STARRING John Hurt, Jonathan Tucker, Denis O'Hare, Swoosie Kurtz, Cynthia Nixon DIRECTED BY Richard Laxton SCREENPLAY Brian Fillis MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 75 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY ITV, Leopard Int'l
"An Englishman in New York" Review
In 1975, acclaimed actor John Hurt began his career with a remarkable performance in The Naked Civil Servant as the "stately homo of England," Quentin Crisp. Nearly 35 years later, Hurt returns to play Crisp one more time in An Englishman in New York, an ITV production that picks up where The Naked Civil Servant left off and follows Crisp to New York and through his death in 1999 at the age of 90.
While An Englishman in New York lacks the style, sass and attitude of the brilliant 1975 film, the film is worth watching if only for the once again marvelous performance of John Hurt, who seems capable of inhabiting the outspoken Crisp. At the age of 70, Crisp leaves the occasionally brutal and intolerant Sutton, England and finds himself in the glitzy, glamorous and Crisp-friendly New York City. His reputation cemented by the made-for-television movie The Naked Civil Servant based upon his own memoirs, Crisp is commissioned to assemble a one man show, acquires an American agent (Swoosie Kurtz) and rapidly becomes a cultural icon...at least until the relentlessly outspoken Crisp refers to AIDS as a "fad" and subsequently refuses to retract his statement. Ostracized from there on out by a rather loud faction of the gay community, Crisp begins to experience the same rejection from the gay community as he'd always experienced from the straight community in England. Nonetheless, there are those who stick by his side including writer Tom Steele (Denis O'Hare, in the film as Phillip Steele) and performance artist Penny Arcade (Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City), with whom Crisp would create his final show, The Last Will and Testament of Quentin Crisp.
The film itself is flawed, yet Hurt's performance as the flamboyant and lively Crisp is practically flawless in capturing Crisp's larger than life personality and simultaneously his rich humanness. Wisely, director Richard Laxton frames the film around Hurt's performance so that even when the film seems to be faltering Hurt is completely and utterly mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, Brian Fillis's screenplay feels stiff and confining when compared to the 1975 Crisp biopic and, at times, there's no denying that the dialogue falls flat despite Hurt's best effort. Additionally, those familiar with Crisp's later years will likely consider An Englishman in New York a bit soft in dealing with the rejection and intolerance Crisp dealt with after his "fad" statement and in the years that followed.
Despite falling far short of its predecessor in dealing with the life of Quentin Crisp, An Englishman in New York is worth a view once it arrives on home video to catch the performance of John Hurt revisiting the real life character who introduced him to Hollywood and turned him into a star.