About the Film
Set in 1908, Stiff Upper Lips chronicles the adventures of Agnes Ivory (Prunella Scales), a dotty spinster living with her niece Emily (Georgina Cates) in a Victorian gothic monstrosity near a railway stop called Ivory's End. Already 22, Emily is still unmarried, thanks to her impossibly high standards. Unluckily for Emily, her idiot brother Edward (Samuel West) has a Cambridge chum, Cedric (Robert Portal), whom Aunt Emily judges a perfect match.
Emily finds Cedric's endless references to Homer, stiff mannerisms and preposterous mustache repulsive and rejects her aunt's designs on him. Her romantic interest lies instead with George (Sean Pertwee), a local socialist rabbit catcher who rescues her from drowning, alerted to her plight by Cedric's calls for help in Latin. Both fascinated and repelled by his lower class ways, Emily gets to know George better when her aunt hires him to accompany the family to Italy, where his main duty is to carry a crate of English turf and spread it wherever the family stops to have tea.
After seeing Italy, the travelers are off to India for a stay with Cedric's great-uncle Horace, a dissolute tea plantation owner in India. Peter Ustinov, an Oscar-winner for Topkapi and Spartacus, plays Horace, a romantic reprobate and colonial magistrate who takes kangaroo courts to new heights. The charm of the mysterious East works its wonders on the six protagonists, who find true love in their own eccentric, very British way-Uncle Horace falling for Aunt Agnes; Cedric and Edward professing their love for each other; and Emily and George finally tying the knot.
Prunella Scales and her son, Samuel West, can claim firsthand knowledge of this spoof's accuracy as both acted in Howards End -- as the patrician Aunt Juley and the proletarian Leonard Bast, respectively. In fact, West sees no need to play the upper class for laughs. "The wonderful thing about the British aristocracy in 1910," he told the London Independent, "is that so many of the things they do are ridiculous anyway. Their rules about etiquette and behavior are so extreme as to be self-parodying, so the straighter you play them, the funnier they are."
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