Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movie Log: Stiff Upper Lips

The Wife and I saw Stiff Upper Lips last night; we'd previously not known of its existence. (Or else a woman who loves costume dramas so much would have seen it already.) It's a mild parody of Merchant-Ivory movies, with occasional jabs at other, similar things (like Chariots of Fire and Brideshead Revisited), and a strong emphasis on the obligatory sexual awakening plot. It's also just over a decade old at this point, and fairly obscure.

It's primarily a extended riff on A Room With a View, with some A Passage to India (mostly just the fact of being in India) bolted on and a central triangle reminiscent of Brideshead. Young virgin Emily (Georgina Cates) meets her younger brother Edward's (Samuel West) best college chum Cedric (Robert Portal), but doesn't want to marry him, even though she is 22 and has already turned down the local vicar for having eyebrows twice as bushy as is acceptable.

Meanwhile, there's a sturdy peasant (George, played by Sean Pertwee) lurking about, who saves Emily from drowning when Cedric can only call for help in Latin. Emily at first dislikes the crass and common George, but falls for his rough charms once her Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales) relocates the whole group to Italy for no particular reason. (Later, they all go to India, because it's "more English," and Agnes herself falls for tea-planter Horace, played by Peter Ustinov.)

Some of the best parts are when the movie drags the underlying class conflicts up into dialogue, or otherwise makes the subtext (meant or unmeant) of all those slow, stately Merchant-Ivory movies very clear text. George's father Eric (Brian Glover) repeatedly insists that he and his son are "the scum of the earth," which is also the name of the local pub. Cedric mentions how he hates common people when the butler dies carrying their luggage at the train station. And so on -- Stiff Upper Lips doesn't mock its forebears directly, but generally takes what they hinted at and makes it explicit.

And that's quite funny. It's not as sexy a movie as I think it wanted to be, since the only women in it are Georgina Cates and Prunella Scales, but it's wry and very humorous. And hardly anyone seems to know it exists.

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