Saturday, 22 April 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1984: Denholm Elliott in A Private Function

Denholm Elliott did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning BAFTA, for portraying Dr. Charles Swaby in A Private Function.

A Private Function is yet another off-beat film from 84 this time about a husband Gilbert (Michael Palin) and wife Joyce (Maggie Smith) getting into the complicated black market during food rationing in post-war England.

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.


Deiner said...

Louis: is that film any good? I have it in my watchlist. Anyways, can you give your thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I'm quite glad you very much liked a performance from Elliott :)

Now, I really hope you're doing 2012 next.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your top ten favorite performances of actors playing against type,and your top ten favorite of actors playing within their type.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Also, what is your rating for Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, and would you consider upgrading him in the future.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: Elwes is a 4.

Alex Marqués said...

The premiere of Fargo was soooo good. This season is going to rock.

Charles Heiston said...

Great performance from Elliot. I'm hoping and assuming 2012 is next on the list.

Louis Morgan said...


It's okay overall. It's one where I'd say the performances are better than the material itself as the funniest moments come from the type of delivery and reaction rather than the line or action itself.

Palin - 4(Palin as typical for Palin is very funny this time as kind of the sort of shy lead type who stays so unassuming no matter what. Palin though is quite amusing though in just his timing is so good, and so many of the laughs come from his expressions of concern over dealing with the large pig.)

Smith - 4(Though I'd say her BAFTA win among the nominees was perhaps a bit too much this is rather entertaining performance from her again very much in her wheelhouse in playing into the manners so to speak. Smith though is quite funny though by remaining so proper no matter how ridiculous the situation becomes, and you know she might have deserved the award for her delivery of the line "I believe sexual intercourse is in order".)

Grffiths - 3.5(Griffiths is quite amusing as well in portraying his character's sympathy with Palin's over the concern for the pig. His performance is basically a series of comical sad faces which are indeed quite comical.)


1. Gene Hackman - The Conversation
2. Richard Attenborough - 10 Rillington Place
3. Laurence Olivier - The Entertainer
4. James Stewart - Vertigo
5. Sean Connery - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
6. Elliot Gould - The Long Goodbye
7. Tom Cruise - Collateral
8. James Caan - Misery
9. John Hurt - The Hit
10. Henry Fonda - Once Upon a Time in The West

Within type gets a little trickier, since some you could argue don't have an exact type.