“The Missionary”: A Classic British Comedy

Released in 1982, “The Missionary” is a British comedy film that combines humor with a satirical take on the Victorian era. Directed by Richard Loncraine and written by Michael Palin, who also stars in the film, “The Missionary” offers a laugh-out-loud look at the life of a missionary in Africa during this colonial era.

The movie was released during a period of resurgence in British comedy films. It drew inspiration from the successful works of the Monty Python team, of which Michael Palin was a member, as well as other well-known British comedies of the time. “The Missionary” was a breakout film for both Palin and Loncraine, showcasing their talents in writing, directing, and acting.

Directed by Richard Loncraine, who later went on to direct notable films such as “Brimstone and Treacle” and “My One and Only,” “The Missionary” perfectly captures the essence of British comedy. The screenplay was written by Michael Palin, a gifted writer and performer renowned for his work in the Monty Python comedy group.

The film was produced by HandMade Films, a production company founded by former Beatle, George Harrison. HandMade Films had a track record of producing successful British movies, including “Life of Brian” and “Time Bandits.” The company’s involvement added prestige and excitement to the production.

“The Missionary” follows the story of Reverend Charles Fortescue, played by Michael Palin. Fortescue is a young, naive missionary eager to travel to Africa to spread the message of Christianity. However, the reverend’s motivations quickly become more complex when he falls in love with a young prostitute named Isabel, portrayed by Maggie Smith. Their relationship creates a central conflict between Fortescue’s religious beliefs and his desire to be with Isabel.

The film features a star-studded cast, with Michael Palin and Maggie Smith leading the way. Palin’s comedic timing and portrayal of the bumbling-yet-well-intentioned reverend make him a compelling and lovable character. Maggie Smith’s performance as Isabel adds depth and emotional complexity to the story. Other notable cast members include Trevor Howard, Denholm Elliott, and Michael Hordern.

Upon its release, “The Missionary” received mixed reviews from critics. Some praised the film for its witty script, impressive performances, and satirical take on colonialism. Others, however, found fault in the film’s reliance on predictable comedic tropes and felt it lacked the biting satire seen in other British comedies of the time. Despite the mixed critical reception, the film garnered a dedicated following and was generally well-received by audiences who appreciated its charming humor and endearing characters.

Despite not achieving significant box office success, “The Missionary” made an impact on popular culture. It solidified Michael Palin’s status as a leading comedic actor and showcased his talents as a writer. The film’s wit and charming style helped preserve the British comedy tradition, paving the way for future films in the genre.

Following the release of “The Missionary,” there were no direct sequels or prequels. However, the film served as a launching pad for Michael Palin’s successful acting and writing career. He went on to star in and write numerous acclaimed films and television shows, continuing to make audiences laugh with his unique brand of comedy.

In conclusion, “The Missionary” is a delightful British comedy that blends humor with a satirical exploration of the Victorian era and the role of missionaries in Africa. Directed by Richard Loncraine and written by Michael Palin, the film showcases their talents both in front of and behind the camera. Though it received mixed reception upon release, “The Missionary” remains a charming, comedic gem that holds a special place in the hearts of comedy enthusiasts and British film fans alike.

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