A nobleman returns homw from war only to find his peers taxing the life out of the poor and drinking all of the money. In a bizarre plot twist he decides to dress as a woman and leads an army of cross dressing farmers in rebellion.
It's the mid-19th Century and all is not well in the Welsh valleys. Nobleman Anthoy Raine (Rhys) returns home from lengthy military service in India to discover his peers are subsidising their extravagant lifestyle by a legalised form of highway robbery - tollgates every few hundred yards on the areas roads - and using the army to back them up. Worse than that, the lady he's romanced by mail (Richardson) doesn't want to know because, although he whinges bitterly about it, he's not prepared to buck the system.
And so it might go on, Lord Sarne (O'Toole) and his foppish chums eating, drinking and womanising as a full time occupation (O'Toole approaching the role with expected gusto), while all the common folk have to aspire to is eviction, transportation and the love of a pet piglet (Keith Allen's character's constant companion). Until Raine, humiliated in the love stakes by an obnoxious English army captain and his erstwhile betrothed sending him a woman's bonnet, hits upon the biblical story of Rebecca.
He decides to hit back in drag, and organises the bizarrely terrifying spectacle of an army of burly farmers in dresses and aprons. Was the organised burning of tollgates a warm up for the arson attacks on weekend cottages over 100 years later?
Although the storyline is uncomplicated and almost twee in its outcome, what makes it special is the Dylan Thomas original screenplay. His love of language elevates exchanges to the wittiest most perfectly balanced of verbal duels, while a thoroughly entertaining sense of bawdiness captures the period feel (Carry On meets Tom Jones - not the singer) and the flinty Welsh humour is played up to the point of celebration (the chap who cuts his right trigger finger off to avoid conscription claims the last laugh because he's left-handed).
Every now and again, but not nearly as often as should be, the UK film industry gives us a reminder of exactly why we should worry for its future. It disregards box office friendly names (although O'Toole can't do any harm), high concepts and ludicrous production values to build up from a crackling script and inspired performances. When this happens, the results are usually as deeply enjoyable as Rebecca's Daughter.
A cracking script, inspired comic performances and a complete disregard for reality ably demonstrates how British films can rival Hollywood by doing something a bit different.