In college, I was an English major, which meant that I was thrown headfirst
into British literature—and I was expected to love every minute of it. I read Jane
Austen and Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster and ended up watching movies like Emma,
A Room with a View, Sense and Sensibility, and other uptight,
unrealistically romantic films. They were as common at English major girls’ nights as
Molly Ringwald films had been at our teenage slumber parties. And while part of me got
caught up in the costumes and the settings and the romance of it all, another part of me
was just the slightest bit…annoyed. I was pretty sure that if I heard the word “lovely”
one more time, I might just scream.
So I was positively delighted
when I discovered this witty British parody.
Stiff Upper Lips
focuses on Emily (Georgina Cates), a shallow and spoiled young British woman who, at
twenty-two years old, is seriously in danger of becoming a bitter old maid—but, much to
the chagrin of her old Aunt Agnes (“our guardian with the withering look,” played by
Prunella Scales), she’s found something wrong with every possible husband in the area.
So Emily’s flighty brother, Edward (Samuel West), brings his friend, Cedric (Robert
Portal), home from college to meet Emily. Despite Aunt Agnes’s persuading, Emily finds
Cedric dull and much too literary for her taste, and she refuses to have anything to do
with him (besides…he’s obviously more interested in Edward anyway).
along comes George (Sean Pertwee), a handsome peasant who saves Emily from drowning. To
express her gratitude, Aunt Agnes decides to allow George to be the family’s servant as
they (and Cedric) explore Italy and India. And while they’re away from home, Emily
discovers that George could very well be more than just a filthy
The plot of Stiff Upper Lips may not be especially solid,
but that’s not the point of a parody, anyway. What matters is the
subtle-yet-side-splitting British wit employed to mock uptight British classics.
Stiff Upper Lips does for those sappy British period films what Leslie Nielsen’s
Naked Gun films do for cop films—it takes the common formulas of the genre and
exaggerates them to point out just how ridiculous they really are. It’s something that
disgruntled female English majors like me always wanted to do—but didn’t, for fear of
being declared unladylike and uncultured.
Speaking of ladylike, however,
Stiff Upper Lips isn’t. It’s sometimes a bit on the crude side, and it’s
definitely not politically correct (imagine A Room with a View as played by the
Monty Python guys), but it’s hilarious nonetheless. Anyone who’s watched Sense and
Sensibility a few too many times is sure to enjoy it.