Tea on the lawn, a young girl's sexual awakening in Italy and a working-class love affair: from a distance it all sounds like a typical period drama, A Room With A Different View. Only it isn't. Stiff Upper Lips is an ambitious send-up of turn-of-the-century Jane Austenism. It's Merchant Ivory played for cheap laughs - - all corsets, lace, haughty-manners and quick-fire gaggery.
Gary Sinyor (director, co-writer and co-producer) is adamant that to fully understand the film simply requires an understanding of the English aristocracy and the prejudices and repressions that go with it. True enough; but it's difficult to see how you can really enjoy Stiff Upper Lips without having seen A Room With A View. Here there's a similar jaunt to Italy, and the thorny problem of a room without a view. The village vicar is called Mr Tweeb instead of Mr Beeb, while Emily's fiancé, the pontificating Cedric, bears an uncanny resemblance to Lucy's Cecil. The list is endless. Suffice to say, those of you who secretly rate A Room With A View high on their list of favourite movies should be prepared for a massacre.
Stiff Upper Lips certainly has its flaws. Emily's constant whining becomes intensely irritating after about 30 minutes, as does Sean Pertwee's bland performance as the well-endowed, brainless hunk. However, these minor grumbles quickly fade in the light of Ustinov and Scales' performances. Sir Pete delivers a blazing turn as an eccentric tea plantation owner, while Scales is radiant as the pragmatic and sexually-frustrated aunt. Stiff Upper Lips is costume drama as you've never seen it before, ridiculing every aspect of what British film does best. You'll never be able to watch another EM Forster adaptation in quite the same way again.