The Young Visiters, or, Mr. Salteena’s Plan (review)
Fans of offbeat British humor will gobble up this BBC production, with all its elegantly silly and piquantly observant social satire, and they’ll be tickled all the more by how it comes by its stunning insight into the romantic games men and women play and the snobbery of late-Victorian England: It was written, with clueless abandon and an unwittingly clear-eyed perspective on the world, by a nine-year-old girl in 12 days. No, seriously — little Daisy Ashford wrote the novel this is based upon in 1890, and it hasn’t been out of print since. By turns bizarre — the film turns on a Terry Gilliam-esque surreality to bring alive Ashford’s delightful flights of fancy, from singing train conductors to housemaids who get blown away by storms — and charmingly naive, this is the tale of two “elderly” men, fortysomethings Alfred Salteena (Jim Broadbent: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and Lord Bernard Clark (Hugh Laurie: Stuart Little 2), competing for the hand of young Ethel Monticue (Lyndsey Marshal: The Hours). What would be romantic tripe — and yet no worse than all the similar stuff written by grownups who should know better — ends up as sublime comedy as performed by a superb cast. Laurie and Broadbent, in particular, are at the top of their games, each deploying a deadpan minimalism, in which tiny gestures become outrageous and subdued emotions become tantrums, to seduce us into in a droll netherworld of thwarted passion, social climbing, and ridiculous top hats.