Denholm Eliott, in the second of his three consecutive BAFTA winning performances, plays the ringleader of the "nefarious" group secretly procuring food outside of the food rationing policies set by the government. Denholm Elliott is the funniest part of this comedy of manners because he plays the part the role less as a stuck up high class doctor and more as a crime boss not entirely unlike Michael Caine's Mortwell in Mona Lisa. Elliott's approach is to take everything so seriously that it ends up becoming more than a little hilarious, I won't say he quite plays it straight though because he doesn't exactly. There is a build up to this though as we see glimpses of his character as he is working with his "gang" of other well to dos who plan on getting their pork for a pivotal private function no matter what it takes, well maybe not no matter what. These guys though are pretty severe though it seems evidenced by Elliott's mere body language in these scenes as he sits with his darkened expression among the others, clearly the man of power, of course we're talking about the leader of a hoity toit dinner.
Unfortunately for doctor Swaby and his "villains" the new doctor in town, foot doctor that is, Gilbert accidentally comes wind of their hidden pigs who, egged on by his wife, decide to steal it in order to social climb. This leads to the doctor to be short of one pivotal main course for his dinner party leading to a break down among his gang. Elliott is hilarious in this scene, particularly the pained distress in his reaction at being suggested that they replace the main course with salmon. Elliott's great as he takes this atypical swing around as he plays it more mobster than snob in the viciousness he exudes in his speech against the changing mores of England. It is not entirely unlike Bob Hoskins's final speech in The Long Good Friday though of course Elliott's anger stems from having to share a little rather than due to losing everything. What I actually loved is that Elliott does not wink at any point in this playing the whole thing straight yet skewed still as a most ridiculous society man.
Elliott's best scenes come in the climax in the film where the men find their stolen pigs and must deal with Joyce and Gilbert in order to proceed with their proper meal on time. Elliott again stays with his oh so amusing approach as he brings so much intensity to the role. I with all sincerity hope Elliott played a legitimate gangster once since Elliott would be genuinely menacing in the role if his threats were more than just rather vague insults. Of course that is what makes Elliott so funny as he delivers his lines with the same type of determined hate you'd expect from a man who will kill to get what he wants, although of course the doctor really won't go that far. Elliott's subversion is quite something with the highlight being perhaps his version of Robert Prosky's speech in Thief since Elliott does not hold back directing his brutal words so effectively yet his brutal words basically amount to "hey nobody likes you, leave town". Elliott gives a very entertaining performance as he stays so true and consistent in his initial setup of portraying Dr. Charles Swaby as the most "merciless" of all dinner party hosts.