The Missionary (1982) Poster

The Missionary (1982)

  • Rate: 6.1/10 total 1,425 votes 
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Date: 2 November 1982 (USA)
  • Runtime: USA:90 min
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The Missionary (1982)


The Missionary 1982tt0083449.jpg poster

  • IMDb page: The Missionary (1982)
  • Rate: 6.1/10 total 1,425 votes 
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Date: 2 November 1982 (USA)
  • Runtime: USA:90 min
  • Filming Location: Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire, England, UK
  • Director: Richard Loncraine
  • Stars: Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, Trevor Howard | See full cast and crew »
  • Original Music By: Mike Moran   
  • Soundtrack: Put On Your Ta-Ta Little Girlie
  • Sound Mix: Mono
  • Plot Keyword: Bishop | Prostitute | Africa | England | Scotland

Writing Credits By:

    (in alphabetical order)

  • Michael Palin  written by

Known Trivia

  • Final feature film of actor Roland Culver. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • George Harrison and Ringo Starr both visited the set. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • Whilst filming at Longleat House in Wiltshire, Michael Hordern asked to get off the set early because there was a trout stream nearby and he was an experienced trout fisherman. Later that day, the cast and crew had a barbecue with the fish Hordern caught. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • In order to create the effect of a 1906 street, the production built a facade of terrace houses in a bombed section of London near Columbia Road Flower Market. One day, director Richard Loncraine saw an old woman, who looked sad and upset, glancing at the houses. When asked, she responded, “My house came back”. The woman maintained that the house was the one that she had been born in. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • Debut feature film of actor David Suchet and actresses Frances Barber and Sophie Thompson who both played mission girls Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • According to Michael Palin diaries, Freddie Jones was attached to this project but pulled out. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • Peter Vaughn filmed his role in one day (Source: Michael Palin’s diaries). Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • John Gielgud turned down the role of Lord Ames. Laurence Olivier was then offered the part but proved too expensive. In the end the character was cast with Trevor Howard. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • Michael Palin conceived of the film’s original title “The Missionary Position” whilst he was jogging in the rain up Hampstead Heath. This title would originally be cut back to just “The Missionary” so as to “give less away”. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |
  • First of two star teamings of actress Maggie Smith and actor Michael Palin. The second would be A Private Function (1984) around two years later. Actor Denholm Elliott appeared in both movies as well, as did another, Charles McKeown. Is this interesting? Interesting? YesNo |

Plot: In 1905, after 10 years of missionary work in Africa, the Rev. Charles Fortesque is recalled to England… See more » |  »

Story: In 1905, after 10 years of missionary work in Africa, the Rev. Charles Fortesque is recalled to England, where his bishop gives him his new assignment – to minister to London’s prostitutes. Charles hopes Deborah, his fiancee, will object and give him an excuse to say no to the bishop. But she is so imperturbably innocent that she totally fails to understand what he is being asked to do, and urges him to do his best. Wealthy Lady Ames is expected to fund the work, but once she makes it clear to Charles that there will be no contribution unless he shares her bed… Written byJames Barrett <>

FullCast & Crew

Produced By:

  • George Harrison known as executive producer
  • Denis O'Brien known as executive producer
  • Michael Palin known as producer
  • Neville C. Thompson known as producer

FullCast & Crew:

  • Michael Palin known as The Reverend Charles Fortescue
  • Maggie Smith known as Lady Isabel Ames
  • Trevor Howard known as Lord Henry Ames
  • Denholm Elliott known as The Bishop
  • Michael Hordern known as Slatterthwaite / Narrator
  • Graham Crowden known as The Reverend Fitzbanks
  • David Suchet known as Corbett
  • Phoebe Nicholls known as Deborah Fitzbanks
  • Tricia George known as Ada
  • Valerie Whittington known as Emmeline
  • Roland Culver known as Lord Fermleigh
  • Rosamund Greenwood known as Lady Fermleigh
  • Timothy Spall known as Parswell
  • Neil Innes known as Singer in Gin Palace
  • John Barrett known as Old Man outside Hotel
  • Dawn Archibald known as Mission Girl
  • Frances Barber known as Mission Girl
  • Debby Bishop known as Mission Girl (as Debbie Bishop)
  • Ceri Jackson known as Mission Girl
  • Janine Lesley known as Mission Girl
  • Sasha Mitchell known as Mission Girl
  • Francine Morgan known as Mission Girl
  • Sophie Thompson known as Mission Girl
  • Sally Watkins known as Mission Girl
  • Derrick O'Connor known as Gym Trainer
  • Tony Fawcett known as Small Boy at Mudflats
  • Jason Barr known as Small Boy at Mudflats
  • Edmund Bumstead known as Small Boy at Mudflats
  • David Leland known as Long Haired Man at Gin Palace
  • Anne-Marie Marriott known as Emily, Fitzbanks' Maid
  • Hugh Fraser known as Usher at Wedding
  • Peter Bourke known as Best Man at Wedding
  • Janine Duvitski known as Millicent, Ames' Maid
  • Tilly Vosburgh known as Fermleigh's Maid
  • Arthur Howard known as Fermleigh's Butler
  • Hugh Walters known as Fermleigh's Doctor
  • Julian Curry known as Portland, first friend of Raggy Masterson
  • Charles McKeown known as Leicester, second friend of Raggy Masterson
  • Ishaq Bux known as Maharajah
  • Tony Steedman known as Lord Quimby
  • Damaris Hayman known as Lady Quimby
  • David Dixon known as Young Man
  • Anton Lesser known as Young Man
  • Frank Mills known as Sir Cyril Everidge
  • Yussef Shah known as Maharajah's Boy
  • John Fortune known as Schoolmaster's voice (voice)
  • Derek Lyons known as Man on Bicycle (uncredited)



Supporting Department

Art Department:

  • Frank Billington-Marks known as location set dressing propman
  • Dennis Murray known as plasterer (uncredited)




Production Companies:

  • HandMade Films

Other Companies:

  • Joe Dunton & Company  camera equipment provided by
  • Lee Lighting  grip and lighting equipment


  • Columbia Pictures (1982) (USA) (theatrical)
  • HandMade Films (1982) (UK) (theatrical)
  • Anchor Bay Entertainment (UK) (2002) (UK) (DVD)
  • CIC Video (1996) (UK) (VHS)
  • Cannon Video (1987) (UK) (VHS)
  • H.O.M. Vision (2001) (Netherlands) (DVD)
  • Umbrella Entertainment (2009) (Australia) (DVD)
  • Umbrella Entertainment (2009) (Australia) (video) (VOD)



Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

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Posted on December 13, 2013 by Movies DVD New Releases Blu-ray in Movies | Tags: , .


  1. johnjredington from Ireland
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    Unlike American films where situation and reaction are usually thedominant elements of comedy, English cinema has a tendency to rely onoutrageous or eccentric characterisation. It usually works well on adetailed level with typical stock characters such as irasciblecolonels, domineering great-aunts and frightfully keen twits but, quiteoften, individual actors get so caught up in their own characters thatthe film as a whole loses its sense of coherence.

    The Missionary is a very traditional English comedy with the usualover-the-top collection of the innocent, the incompetent, the mad, theprim and proper and the sex-starved but, in this case, the characterslock well into each other like a jigsaw. Maybe it is due to a certainrespect that stars like Maggie Smith, Michael Palin and Trevor Howardhad for each other as they try to complement rather than overshadoweach others’ performances.

    Once you find the pitch of the humour, this is a gem of a comedy andworth seeing alone for the batty directionally-challenged butler playedby Michael Hordern.

  2. dafishhead from United States
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    I won’t detail the plot as that’s been covered rather extensively in theother comments. If you refrain from expecting a Monty Python movie,you’llfind it much easier to enjoy The Missionary. It’s not a Python movie.It’snot outrageously funny though it does have some very funny moments, somehilarious. Most of the humor however is much more subtle, possibly toomuchso for many viewers. A great cast.

  3. chrisn-6 from Cambridge, England
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    A bit like "Ripping Yarns" I think you need an appreciation or at leastfamiliarity with the mores of late Victorian/Edwardian society. This filmappears to be a gentle comedy of manners but there is a hint of satirebeneath.

    I have liked this film since I first saw it years ago. I have had this ontape for some time but recently bought the DVD which has some niceextras.

    The cinematography is good. Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott and MichaelHordern can do no wrong. Trevor Howard blusters in a suitable ‘LordCardigan’ manner and you get an early Timothy Spall role.

    I gave it 8/10. Unrepentant. It’s a slow burner but still has a charm ofits own.

  4. Gill Baker from United Kingdom
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    You don’t have to be a fan of Monty Python in general, or Michael Palinin particular, to enjoy "The Missionary". It’s gently British humourconceals a razor sharp satirical edge, and there is something new tospot with every fresh viewing.

    With Maggie Smith in the lead role, making the whole thing look aseffortless as ever, it’s easy to miss the outstanding performances fromsuch icons as Michael Hordern and Tim Spall, the latter looking like aparody of himself as a servant of, shall we say, basic stock.

    Phoebe Nichols delights and charms as the appalling Deborah and DenholmElliott oozes charm as an outrageously un-Christian bishop. Thecharacters are classics of comedy yet they still surprise. A satisfyingdollop of bad taste completes the mixture. Unmissable.

  5. Janos Smal ( from Budapest, Hungary
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    In England in 1906, a young reverend, with a sense of vocation and justbefore marriage, is entrusted to open a house of refuge for fallen ladiesofEast End. He is then seduced by the grateful girls and a witty,love-seekinglady nob, who is ready to support the institute.

    A fitfully amusing, crisply acted, often sophisticated period comedy whosecentral conception – prostitutes do what they do for pleasure – isslightlyabsurd to say the least. Most of its fun is provided by thegarnish.

  6. James Hitchcock from Tunbridge Wells, England
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    To celebrate my 500th review for IMDb, I turn to another of myfavourite films. The Reverend Charles Fortescue is an Edwardianclergyman who has spent ten years working as a missionary in Africa. Hereturns to England and is asked by the Bishop of London to run aMission to Fallen Women in the East End. Fortescue sets about his newtask with vigour, supported by a generous donation from the wealthyLady Ames, and the Mission proves a great success. Suspicions begin togrow, however, that Fortescue is offering the young women of theMission something more than spiritual comfort, and that Lady Ames'sinterest in his work is motivated by something other than philanthropiczeal.

    This is one of a number of films made by the former Pythons since theirpartnership came to an end; Michael Palin not only wrote the script butalso appears as Fortescue. Several of these films show the clearinfluence of the famous Ealing comedies, and it is obvious that some atleast of the Pythons must have a deep admiration for that series, eventhough the style of their early comedy was very different. "A FishCalled Wanda", which starred Palin and John Cleese, was directed by theEaling veteran Charles Crichton, and there are clear thematic linksbetween "A Private Function" (Palin again) and "Passport to Pimlico"and between "Splitting Heirs" (Cleese and Eric Idle) and "Kind Heartsand Coronets".

    Like "Kind Hearts…..", "The Missionary" is set among the Edwardianupper classes. It does not have any direct thematic links to any of theEaling films, but does have a similar style of humour, updated to suitthe changing tastes of the eighties. Jokes about sex, for example, canbe much more direct than would have been possible in the forties orfifties. This is not, however, a simple satire on Edwardian attitudesto sex and religion. It is a very different film to the ghastly "BestHouse in London", which was set in the Victorian period and took theline that prostitution is all jolly good rollicking fun.

    "The Missionary", in fact, is a comedy about sex which (unlike mostBritish comedies on that subject) avoids smuttiness and a comedy aboutreligion which avoids the standard line that religious believers areall either fools or hypocrites. Although there is some fun at theexpense of the Bishop, the film does capture the ethos of Edwardian"Muscular Christianity" with its progressive social attitudes andemphasis on good works. Prostitution is shown as a social evil becauseit leads to the exploitation and degradation of working-class women,and the Church's opposition to it is seen as both morally justified andsocially progressive.

    Palin plays Fortescue as a mixture of ardent social reformer and holyinnocent, a kindly, well-intentioned man whose good intentions reflectmany of the assumptions of his age. (He assumes, for example, that theAfrican children he is teaching need to know all about Englishmediaeval history). He ends up sleeping with the young women of theMission almost by accident- they all fall in love with him because heis the only man who has ever shown them kindness or has treated them asanything other than sex objects. Fortescue is not, however, the mostcomic character in the film; indeed, for much of the time he appears tobe playing straight man to the others, who all have their owneccentricities. There is the aristocratic nymphomaniac Lady Ames andher ferociously reactionary husband, played by Trevor Howard as thecomic equivalent of his Lord Cardigan in "The Charge of the LightBrigade". (The use of the hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains"provides another link between the two films). There is their comicallyinept butler Slatterthwaite, forever unable to navigate his way roundtheir palatial stately home.

    Denholm Elliott plays the Bishop as hearty and obsessed with sport,especially boxing and cricket. I first saw "The Missionary" in thecinema with two college friends and we were amused by the resemblanceof the Bishop to one of our lecturers, who also peppered hisconversation with cricketing clichés like "batting on a sticky wicket".Elliott and Maggie Smith, who plays Lady Ames, were later to star withPalin in "A Private Function". My favourite performance, however, camefrom the lovely Phoebe Nicholls as Fortescue's terminally naïve fiancéeDeborah, totally unable to understand the concept of "fallen women".("Women who have hurt their knees?"). She also has a passion forneatness and order and has devised a fantastically intricate filingsystem for keeping track of her fiancé's love-letters.

    Palin had already proved himself to be a great comedian; in "TheMissionary" and "A Private Function" he also proved himself a greatcomic actor, just as Cleese had done in "Fawlty Towers". The two thingsare not necessarily the same; there are several British comedians-Dudley Moore being a good example- who never seemed as funny on the bigscreen as they did in their stage and TV routines. Palin was later alsoto prove himself a very good serious actor in "American Friends",another film in which he plays a likable Anglican clergyman. It isinteresting that he should have twice given a sympathetic portrayal ofmen of the cloth- perhaps the Pythons were not all as anti-religious asthose who criticised them for their "Life of Brian" assumed.

    Besides some wonderful performances, "The Missionary" also has somegreat lines and together with "A Private Function" it is the best ofthe post-Python comedies and one of the funniest British films of theeighties. 10/10.

  7. legspinner from United Kingdom
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    This is a delightful film. Watch it with two or three of you in theroom, because laughter is infectious. As ever with films that Harrisoninvests in, it's not afraid to mix styles, but also, there is no pointthat it labours. Too often films are afraid of changing their tone, asif they had to nail their colours to the 'tonal' mast early on and thenobey that: a screwball comedy has to be screwball, a period piece hasto be charming, engaging, but not dramatic, etc etc etc.

    The script, written by Palin himself, is an absolute gem, and for oncehis silliness is kept well within bounds. As someone else said, thisisn't the 'expansio ad absurdum' technique of fine, fine Python, northe pull-faces-and-use-silly-words-can't-think-of-an-idea of Palin onhis off days. Enough, but not enough, has been written about the cast,all of whom provide top-notch performances. Whom to praise most? I noteas well, that the "Memorable Quotes" section still misses what may bethe funniest exchange in the whole film, the sequence which begins,"You know perfectly well why we got rid of Margetson." The only peoplewho are going to be disappointed by this film are those people who havedogmatic views about what a Palin film should be, or who think a comedyshould spare them the trouble of thinking and leave them in a heap ofrubble on the floor. Take the film on its own merits and, though youmight think of ideas which the film didn't touch, places where itdidn't go, you will still find enough in there to remember those ninetyminutes fondly. Would I see it again? When's it on next?

  8. graham_525 from United Kingdom
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    I really like this film. It's just one of those films that bring asmile to your face. There are some fantastic moments: Roland Culverdying while Michael Palin obliviously continues with his speech,Michael Hordern as the butler who doesn't know where he's going,Michael Palin being propositioned by a lady of the night (andaccepting). It's just a very charming film.

    One thing that did strike me about it though is how we find situationsacceptable if they are transported into the past. I don't think itwould be considered very funny to make a film in which a Reverend letsthree child prostitutes into his bed at once if it was set in today'sLondon. We can laugh about the hypocritical sexual shenanigans of theVictorians though. Paedophilia's funny as long as it's in the distantpast.

  9. rubaxter from United States
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    I’ve seen this movie in the ORIGINAL WIDESCREEN VERSION with audiencesas diverse as art house theaters, US Navy ships on deployment, and homeviewing with friends, and even in the midst of sailors on 8 monthdeployments there was a genuine enjoyment of the plot and characters.What a shame the excellence has been completely gutted from the film bya horrible Pan and Scan adaptation. It is for such criminal effortsthat whipping posts should be retained in public squares.

    The movie is a period piece that is more like a Gosford Park with humorthan a Pretty Woman as a Victorian costume drama. Handmade Films wereALWAYS films that "teemed with quiet fun", and this one is noexception.

    However, when HALF THE SCREEN IS MISSING IT’S HARD TO APPRECIATE THEHUMOR! There’s the irony of two men of the cloth talking about the soulbuilding merit of sport, as they pass a bloody-faced ‘sport’ beinghammered into a boxing ring turnbuckle, BUT that’s all lost when youdon’t see the bloody-faced ‘sport’. There’s the maid in the houseforever hovering like some dark force of unrequited passion, togetherwith the swish-swish of her dress, BUT that’s all lost when you RARELYsee the maid, and you certainly don’t see the expressions on her facewhen the action is allegedly on the other characters in the scene.

    There’s also the scene at the end that’s been ‘edited out’ of recentreleases of this film where the butler, Michael Hordern, ends upgetting into bed with the divorced husband of the heroine of the film,Maggie Smith.

    Finally, there’s the absolutely ROUSING Music Hall finale, where halfthe screen is devoted to an obvious ‘offspring’ of Fortesque turningover a scrapbook that details the life of the main characters after thefilm ends. It’s such a great scene that I’ve had people request to seejust IT as a sort of finale to a night’s worth of movie viewing.

    IT’S THAT GOOD! Without these scenes and half-scenes, what was anexcellent plot, full of irony and modern sympathies, is butchered.

    To paraphrase Roy Batty from Bladerunner, "All those moments are lostin time, like tears in the rain" by a transfer to Pan and Scan.

    If you can find a letterbox transfer of this movie, BUY IT if you enjoythe Handmade Films genre; if you like Time Bandits even though it isn’tJurassic Park.

    Otherwise, the only thing to do is hope that some day, some way the’long tail’ theory of online video rental will provide it to people whocan appreciate clever and interesting cinema.

  10. jc-osms from United Kingdom
    13 Dec 2013, 11:48 pm

    I've recently finished reading Michael Palin's second set of diaries("Halfway to Hollywood"), which includes sections covering thereal-time writing and filming of this particular film and so waspleased to get the chance to view it.

    It's a pleasantly diverting comedy taking gentle pot-shots at snobbery,the English class system, the church and as the title makes clear, theEdwardian outlook on sex, peopled by a top-drawer British cast in verygood form.

    Palin himself takes the lead part and if lacking a little in themasculine virility I think the part calls for, nonetheless masters asyou'd expect the comic delivery for which he's well regarded. To befair, he is definitely outshone by his co-lead, Maggie Smith, as therepressed wife of a titled benefactor, late of the street herself asSmith herself relates to us in a disarming Cockney accent near the end.Michael Hordern does a hilarious little cameo as a befuddled butler,likewise Denholm Elliott as a "sporty" bishop and Trevor Howard as thefrightfully frightfully titled patron-husband of Smith. I also likedPhoebe Nicholl's little turn as Palin's dim and virginal intended bridewith a penchant for cataloguing. Some of the characters do, however,seem like leftovers from Palin's wonderful "Ripping Yarns" series andoccasionally the film does veer off the track a little too much intofarce territory with the ending tapering off somewhat, but with Palinthe writer often employing the familiar trick of finishing scenes withamusing jokes, he just about keeps the film on an even keel for its notoverlong playing time.

    As for the direction, I did find the lighting a little gloomy at timesand I suppose lack of budget could have been slightly to blame for notquite delivering a convincing depiction of the squalid streets ofLondon where Palin looks to lift up his fallen women (in theGladstonian sense of the phrase, naturally).

    On the whole though, a likable, at times highly amusing light comedyrather making me sad a little that Michael later got lost on hisworldly travels (entertaining as they've been), at the expense of hiswriting and acting skills.

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