In 1975, John Hurt starred in a BBC television adaptation of Quentin Crisp's autobiography The Naked Civil Servant, playing the flamboyantly gay author and actor, and in 2009 Hurt revisits the role in this comedy-drama based on the latter years of Crisp's life.
Crisp rose to fame in the UK following the publication of his memoirs and the success of a one-man show, but when a series of typically frank but witty quips during an interview lead to a public scandal, Crisp is approached by an American talent agent, Connie Clausen (Swoosie Kurtz), who says she can get him work in the United States.
Crisp relocates to New York City, where he stages a show entitled How To Be Happy and gains a new audience.
However, the high camp of Crisp's persona and his habit of making deliberately provocative statements (such as calling AIDS a fad and calling homosexuality a terrible disease) earns him the enmity of some gay activists and causes the show to close prematurely.
Clausen arranges for Crisp to meet Phillip Steele (Denis O'Hare), the publisher of the Village Voice, and Steele offers Crisp a job as the paper's new film critic.
Crisp's witty and acerbic commentary on new movies wins him a new fan base and he and Steele become close friends, but as age and broken relationships begin to take their toll on Crisp, he returns to the stage in a new show created in collaboration with performance artist Penny Arcade (Cynthia Nixon).
An Englishman In New York received its world premiere at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival; the film takes its title from a song by Sting, who struck up a friendship with Crisp when they both appeared in the movie The Bride.