The late, great John Hurt was truly the master of the craft. An accomplished screen and stage actor who threw himself into each role with aplomb and gusto, nowhere better displayed is his skill and talent then in The Naked Civil Servant, the 1975 television film that won him his first BAFTA for Best Actor.
Based on the true story of Quentin Crisp and his openly homosexual lifestyle in 1930’s London, The Naked Civil Servant details Crisp’s life through the 30’s and the onset of World War II right up to the 1970s. Living through a time where homosexuality was illegal and openly gay men were reviled by society, Crisp’s absolute refusal to hide himself from the world and instead wholly embrace his sexuality provides a tantalising but powerful tale of courage and determination.
Quite rightly, director Jack Gold brings the film to exuberant life, imbuing Crisp’s life story with all the eccentricity, colour, camp and theatrical flamboyance that defined him. And yet, the film reminds us that this was not an overly glamorous and happy time to be an out gay man in Britain – the film remains a gritty, harsh and powerful tale of persecution and discrimination, ensuring the struggles of it’s subject are not watered down or cheapened.
And yet ultimately The Naked Civil Servant is an uplifting and moving viewing experience. Hurt‘s performance is pitched perfectly, a wonderful take on Crisp that cuts to the heart of his character’s more vulnerable side, as well as his confident, self-assured camp bravado. Its a superb, iconic, multi-faceted performance, one that oozes charm, emotion and spirit throughout. It’s entirely impossible not to watch the film and walk away without the slightest bit of admiration for both Sir John and Quentin Crisp himself.
Re-released in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which was the first major step in the decriminalisation of homosexuality, The Naked Civil Servant has lost little of its power or witty humour, offering a glimpse into a dark corner of a bygone era and proving that it’s message of identity and self-acceptance is still as relevant today as it was in 1975.
Perhaps just as important, it proves how talented an actor Sir John Hurt was, and how much he will be missed.
The DVD offers two short TV programmes from the archives, each focusing on the real-life Quentin Crisp, whose depiction onscreen in The Naked Civil Servant boosted his profile greatly and gave him celebrity status (each lasts 25 mins). There’s also a Script PDF, an image gallery, and best of all, an excellent commentary track featuring Hurt, director Jack Gold and Executive Producer Verity Lambert, which provides plenty of insight into the making of the film. A Blu-Ray exclusive ‘Making of’ documentary was unavailable for review.