Stiff Upper Lips

on August 27, 1999 by L. J. Strom
   The Zucker Brothers meet Merchant Ivory in this sprightly, blissfully funny satire of British period films. It's 1908, and upper class twit Edward Ivory (Samuel West) brings his Cambridge chum Cedric (Robert Portal) to the family estate to meet his sister Emily (Georgina Cates). Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales) thinks Cedric would make a fine husband for Emily, but complications arise when Emily is saved from drowning, not by Cedric but by the local peasant hunk, George (Sean Pertwee). Upon being escorted to Italy, Emily demands a sexual awakening, while a subsequent trip to India finds Edward and Cedric experiencing "strange feelings" and Aunt Agnes discovering the Kama Sutra. George and Emily, meanwhile, struggle with the class system that divides them, even as Edward and Cedric scheme to put George in his place with a little help from the British Raj and a pair of incriminating socks.
   After an inspired opening send-up of "Chariots of Fire," everyone from E. M. Forster to D. H. Lawrence gets it from both barrels in this endlessly inventive and spirited comedy. The filmmakers know their targets intimately, so their parody is as incisive as it is hilarious, but it's never mean-spirited. What's more, the script stands on its own as a comment on English manners in general and doesn't actually require close familiarity with the literary adaptations it's spoofing in order to be enjoyed.
   The ensemble cast is top-notch. By playing it absolutely straight, they manage to wring every possible drop of humor from the expert script.
   West and Portal are especially adept--class prejudiced, monumentally dim, but impossible to dislike because they're such desperately earnest chaps.
   The pitch-perfect acting is complemented by an effervescent musical score and production values worthy of even the most luscious "straight" period film. Such skill, wit, and exuberance make this movie an exquisitely cheeky charmer.    Starring Prunella Scales, Samuel West, Georgina Cates, Robert Portal and Sean Pertwee. Directed by Gary Sinyor. Written by Paul Simpkin & Gary Sinyor. Produced by Jeremy Bolt & Gary Sinyor. A Cowboy release. Comedy. Unrated. Running time: 85 min.
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