Relative Values is one of Julie Andrew’s movies that I somehow missed seeing until very recently. Made in 2000 from the Noël Coward play of the same name. Set in the 1950s we are in the same world as Howard’s End and Gosford Park where we find one woman, Julie Andrews, living in a vast sprawling estate surrounded by an endless array of servants. Chief among these servants is the Butler, played brilliantly by Stephen Fry who appears to be born to play a know-it-all Butler.
It’s possible that this would have been a lot funnier if I knew a bit more about that whole Upstairs/Downstairs world that seems to be the basis of many of the jokes.
William Baldwin plays the part of a brash American Movie Star-a role much like the one played by older brother Alec Baldwin in Notting Hill. William Baldwin does a good job of looking cute and hansom as tried to win back the love of his life. Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the Hollywood starlet that leaves William Baldwin and falls for rich English Aristocrat Edward Atterton, who does a good job of being very stiff upper lipped.
Like Wooster and Jeeves the general assumption is that the Servants are much smarter than the Masters. One of the many story lines flowing in Relative Values involves a maid being the sister of the Hollywood starlet, and neither one of them wanting to pick of their relationship after twenty years of separation. So the Maid, played by Sophie Thompson, disguises herself as just another Aristocrat visiting Julie Andrews estate. She is then shocked as the Hollywood starlets tells all kinds of lies about her childhood, until the maid yells at her and reveals who she really is.
Relative Values is an old style comedy of manners and class, so it is not really surprising that I had never heard of it before. This film requires that you pay attention to it to get the jokes, and that maybe you do a little bit of research to get the jokes. No one wants to work that hard. Thinking has not been a part of American Movies for a really long time-for American comedy longer still.
The sets and costumes and autos were all wonderful-I love the Maid uniforms with the little pill caps. The entire cast was perfect and I could watch Stephen Fry talk down to William Baldwin all day long. The obsession with the rich and the not so rich and those that take care of the rich is always going to be interesting. Here is it fun as well.