Christine Painter (Julie Walters) is a waitress in London who makes money by subletting bedsits - mainly to prostitutes. Today she's run off her feet in the cafe, but nevertheless finds time to break off from her busy schedule to chase one of her tenants, Rose (Victoria Hardcastle), down the street because she owes her money. And in turn, Christine owes her landlord money, and with paying her son's private school fees she is strapped for cash. After catching up with Rose and wrestling her to the floor, they reach an arrangement: Christine will be Rose's madam, and seeing as how Christine has just performed a personal service on her landlord in to pay for another week's rent, it won't be long before she is joining the oldest profession...
Little recalled now, the story of Cynthia Payne was a cause celebre of the eighties in Britain, where she was tut-tutted for keeping a brothel but excited prurient interests in regard to what exactly she had got up to there. This film is at pains (hah!) to make clear that this is only inspired by her life and not a straight autobiography, and definitely not based on any real people who might have been paying for her to attend to them. Except that a small caption on the end credits cites Payne as a consultant, so we can surmise that although the names have been changed, writer David Leland may well be sticking closely to the facts. Certainly the spirit is there.
Another Leland-scripted film, Wish You Were Here, had covered Payne's early years, and this time around director Terry Jones emphasised the prosaic over the fantasy life, although Christine's own fantasies are represented by a Mills and Boon style dream sequence or two, suggesting she wants emotional involvement she will never attain because she's hanging around with middle-aged sex weirdos. The film starts out seedy and then adds humour to the mix, as Christine is shown to have a healthy sense of the ridiculous along with a long suffering acceptance of men's private needs. With her friends Shirley (Shirley Stelfox) and "maid" Dolly (Danny Schiller) she builds up a lucrative line in catering for special interests.
These interests are presented as quaint for the most part, a source of comedy with various transvestism, S&M and bondage quirks providing the laughs. For all the shock value Christine might as well be running a dry cleaning business, but Leland makes sure we know that such a lifestyle takes its toll, as when she turns up at her sister's wedding to a policeman. She may be brassy, but she would like the acceptance of her father who feels the shame for her chosen line of work that Christine does not, or at least wouldn't admit to. By the end, she has moved to entertaining the higher echelons of society in suburbia, a step upmarket, but it doesn't stop her being raided by the police eventually. Jones and his cast do raise chuckles from the absurdity on display, but there's a weariness about the frame of mind they approach their subject with, agreeing with Shirley's opinion that men may want sex, but they don't really enjoy it. So what's left for Britain to do but to laugh at it? Music by John Du Prez.