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Coming hot on the heels on Michael Palin's `Ripping Yarns' and with its turn of the twentieth century setting it was widely assumed that `The Missionary' would be an extended episode. However it was a much gentler and subtle comedy with however some of the Pythonesque `silliness' that populated the comedy of `Ripping Yarns' is still present with Palin's fiancé believing fallen women being those whom have hurt their Knees and Michael Hordern's forgetful butler whom gets lost amongst Lord Ames country estate.

Palin is the missionary of the title returning to England after ten years in Africa to help the prostitutes of London's East End. Palin is given the job by the Bishop of London admirably played by Denholm Elliot and is required to obtain funding from Lord and Lady Ames played by Trevor Howard and the great Maggie Smith. I must say the best line goes to the Bishop of London `I must be going, I've got an exorcism in Chiswick.'

As well as the stellar cast the film is helped by Palin's wonderful script and the subtle direction of Richard Loncraine. Although not as laugh out loud funny as the Monty Python films, `The Missionary' is a wonderful warm and funny film.
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"Most o' my boys just want company... a bit o' cheerin' up. I'm like a mother to 'em! Only they can't sleep with their mothers so they come 'ere."

The Missionary originally began life as a projected spinoff of Michael Palin and Terry Jones' rather spiffing TV series Ripping Yarns, though by the time it got made Jones was out of the picture and the spirit of Ealing comedy had taken over. While at heart it's a sex comedy, it's also unfailing rather sweet and open-hearted, like its main character, and where the inspiration for the missionary of the title, the infamously defrocked missionary Harold Davidson, ended up being mauled to death after an ill-advised career-change to lion taming, here Palin gives everyone a happy ending of sorts. Even at 85 minutes there's not much plot, with most of the first two-thirds very amusing setup as Palin's missionary is summoned back from Africa to start a mission for fallen women in the East End of London and, in the words of Denholm Elliott's sports-mad Bishop of London, "Find out why they do what they do and stop them doing it." Naturally, it's he who is converted by the girls and led into temptation by a very attractive Maggie Smith's wealthy patron...

Unfortunately the film more or less fizzles out as it struggles a little too hard to come up with an ending, in the process missing some of the more obvious comic opportunities the premise presents. Yet throughout it manages to maintain a good-natured likeability, not least due to a particularly fine supporting cast - Michael Hordern's vaguely confused butler who doesn't know his way around the rambling country house, Trevor Howard's upper crust bigot writing angry letters to The Times, Phoebe Nicholls as the fiancé who thinks fallen women are lady tramps who have hurt their knees, Graham Crowden as the prospective father-in-law, David Suchet as an amorous Scottish gamekeeper and Timothy Spall as one of the servants. It's also strikingly beautifully designed as well, though this doesn't always come across as well on the small screen.

Sadly the UK DVD's cropping from the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio to 1.85:1 (something that also happened to Richard Loncraine's Richard III in the UK) does hurt parts of the picture, such as the sequence where Palin is too caught up in his sales pitch to notice his intended benefactor has died. It's even more ironic considering it was one of the few British pictures to shoot in Scope in that period
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on 18 May 2009
I love this film for what it has to say about the suspect morals of the victorian upper classes. The cast is excellent but Maggie Smith shines.
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on 21 January 2003
So, you think Michael Palin is a nice, wholesome man with good morals and manners? You're very correct - but the character he plays in this film blows away the old theory that Michael is in fact the "nicest" Python. A saucy and very witty film that makes me roll on the floor laughing time after time - a must see for all Python and Michael Palin fans!
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on 11 February 2013
Sadly, even 3 stars is generous - would like to have given more but can't justify it. More an extended sketch than a feature film concept. Beautiful to look at but lacks any kind of character development or real plot structure.
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on 10 August 2013
A wonderful film with terrific humour. Michael Palin and Maggie Smith just MARVELLOUS. Pity there were no subtitles so my husband could enjoy this film properly.
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on 1 February 2015
A touch of Carry On as well as Python here in a jolly romp which is unlikely to trouble the intellect too much but it's watchable and has its amusing moments. Stealing the show as usual is Maggie Smith and her amazing Edwardian hair. The message, such as it is, is that bourgeois Victorians were stuffy about sex and that the working classes and the toffs were untroubled by inhibitions. How true that really is, is anybody's guess.
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on 25 December 2012
It's a decent film although it looks like an expanded episode (although less zany) from Ripping Yarns. Palin at his usual and good supporting cast performances from Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott and Phoebe Nicholls. Palin fans will know what to expect.
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on 19 September 2010
There were a lot of excellent films released in 1982 so I think this was overshadowed as it is merely very good. There's some nice subtle dark humour in here as well as the more obvious stuff. Trevor Howard obviously enjoying camping it up as Lord Ames and having great fun when writing letters to The Times ! Very British and very enjoyable.
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on 24 March 2006
I gave it only 4 stars, because the background noise and music was simply too loud for me to really enjoy the dialogues of the actors.
Other than that, it's a funny comedy. Michael Palin acts wonderfully, and apart from the humour, the film also brings up social criticism, something which I very much like in movies.
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