Relative Values
review by Gregory Avery, 3 November 2000

In Relative Values, Julie Andrews plays Felicity, Countess of Marshwood, whose son, the young Earl of Marshwood (the blandly handsome Edward Atterton), is about to return home and introduce her to the woman he is about to marry, a Hollywood movie star named Miranda Frayle (Jeanne Tripplehorn), whose previous and abruptly-terminated romance with the cowboy star Don Lucas (William Baldwin) has been plastered across the pages and covers of every movie magazine in creation. As if that weren't bad enough, it is also discovered that the Duchess' personal assistant, Moxie (Sophie Thompson) -- a member of the household staff -- is the movie star's real-life sister. In case you were wondering, the story is set in 1953, when there was still such a thing as "class distinctions" and whether or not one came from "common" origins.

Considering that this is Julie Andrews' first performance since her departure from the Broadway production Victor/Victoria and that it is based on a Noel Coward play, it would be nice to say that the film (which is having its U.S. premiere on the Starz channel this month, after playing theatrically in Europe) is a triumph. Unfortunately, it is not. The filmmakers -- director Eric Styles and screenwriters Paul Rattigan and Michael Walker -- stage the material as if it were a steeplechase. Whether this is a misguided attempt to create an antic, bubbly atmosphere (although there is a difference between "speed" and "verve") or to keep the running time under ninety minutes is uncertain. What is certain is that Coward requires a certain amount of subtly, and the filmmakers have pretty much quashed that out of the material. And with the jumpiness of the actors and the multiple cuts imposed on many of the scenes, one could say that this is the Miracle-Slicer version of Noel Coward.

Jeanne Tripplehorn's performance is fine -- she has the auburn Fifties glamour look down just right -- but Sophie Thompson flounders badly in her performance, and the moment William Baldwin gallops onto the screen, you may feel like abruptly leaping under your chair.  On the other hand, Andrews brings grace and presence to her part, and one wishes that she had more screen time with Stephanie Beacham, whom I haven't seen in years but who still looks and acts gorgeous. The two actresses, who appear in an early scene set at a country house soiree amid a whirl of evening clothes and the clink of glasses, play wonderfully together. And Colin Firth, as the Duchess' nephew (and Coward's de-facto spokesperson in the story), shows an unexpected aptitude for delivering his lines with just the right, crisp, deftly-turned amount of style and poise -- which, if you're going to do Noel Coward at all, is what's definitely needed.

Directed by:
Eric Styles

Julie Andrews
Colin Firth
Edward Atterton
Jeanne Tripplehorn
William Baldwin
Sophie Thompson
Stephen Fry

Written by:
Paul Rattigan 
Michael Walker



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