Chaos ensues amidst the English aristocracy when it is discovered that the Earl's American wife-to-be has a sister who is a domestic servant in the household.
Such was the surefire nature of a Noel Coward play in the salad days of the "talkies" that his sophisticated comedies were snapped up for adaptation even before the first night's greasepaint had dried. However, 'Relative Values' has taken nigh-on half a century to reach the screen, which tends to suggest that it's not on a par with its peers.
Those still scarred from Eric Styles' previous directorial outing - 'Dreaming Of Joseph Lees', could be forgiven for approaching this with trepidation. But the opening segment, which establishes both the period and central characters Miranda and Don's superstar credentials, is done with a brilliant control that recalls the montage sequences that no self-respecting 1930s movie was without.
Naturally, things slow down once we reach Blighty, although the action is still taken at a decently farcical clip.
Returning to the big screen for the first time since 'Tchin Tchin', Julie Andrews remains as poised as ever. But she's spent so much time in the oh-so-clever angst-ridden chatfests of her husband, Blake Edwards, that she tends to deliver her lines like an LA luvvie. She banters effectively with man-about-town Colin Firth, but comes off second best to Sophie Thompson, who twitters beautifully as Moxie, the devoted domestic rendered distinctly uncomfortable by her sudden elevation to the peerage.
With Stephen Fry and Edward Atterton contributing a second-division Jeeves and Wooster act, the film reaches its quotient of gentle smiles. But such is the precision and polish of the performances that it's obvious everyone is acting, instead of inhabiting their long-gone world.
Not nearly as good as other Coward adaptations, the performances are too measured to be believable and the whole thing feels a little under-par.