I discovered this amusing parody of all those Merchant/Ivory British period costume dramas when researching the work of late great Peter Ustinov, and it rather tickled me to be reminded of how very silly Brit comedies can be. This one is like an EM Forster novel (with a nod to Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’) filmed as if it is an extended Monty Python Sketch, but not quite as funny.
The story is of an aristocratic family consisting of Edward a rather stupid Upper Class twit who’s a student at Cambridge, and Emily his 22 year old sister who’s intent on getting married and losing her virginity (although not necessarily in that order), and their spinster Aunt Agnes who has acted as their Guardian and the Mistress of the Ivory Hall their Stately Home since their parents died. Edward’s best friend was being lined up as Emily’s suitor, but he naturally had the hots for Edward instead, which was fine with Emily as once she had caught sight of a local yokel naked she had her eyes set on bigger things.
The family set off for Italy for a vacation (a la ‘A Room With a View’) and the on to India (a la ‘Passage to India’) and that’s where the rather trite plot falls apart completely. A pity that as it is also where we finally get to meet Horace an old plantation owner and avid defender of the British Raj played by Peter Ustinov. It’s still a real treat to see him, and he makes the most of the odd dialogue they give.
I should mention that Aunt Agnes is played by the hilarious Prunella Scales who was actually in the real mccoy i.e. ‘Howard’s End’, and Edward her nephew is played by her real-life son Samuel West who was also with his Ma in ‘Howard’s End’ too.
I so wanted to like this one more … and there were some ingenious hilarious touches especially ones played by Frank Finlay as the greatly put-upon butler Hudson …. but on the whole, it was a real wasted opportunity. With its cast and its concept and its wealth of period costume oddities to take aim at its should have been side-splitting funny, rather than just mildly amusing.
If you are a Merchant Ivory fan and have a wicked sense of humor, or you are a big admirer of Mr Ustinov, then you wil still want to check this one out of Netflix. It will make you titter.