“Do you intend to spend your whole life admiring yourself?”
The Naked Civil Servant is based on the life of Quentin Crisp, and in the opening sequence, the real Quentin Crisp makes the introduction that in a film “even the worst is at least better than life.” Crisp led a remarkable life–not always a very happy one–but the film manages to transport us beyond the actual events of Crisp’s life, and instead concentrates on the things Crisp said and the things Crisp stood for. This is largely accomplished by John Hurt’s outstanding, performance as Crisp. Hurt perfectly captures the essence of Crisp and delivers his words with an even, detached and amusing style. Crisp, who described himself as a ‘flamboyant homosexual’ was born in 1908 to middle-class parents. It becomes clear that Quentin is ‘different’ and his exasperated father really never knows quite what to do with Quentin. Quentin seems to lack ambition, and he’d rather stand in front of a mirror admiring himself than go out and find a job. Quentin abruptly leaves home and becomes a male prostitute, and eventually–an artist’s model.
Crisp accepted the labels placed on him by society (moral perversion), and he dealt with it–never once offering excuses, apologizing or attempting to gain acceptance. Crisp was simply a remarkable person who showed fortitude and amazing moral courage. He was constantly humiliated, brutalized and the subject of wanton cruelty, yet he maintained dignity in spite of humanity’s frequent attempts to belittle him. The film contains two outstanding segments that illustrate Crisp’s approach to society. One segment occurs when Crisp encounters army recruitment officials during WWII, and the second segment covers Crisp’s trial.
The film follows Crisp’s life up until 1975. During his lifetime, Quentin Crisp was called “the heir of Oscar Wilde”, and this film really illustrates Crisp’s ironic, detached humour. If you enjoyed the film, I also recommend Crisp’s autobiography The Naked Civil Servant and Stately Homo: A Celebration of the Life of Quentin Crisp.