Tag Archives: snobbery

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon (1957)

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon from director Lewis Gilbert is a wonderful film which skewers the British class system, and if you’re a fan of classic British film, The Admirable Crichton most definitely deserves a look.

The film is set at the beginning of the 20th century. Suffragettes are on the march in England, and Lord Loam (Cecil Parker), the aristocrat who owns a lavish country estate has definite ideas about equality. He does, however, draw the line at the idea of equal rights for women. Lord Loam is a bit of an eccentric, and when the film begins, we see a typical day in the Loam household. The house is basically run by the butler, Crichton (Kenneth More), but he runs the place so smoothly and tactfully that Lord Loam is left with the illusion that he’s the one really in charge.

Lord Loam decides to put his notions of  class equality to the test by inviting (in reality ordering) all the domestic servants to participate in tea with the family members. This is an occasion of embarrassment and awkwardness for the servants, and disgruntlement for Lord Loam’s two daughters, Lady Mary (Sally Ann Howes) and her younger sister Lady Catherine (Mercy Haystead). Lady Mary is particularly annoyed by the forced social engagement with the servants as she is about to become engaged to the horribly snobbish and strait-laced Lord Brocklehurst (Peter Graves)–a man whose horribly domineering mother, Lady Brocklehurst (Martita Hunt) does not approve of equality on any level whatsoever. She believes that the ‘lower’ classes should be kept in their place and that to contemplate otherwise is a very dangerous thing. 

 The youngest daughter, Lady Agatha (Miranda Connell) goes to London to watch a suffragette march with her fiancé Ernest Wolley (Gerald Harper). She’s supposed to be there observing only, but she gets mixed up in the protest and causes a family scandal. As a result of this event, Lord Loam, at Crichton’s suggestion, takes his daughters and a few indispensable servants on a cruise aboard his yacht. Things go horribly wrong, however, when the yacht is caught in a storm….

The Admirable Crichton explores exactly what happens when rigid class rules are transposed to a desert island. One of the most important characters in the film is Tweeny (Diane Cilento)–Tweeny (which basically means that she is a maid who works [between] several floors) discovers that her currency soars when beauty and culinary skills are valued more than bloodlines.

This film is essentially a comedy about hypocrisy, and we see that Lord Loam may have ‘enlightened’ views about equality with his fellow man, but these are just intellectual ideas that he really has no intention of actually altering his his lifestyle for. The first notion of hypocrisy comes in the film when Lord Loam mouths his beliefs about equality with the servants but then refuses to countenance the notion that women are equal to men. While Lord Loam may experiment with a tentative tea which he controls in his own household, he is ill prepared for a full-scale upheaval. On the desert island, there are no innate privileges, and instead survival skills become the most valuable skills of all. Just what happens when members of the upper class are forced to cohabit with their servants makes for great entertainment.

One of the notions here is that the class system may be enforced legally and socially, but it is also absorbed by all those involved. Thus we see Crichton as the ultimate snob with the other servants and a pragmatist when it comes to realising his humble position.

The Admirable Crichton is based on a play by J.M. Barrie , and here Barrie creates a very different alternate world from the fantasy world he created with Peter Pan, but it’s a viable alternate world, nonetheless.

There are two other film versions of this play: We’re Not Dressing (1934) and Male and Female (1919).


Filed under British

The Charmer (1987)

“Have you never felt that perhaps Ralph isn’t all he seems to be? “

This British made-for-television, 6 part mini-series logging in at just over 5 hours focuses on the criminal career of The Charmer–Ralph Gorse, conman, blackmailer, seducer, embezzler, and killer. The story begins in the 1930s, and blond, good-looking suave Ralph (Nigel Havers) drifts into a nice quiet, upper middle class neighbourhood. Here he ingratiates himself into the good graces of snobby middle-aged widow Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (Rosemary Leach) while alienating her jealous, long-time beau, Donald Stimpson (Bernard Hepton). Ralph may flatter Joan with his romantic little tributes, but he certainly doesn’t fool Donald. Although Donald gnashes his teeth with pent-up frustration and jealousy, he can’t really put his finger on exactly why he loathes Ralph. The eminently sensible Donald suspects, rightly, that there’s something terribly wrong with Ralph, but Joan sweeps away all of Donald’s skepticism by chalking it up to jealousy. Ralph eventually does reveal his true colours, and too late, Donald realizes exactly what he’s after. Donald vows revenge, and he patiently and persistently tracks his enemy.

Ralph’s sociopathic, criminal, and narcissistic nature is developed and revealed gradually over the course of these 6 episodes. Leaving disaster in his wake, Ralph’s Achilles’ heel remains his need to constantly place himself in the upper classes where he feels he rightly belongs. A born shape shifter, Ralph can mingle with the middle classes and fool them quite adequately with lies about his past, but he cannot fool the upper classes. He drifts into the lives of the Bennett family with disastrous consequences, but a middle class life of employment and a modest home hems him in causing him almost to panic at its mediocrity.

The episodes track Ralph’s career emphasizing that the advent of WWII allows him to drop in and out of society while the world is in chaos. The Charmer is essentially a study of one man’s character, and the film succeeds admirably in placing Ralph into situations from which he extricates himself. Using lonely women to feather his existence, Ralph maintains an on-an-off relationship with his upper-class ideal, the spoiled, privileged and superficial Clarice Mannors (Fiona Fullerton). Addicted to leisure and affluence, Ralph inevitably cannot maintain a low profile–even when it’s essential to do so. The characterizations are remarkably strong–everyone finds Joan Plumleigh-Bruce obnoxious–everyone–except her long-suffering beau, Stimpson. Stimpson is a marvelously understated character, so easy to overlook, but so determined to destroy Gorse. Fans of British television should enjoy this entertaining film based on the novel Mr. Stimpson and Mr. Gorse by Patrick Hamilton–although some patience may be required with the programme’s pacing.

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Filed under British television