Gary Sinyor (director)
Network on Air (studio)
25 February 2019 (released)
08 March 2019
In this hilarious send-up of the British costume drama genre (and class divide) no cliché is spared and no opportunity missed to parody, well, STIFF UPPER LIPS!
The year is 1908 and after some very amusing opening credits we find ourselves in Ivory Hall where Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales) leaves no stone unturned in her efforts to marry off her spoilt, naïve and virginal ward Emily (Georgina Cates). Enter Emily’s charming brother Edward (Samuel West) who’s as English as English can be in his mannerisms and uses phrases like “Fibber” and “You rotter!” a great deal. He’s also what you may call an upper class twit particularly fond of his collection of teddy bears. His best chum and university classmate Cedric Trilling (Eric Portal) is somewhat of an intellectual bore to say the least and has a fondness for quoting Homer, so it’s a trifle unfortunate that he is the one chosen by Aunt Agnes as a suitor for Emily! And so it is that Edward and Cedric make their way from university to Ivory Hall for a weekend of sport and match-making, accompanied by the household’s long-suffering butler Hudson Jr. (Frank Finlay). Suffice to say that the first meeting between Cedric and Emily doesn’t exactly work out as Aunt Agnes had hoped; in fact Emily makes it quite clear that she dislikes Cedric and would never consider marriage. A perplexed Cedric utters that he should leave immediately, to which Edward replies: “But what about our game?” Echoes of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED ring through here.
In a subplot, manservant/gamekeeper George (Sean Pertwee), a young man of poor working class background, dreams of bettering his social status while constantly being scolded for it by his father Eric (Brian Glover) for entertaining such outrageous ideas. “We’re the scum of the earth, son, and always will be – never forget your station!” thunders proud peasant Eric with a heavy Northern accent, thus lampooning works by D.H. Lawrence and Catherine Cookson.
Nonetheless, George soon gets his chance of ‘bettering his station’ when Emily accidentally falls into a pond and while Cedric and Edward discuss who should swim to her rescue, George strips off butt-naked and jumps into the pond to Emily’s rescue. As a thank you, he gets scolded both by Emily and brother Edward for having the cheek to save her with his clothes off (“You brute!”). Alas, George has left an impression on Emily and Aunt Agnes, and as a ‘thank you’ Agnes employs George as an assistant butler (not that he knows how to serve breakfast, let alone dinner). Naturally, this gesture meets the disapproval of his pathetic sycophant of a father who kneels in front of Aunt Agnes and humbly asks for forgiveness, seeing how his uncouth son saved Emily with his clothes off.
Meanwhile, Aunt Agnes still has hopes that Cedric and Emily might get it together and organizes a trip to Italy – the perfect opportunity for a full-on spoof of Merchant Ivory’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW (even the operatic soundtrack is almost the same). In Italy, Aunt Agnes, Emily, Edward, Cedric and butler Hudson (a nod to butler Hudson from UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) go about sightseeing while George frequents the local ‘Scumma de terra’ (Scum of the earth) tavern. However, during a picnic he and the sex-starved Emily finally indulge in carnal fulfilment but while George declares his love a confused Emily feels she cannot marry “below her station”. In a hilarious parody of Luchino Visconti’s DEATH IN VENICE, we get an inkling as to the true sexual orientation of Cedric. Seeing how things are simply “too foreign’ in Italy, Aunt Agnes suggests the party should travel somewhere where things are a lot more… English! No, they don’t end up in Benidorm, Spain, but make their way to colonial India where they encounter pompous expatriate, tea-plantation owner and local magistrate Horace (Peter Ustinov) who soon gets the hots for Aunt Agnes. Soon, more opportunities arise to lampoon films such as PASSAGE TO INDIA and GHANDI. With things in chaos, Emily up the duff, George in an Indian prison and the remaining party returning to good ole Blighty, can there be a happy ending at all? Will Emily finally overcome her prejudice and marry a freed George even if it means marrying below their station? Will there be a new beginning for Aunt Agnes and Horace? Will Edward and Cedric (in a spoof of Merchant Ivory’s MAURICE) finally admit their love that dare not speak its name for each other? You bet!
Brilliantly acted and expertly shot with much love for detail, this 1998 comedy is great fun for those who appreciate wit and bawdy humour. Peter Ustinov appears in one of his final roles while it’s nice to see real-life mother & son team Prunella Scales and Sam West having a giggle. Sean Pertwee and Brian Glover are perfectly cast as two characters who provide a refreshing anti-dote to the stifling upper crust supremacy that surrounds them.
This new Blu-ray edition looks sumptuous, shame the only ‘Bonus Material’ consists of the trailer!