I rue the day Colin Firth was cast as the Typical British Snob/Gentleman With the Stiff Upper Lip and An Attitude Problem. You know, Mr. Tweedy Britisherson-Smith. The role he has played in practically every movie he's been in (Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones' Diary, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Mamma Mia, The Accidental Husband... SEE?). Don't mistake me,I love Mr. Darcy-- both Mark and Fitzwilliam, as much as the next person, but Colin shouldn't be limiting himself to such bland roles when he has got such range. And we get to see a bit of that in Relative Values, a delightful and witty little film that somehow managed to slip under everybody's radar. Even Rotten Tomatoes doesn't have a rating for it.
"Nowadays all social barriers are just swept aside, and everybody is as good as everybody else! And any suggestion of class distinction is just laughed at," bemoans an irate and disgruntled lady at a party, in the opening scene.
Lady Marshwood, a dowager countess, along with all of the British nobility are most distressed by the announcement of the impending nuptials between her son, the staid Lord Marshwood (typical Colin Firth-y role-- I'm surprised they didn't cast him in this role) and the beautiful Hollywood star, Miranda Frayle. The publicity hungry Miranda Frayle who had a torrid affair and very public break up with Hollywood dreamboat, Don Lucas. The Miranda Frayle who claims she was born within earshot of the Bow Bells, in an awful slum. That Miranda Frayle.
And to boot it all, he's to bring this creature to Marshwood! It is the end of social order, they all exclaim. Troubled, Lady Marshwood confides in her nephew Peter Ingleton, a Mephistopheles incarnate who thrives on intrigues and scandals. And little does Lady Marshwood know that her personal maid of twenty years, the mousy little Moxie has a secret: her (estranged) sister is none other than Miranda Frayle!
What follows is a rollicking tale, very like a Wodehouseian plot but with the heart and spirit of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Delightful as the dialogue is, this film rests solely on the superb performances by the cast. Julie Andrews is remarkably (and predictably) good as Lady Marshwood, Sophie Thompson as Moxie and Stephen Fry as the butler, Creswell. And a surprisingly good performance by William Baldwin as the heartthrob, Don Lucas. I cant remember the last time a good performance was turned in by a Baldwin that's not named Alec.
But the fulcrum upon which the movie turns is without doubt, Colin Firth. As Peter Ingleton, Firth excels as a devilish fellow with a sparkle in his eye and a naughty plot or two up his sleeve. Horrified and fascinated by Miranda Frayle's overly dramatic (and American) ways, he follows her around, covertly imitating her melodramatic gestures and baiting her with seemingly innocent questions, all while wearing the most saintly expression. Do us a favour, Colin and only do this sort of thing in the future.
One of my favourite scene is when Peter is trying to comfort Don Lucas who is upset over his loss of Miranda. There is an undercurrent of flirtation by Peter, who finds Don to be "the most delicious thing you've ever seen!" When Don offers him a "pinch" of whisky, he looks at Don and says, "Here's lookin' at you, kid." And Don promptly says, "No no no, it's not 'Here's lookin' at you, kid,' it is 'Here's lookin' at you, kid." An impromptu acting class follows.
In light of this scene, I have now re-written all my Casablanca treatises.
But apart from the whacky Wodehousian hijincks, this flippant movie is clear that the English and American twain will never meet. The English may scoff at Hollywood and its synthetic, manufactured products and its crassness, but how they covet the utter coolness of its stars. They may disparage Hollywood tabloids as rags aimed at silly girls, but hoards of Girl Guides will gather in bushes to catch a glimpse of Don Lucas take his sunglasses off. They may think Miranda Frayle as without social graces, but they will always tease their hair into place before approaching her. The Americans on the other hand, mock the British and their stiff upper lip and their staidness, but are envious of the British nobility and the monarchy.
Nothing ever changes, you see, and the farmer and the cowman will never be friends.