Relative Values

He's stirring again. Peter (Firth) and his aunt the Countess (Andrews) grin gleefully as things get more and more complicated at Marshwood....
dir Eric Styles
scr Paul Rattigan, Michael Walker
with Julie Andrews, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Colin Firth, Sophie Thompson, William Baldwin, Edward Atterton, Stephen Fry, Anwen Carlisle, Katy Stephens, Richard Nichols, Lauren Stocks, Stephanie Beacham
UK/00 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Based on Noel Coward's play, Relative Values is sunny, cheeky and bright... just like a screwball comedy from the period in which it's set, the early 1950s. Complete with a cheesy, bouncy musical score! As it highlights a collision between starry Hollywood and stiff-upper-lip England, it makes fun of (and warmly affirms) the British class system.

Felicity, the Countess of Marshwood (Andrews), is quietly worried when her son Nigel, the Earl (Atterton), falls for a glamorous movie starlet Miranda Frayle (Tripplehorn), who has recently broken up with her leading man Don (Baldwin). But the big problem is that, on the day Nigel is bringing Miranda home to meet Mummy, Felicity's maid (Thompson) confesses that she's actually Miranda's sister. So Felicity, a cynical cousin (Firth) and the unflappable family butler (Fry) concoct a scheme to salvage some dignity from the situation. And all is going according to plan until Don shows up at the gates ... along with platoons of giggling Girl Guides and, of course, the paparazzi.

Dry, witty dialog trickles out delightfully from start to finish, as the cast relishes each word and nuance, eyes sparkling and teeth flashing. While it all feels stilted and starchy, it also gets very funny as the farce cranks up. Fry steals the show completely with a terrifically droll performance--as only he can pull off (over and over again!). And Thompson gives another clever, subtle comic turn. Since Styles (Dreaming of Joseph Lees) directs the film exactly like a '50s romantic farce, it's an intriguing reminder of just how much film comedy has evolved from simple and unassuming (like this) to sharp, gimmicky and outrageous (like, say, There's Something About Mary). The result is a bit odd--enjoyable and entertaining, inducing smiles and knowing chuckles more than outright laughter.

[PG--some themes] 19.Jun.00
UK release 23.Jun.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall