Stiff Upper Lips


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The English upper crust is ripe for ridicule. After many glorious years - all you have to say is "ivory" and "merchant" for middle-aged ladies to swoon on croquet lawns - the cinematic tradition of forlock tuggery needs taking down a peg or three.

With such material pleading for the satirist's lash, it is disappointing that Gary Sinyor behaves like a wolf cub at the lambing. He is concerned, as you might expect, with deflorification, closet homosexuality and a randy old goat of the British Raj.

Rather than spoof Waugh or Forster, he aims at the films rather than the life. There are references to Chariots Of Fire and Brideshead Revisited, as well as the entire Merchant Ivory oeuvre. The best thing in it is Frank Findlay, as the butler from The Remains Of The Day, although his peeing in the soup gag suffers from repetition.

Set in 1908, it concerns Emily's (Georgina Cates) virginal status and what to do about it. She lives in one of those houses that make Buckingham Palace look common, with a spinster aunt (Prunella Scales) as nanny companion. Her ass of a brother (Samuel West) brings his brainy pal, Cedric (Robert Portal), down from Cambridge for a weekend. Cedric is more interested in quoting Homer than wooing the girl, assuming that he knows what a girl is, which seems doubtful.

They go to Italy (A Room With A View) and India (Heat And Dust), with local yokel George (Sean Pertwee) acting as unofficial stud stroke full time servant, where they meet, amongst other class casualties, a colonial governor of the old school (Peter Ustinov), who makes advances at Emily's aunt, much to her suprise and delight. The humour is less subtle than a fat lady in a small swimsuit. Sinyor tends to overdo everything. Once he gets an idea into his head - ex-public schoolboys are clueless with women, posh twits treat lower classes with less respect than tame animals, etc - he won't leave it alone.

Ustinov's involvement beggars belief, unless he's on a kamikaze mission to destroy his reputation. Cates has neither the bone structure, nor the style of a spoilt little rich girl. West and Portal ham it outrageously and have a lot of fun. Scales has little chance to show her metal. All in all, a wasted opportunity, dominated by the tried and trusted characteristics of the privileged few, sexual repression and sensitivity failure.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Satirical sideswipe at Merchant Ivory dramas.
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Director: Gary Sinyor

Writer: Gary Sinyor, Paul Simkin

Starring: Peter Ustinov, Prunella Scales, Georgina Cates, Samuel West, Robert Portal, Sean Pertwee, Frank Finlay, Brian Glover, David Artus, Kevin Furlong, Nicholas Selby

Year: 1997

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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