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This film, based on a Noel Coward play, stars Julie Andrews, as Lady Felicity Marshwood, who is upset to learn that her son, Lord Nigel (Edward Atterton) is engaged to be married to Hollywood film star Miranda Frayle (Jeanne Tripplehorn).  However, the situation soon becomes even more complicated when Nigel plans to bring Miranda to meet his aristocratic family, only for the family’s maid Moxie (Sophie Thompson), to announce that Miranda is in fact her sister!  Throw in Miranda’s co-star and former lover Don Lucas (William Baldwin) who is coming to England to try and stop the marriage, and Colin Firth and Stephen Fry as respectively Nigel’s cousin Peter, and the family butler Crestwell, and the stage is set for a fine comedy!

I loved this film – it did remind me somewhat of another Noel Coward adaptation – Easy Virtue, which like Relative Values, also starred Colin Firth, and which also featured the son of an upper-crust English family bringing his vivacious American girlfriend to meet his relatives, but the films play out quite differently (I loved easy Virtue too).

All the cast were excellent – in particular, Thompson, Andrews and Firth.  Stephen Fry was playing a role which could have been written for him, and although he is one of the supporting rather than main cast members, he certainly makes the most of his screen time.  Baldwin is also very funny as the often drunk Lucas, who throws a spanner in the works of Miranda’s plan to transform herself from a starlet to a Lady of the Manor.  And Moxie, who is transformed from a maid, into a wealthy family friend (so that Miranda won’t recognise her) is the centre of one of the funniest scenes, when Moxie gets drunk to try and overcome her fear at meeting her sister who she hasn’t seen for some 20 years.  Colin Firth is just adorable as Peter – it could have been a nothing role in the wrong actor’s hands, but Firth is perfect.

The plot itself is rather daft – why didn’t they just tell Miranda that her sister was working for the family, rather than try and cover up the fact (and surely Miranda would have recognised her own sister!), but I think that it’s just something that you need to go with, accept, and enjoy.  Overall, this was a very funny and hugely delightful film.  At just under one and a half hours, it never gets boring, the cast is top-notch, and I would certainly recommend it.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Eric Styles

Producers: Steve Christian, Alex Harakis, Chris Harris, Fabio Chino Quaradeghini, Francesca Barra, Maud Nadler, Alex Swan, Christopher Milburn, Paul Rattigan, Michael Walker

Writers: Noel Coward (play), Paul Rattigan, Michael Walker

Main cast: Julie Andrews, Sophie Thompson, Colin Firth, William Baldwin, Edward Atterton, Stephen Fry, Jeanne Tripplehorn

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This 1945 film is an adaptation of Noel Coward’s famous play.  Charles and Ruth Condomine (Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings) hold a seance at their house and unwittingly summon up the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond), who makes herself comfortable in their home, much to the couple’s consternation.  Margaret Rutherford plays Madame Arcati, the medium who causes Elvira’s appearance and who tries to help get rid of her again.

The film is very enjoyable in parts, although it feels somewhat disjointed and probably hasn’t dated too well.  However, there is plenty to enjoy; the frivolous and sarcastic Elvira was actually my favourite character, and Kay Hammond played her wonderfully.  Margaret Rutherford though steals (most of) the show as the eccentric Madame Arcati.  The script pokes fun at the attitudes (and to some extent the lifestyle) of middle class snobs Charles and Ruth.  Indeed, Charles is actually not a particularly nice character, although Rex Harrison does a fine job of portraying him.  Ruth was somewhat more sympathetic – understandably disturbed by the sudden re-appearance of her husband’s dead first wife, while Charles is initially content to let both women share his house!

Not having seen the play, I was taken by surprise by something that occurred about halfway through, but which proved to be a good plot twist.  The ending, if slightly predictable, seemed appropriate and in keeping with everything that had gone before – although it is actually a different ending to that of the Coward’s original script.

Noel Coward apparently did not like this adaptation by David Lean, although Lean actually adapted three of Coward’s script for the big screen (the other two being Brief Encounter – an adaptation of the play Still Life; and In Which We Serve).  He also did not like Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.  I’m unable to compare Harrison’s performance to that of anyone else who has played the role, but I thought he did a good job here.  Margaret Rutherford and Kay Hammond, who were my favourite characters in this film had both played the same roles in the original West End production.

The plot is of course completely unfeasible and doesn’t stand up to any close scrutiny, but that hardly matters – this is all about comedy, and on that basis it works well.  As I said before, it does feel slightly disjointed, and it was fairly easy to tell where the breaks for the three acts in the play would have occurred.  But despite this, and the fact that it has perhaps not aged as well as other films from the same era, it’s still worth a look and overall, is a light hearted and enjoyable slice of entertainment.

(The title of the play is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘To A Skylark’, the first line of which is ‘Hail to thee blithe spirit!’)

Year of release: 1945

Director: David Lean

Writers: Noel Coward (play), David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan

Main cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford

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