24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Hurt delivers standout performance.,
This review is from: An Englishman in New York  [DVD] (DVD)
I remember the first time I saw Quentin Crisp was in a half hour TV documentary that aired a year or so before the Naked Civil Servant made him into a minor phenomenon. There was this strange and rather exotic creature, somewhat resembling a stately Edwardian great aunt, trawling his index finger through an avalanche of house dust and delivering his famous message of hope to the housewives of England, whilst quaffing a dietary drink which he observed looked like wallpaper paste, tasted like wallpaper paste, but contained all the essential nutrients to sustain one without food (no wonder in later life he never refused a free lunch or party!) When The Naked Civil Servant appeared circa 1975, John Hurt's performance confirmed the impression that Crisp was a strange and startling entity.
This account of Crisp's later years in America, where he found modest fame and fortune, was greeted with rather tepid enthusuasm by the critics when it aired recently on TV. They observed it didn't have the impact of The Naked Civil Servant and lacked its freshness, its edginess and often savage humour. But perhaps this was inevitable. By the time Crisp died he seemed a rather cosy and familiar figure. When a few years back he delivered his "alternative queen's speech" on Christmas day TV we no longer stared in wide-eyed fascination. The world had changed and for Crisp it had become a friendlier, gentler place, poverty and struggle were things of the past. Only Crisp himself did not change very much, he remained brave and true to himself (often to the point of foolhardiness as in his waspish dismissal of AIDS as a gay fad.) So inevitably An Englishman in New York lacks some of the ingredients that made The Naked Civil Servant so compelling. But Hurt's second essay at Crisp is, if anything, even finer than his first. Here he has morphed into the aging Crisp so that the two seem indistiguishable in one's mind. It's a joy to hear him deliver in Crisp's measured monotone his contrarian aphorisms. Crisp's wit and wisdom often sound well-rehearsed but his material was so good that I imagine Oscar Wilde would have shown little hesitation in stealing it. And as the penny-pinching, raddled nonagenarian Crisp still surrounded by an avalanche of dust in slummy surroundings, Hurt achieves a degree of poignancy and pathos that one suspects the unsentimental Crisp seldom evoked in real life.
An enjoyable film, then, chiefly due to Hurt's standout performance. But the supporting cast is pretty good, especially Jonathan Tucker who gives an intense and moving performance as the gauche and rather tortured artist whom Crisp befriends and helps before his early death. Recommended.