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Vanity and grace in the return of Priscilla

  • 29 April 2024
Some years ago a pleasant British crime procedural was named The Last Detective. The title was shorthand for, ‘If we needed someone to solve this crime you would be the Last Detective we would send.’ The Last Detective, of course, was always the first to solve it.

Two recent news stories recalled the series. Both concerned the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. At a time when the news is awash with economic stress, rising inequality, wars and rumours of war, and multiple threats to democracy, the last stories I would have thought pertinent were that of the recovery of the bus used in the movie, and the project to remake the film involving its original cast. 

What are we to make of the enthusiasm and persistence that led to the discovery and plan to restore a thoroughly ordinary bus once used in a thoroughly vulgar movie, and now — after somehow escaping bushfire and flood — lying in a thoroughly dilapidated state? And what are we to make of the quirky plan to bring together in a remake thirty years later the actors, the costumes, the plot, and now the bus of the original movie?

Vanity of vanities, Ecclesiastes might say, but in it saw all human activity as meaningless. Pure escapism, a stern modern social reformer might say. And yet, is there not something attractive and warming in seeing the delight with which people can give themselves to enterprises that have no practical use or gain? To see the human gift for play so lavishly and extravagantly indulged as, for example, in breaking a bottle of Grange Hermitage over the bows of a home-made rowing boat you are launching.

If serious enterprises are to be carried through, of course, they demand serious work. But is playfulness a help or a hindrance? In your experience, is the capacity to give yourself single-mindedly and good-humouredly to serious commitments nurtured or eroded in play?




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: Still from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Village Roadshow)