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Friday, 22 June 2012

Classic Film Review: The Admirable Crichton (1957)

When I was reading Up and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson recently (review here), I came across a reference to a J.M Barrie play that I hadn't heard of before which sounded excellent. The Admirable Crichton follows a family shipwrecked with some servants, showing how the servants become the masters in deference to the fact they can actually survive. This 1957 adaptation stars Kenneth More as Crichton with Diane Cilento as Tweeny, his fellow servant, Cecil Parker as Lord Loam and Sally Ann Howes as Lady Mary. I was particularly excited to see Howes in the cast, having adored her from the first time I ever watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

I'm not sure how closely the adaptation follows the original Barrie script but it's an enjoyable film regardless. At the beginning, Lord Loam is keen to try out equality for his servants by inviting them to tea with his daughters. Crichton is alarmed at this blatant disregard of protocol but gets on with it. When one of Loam's daughters is arrested for hitting a policeman at a suffragette march, Crichton subtly suggests they escape the country on the family yacht. Unfortunately, the boat is shipwrecked and Crichton and Tweeny find themselves in the family boat with the father, three daughters and two potential suitors for the daughters. They wash up on a desert island where Crichton's initial attempts to take control are rebuffed by Lady Mary (who has always had something of a crush on him) and he and Tweeney leave for the other side of the island. However, the family are tempted over when they smell pork roasting, although Lady Mary is a little more stubborn than everyone else.

Fast forward two years and the roles on the island have completely changed. Crichton is now known as 'Guv' and, in a complete reversal, it's now Lord Loam bringing his former butler breakfast in bed. Traditional class barriers have broken down - Tweeny is coveted by both her employer and the two suitors intended for her employer's daughters. She, though, is in love with Crichton while he and Lady Mary have seemingly spent two years flirting with each other. This love triangle is actually very compelling and the audience is kept guessing until the end of the film about who Crichton will end up with, especially when the prospect of rescue emerges.

All the performances in this were superb. More's comedic talents are delightfully underplayed while Tweeny was wonderfully overplayed by Cilento. Set in 1905, the film pokes fun at the traditional class distinctions while still creating characters the audience is invested in. It's amusing and certainly a pleasant way to while away a few hours.

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