The life of a missionary, recently returned from a decade in Africa to get married, takes an unexpected twist when he is tasked by the Bishop of London with starting a mission house in the East End for fallen women. Leaving his adoring fiancee in the country, he sets out to raise funds and start his new work.
The first step is getting money, which ends up being simple. He meets the bored wife of an ageing and addled millionaire, and when she demonstrates her attraction for him, he has the cash. Now for the flock.
At first, he’s lost in the dark, violent streets of East London. But a few choice meetings, a little more… personal service, and the mission is launched. Against all expectations, it succeeds, due to his… rather unusual methods of attending to his new flock.
Michael Palin is his usual, efficient self here, in the familiar surroundings of a Handmade Films production – but surprisingly he gets little chance to stand out because the real stars are the supporting cast. And this is even more surprising when you see that Palin both co-wrote and produced the film.
Michael Hordern is hilarious as the absent minded butler with the James May-like sense of direction, whilst Phoebe Nicholls as his patient but adoring fiancee is wonderfully simple and innocent, refusing to understand that the term ‘lady tramps’ means more than slightly grubby homeless women.
It’s a mixture of period piece, bed-hopping farce, and social commentary all wrapped up in a vehicle for Palin that quickly gets overtaken by the rest of the field. It’s good, but you really notice that Palin is floundering a bit in the face of so much on-screen competition.
No mention of Robert De Niro? Ah, but seriously, this is nice enough but it's awfully slight, with more attention paid to the impeccable period trappings than the plot. Would have made a decent Ripping Yarn, but it was a bit lost on the big screen.