Stiff Upper Lips
Directed by Gary Sinyor
Review by Matt Heffernan
Ah, yes! The British film industry: the last reserve of taste and decency. Who am I kidding? They want to make bawdy comedies just like Americans, but they usually don't chance it.
Edward (Samuel West) brings his friend, Cedric (Robert Portal), home from Cambridge to meet his sister, Emily (Georgina Cates). Their Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales, West's real-life mother) desperately wants her to marry, and is delighted to see a fellow member of the upper class come to call on her niece. Emily is more interested in George (Sean Pertwee), the common guy who saves her from drowning. That doesn't phase Cedric much, who seems much more interested in Edward.
Aunt Agnes takes them on a trip to Italy with George as their servant, in order to further point out the class distinction and to get Emily and Cedric to a more romantic place. They then travel to India to stay at the tea plantation owned by Cedric's uncle (Peter Ustinov).
Until they get to India, Stiff Upper Lips is a delightful screwball comedy. By then, it falls into the trap of its American counterparts by going over the top into complete silliness. The cast is wonderfully amusing, but the whole film eventually becomes predictable and tedious. It is still enjoyable, and provides a lot of good laughs.
The way that Emily's family acts is strangely reminiscent of Monty Python's "Upper Class Twit" sketches. George and the rest of the common folk have slightly more sense. The Python boys knew that you can't put up with these twits for too long, so a feature length version was out of the question. The character of Emily helps balance the oddness of the other characters, especially Edward, who is the biggest twit of them all.
Interestingly, Ustinov got first billing for this film, even though he doesn't show up for nearly an hour into it. This is his first film since Lorenzo's Oil in 1992, so it's worth seeing (if you can find it) just for him.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Stiff Upper Lips (1998)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan