benefactor with many layers to his character. Enriched by a high-energy supporting cast, the film succeeds in encapsulating the absurd, the satirical, and the profound in one package.

Endearing subplots and the addition of other vibrant characters, such as socialites and shady gangsters, add more flavour to the storyline, ensuring that there's never a dull moment. Combined with Monty Python-esque comedy and traditional British humour, The Missionary becomes something much more than just a typical comedy film.

In conclusion, The Missionary is a delightful British comedy that manages to use humour as a medium for social commentary. It couples this with compelling performances by the likes of Michael Palin and Maggie Smith, an engaging plot, well-developed characters, and its satirical take on the Victorian era. It's a timeless classic in the landscape of British comedy-drama that seems to reveal new layers with each viewing. This film, from the early '80s, continues to entertain, thrill, and provoke thought among viewers across diverse generations.

The Missionary is a Comedy movie released in 1982. It has a runtime of 90 min. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.2..

Richard Loncraine
Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, Trevor Howard, Denholm Elliot
Also starring Michael Palin
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