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Personal Services
cast: Julie Walters, Alec McCowen, Shirley Stelfox, Terry Jones, and Danny Schiller

director: Terry Jones

105 minutes (18) 1986
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
One of my ex-girlfriend's claims to fame is that she once returned home to find a message on her phone from Cynthia Payne. At the time, my ex-girlfriend was running a local political campaign and Ms Payne was kind enough to offer her services (and those of the girls) in the campaigning. I don't think the offer was taken up but the kind of innocent blending of the mundane with the sexually exotic strikes a similar tone to this Python-directed comedy drama inspired by the life of Cynthia Payne (but definitely not based upon it we're told in no uncertain terms).

Christine Painter is a waitress who makes money on the side by sub-letting cheap flats out to prostitutes. All it takes is for a couple of them to be behind in the rent and Christine finds herself serving as a maid and then going on the game herself. Her newfound skill as a dominatrix brings her money and allows her to build a loving community of perverts around her.

This is arguably Julie Walters' finest hour. Far from the overrated tedium of Mrs Overall and the Victoria Wood oeuvre, she plays Christine with a spring in her step and shows a wonderful understanding of the nuances of comedy. The elderly wing commander, who boasts having flown over 200 missions over occupied France while wearing bra and panties, also consistently upstages her. He also gets all the best lines such as "the future is for kinky people" and "what's the point of being an old man if you can't be dirty." Giving the best pro-kinky lines to a secondary character serves to nicely highlight how conflicted this film really is.

As is traditional for comedy-dramas, this film fails to satisfy either as a drama or as a comedy. The dramatic scenes featuring Christine's brushes with the law and her family feel surprisingly tacked on as she doesn't really seem all that bothered by either when she's not directly confronted by them. The comedy, meanwhile, is anaemic (there aren't actually that many jokes) and is undermined by the film's refusal to pick a viewpoint and stick with it. One moment the film is making fun of 'kinkies' and playing them for laughs and the next minute it is suggesting that they are completely normal and that prostitution is a public service (as evidenced in Christine's misanthropic "balls full, brains empty" speech at the end of the film). The kinkies are also strangely asexual in that they are all old men and they do not even seem to have sex apart from the occasional hand-job. Mercifully, the film seems to conclude that kinkies are good people but far from a full-throated roar of approval, this film is more of a vaguely patronising tut-tuts of tolerance.

While an enjoyable film, Personal Services lacks the high joke content of many comedies and its weak sexual politics and dramatic content fail to redeem it. However, it does have a few decent jokes and some good lines and performances, and this DVD is well worth a look if you have not seen the film before.
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