The story is set in the then near-future of the 1970s and concerns a disillusioned pop singer, played by Jones, who is manipulated by the church and state which seek to turn him into a messianic leader.
The film was greatly influenced by the award-winning 1962 Wolf Koenig/Roman KroitorNational Film Board of Canada documentary Lonely Boy, which in cinema verité style follows the growing hysteria surrounding then teen idol Paul Anka, with some scenes (notably that showing Steven Shorter at a table with a venue owner named “Uncle Julie” in both) being almost one-to-one reproductions of the earlier work. Director Watkins had made a study of this film to prepare himself for filming Privilege. A DVD release of Privilege included Lonely Boy as well as an excerpt of an essay on that film as extra features. Additionally, director Watkins believes a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to be taken from Privilege.
Note: Gary Glitter auditioned for the lead role that eventually went to Paul Jones. Glitter's career later took off in collaboration with Mike Leander, responsible for the film's music.
The film featured Jones' 1967 number five hit record "I've Been a Bad, Bad Boy" and a soundtrack album was released in the US and UK the same year. In 1978 the Patti Smith Group recorded one of the film's songs, "Set Me Free" (as "Privilege (Set Me Free)") on her album Easter. The recording reached number 72 in the UK singles chart and number 13 in the singles chart in Ireland.
Home video release
Privilege was released on DVD in the UK on the BFI's Flipside imprint. The disc included two of Peter Watkins's short films: The Forgotten Faces (1961) and The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959), as well as the original Privilege trailer. A Blu-ray Disc version has also been released after problems due to "an issue with materials" were resolved.
^Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p345