The Admirable Crichton - 1957

[aka Paradise Lagoon]

The adage that the servant becomes the master is quite true in the comedy of The Admirable Crichton, telling of how a group of aristocratic English become marooned on an uninhabited island in the Pacific South Seas. Without food, shelter or even much clothing (they left their sinking yacht in their pajamas), the family of the politcally progressive Lord Loam and his three daughters, along with a pair of suitors, become totally dependent upon their servants of Crichton the butler (Kenneth More) and the maid-servant-in-training Tweeny (Diane Cilento).

Crichton was a master at delegating duties to a large staff back at the household in England for Lord Loam (Cecil Parker), but a desert island is a whole different world of challenge, and he quickly comes to the conclusion that only by leading overtly (instead of as he had earlier, subvertly) can he save the group and establish some hope for rescue. The aristocrats of course protest this perversion of class status, but circumstances (and the smell of food from Crichton's campfire on a different side of the island than theirs) soon force the group to come to a understanding that the usual rules of English society simply can't apply here. With some swift film editing marking the passage of two years, we discover Crichton is now "the Guv" and is running the island from a hut atop a hill that is marked prominently with "Government House" on the front with a salvaged Union Jack on a nearby flag pole.

The comedy of the role reversal plays with iconic imagery, with 'the Guv' dressed like a kind of Robinson Crusoe, Lord Loam's athletic daughter Mary (Sally Ann Howes) looking like Sheena of the Jungle as she hunts food on the island, and Lord Loam himself now something of an excellent butler himself, bringing food on a tray up to Government House for the mid-day meal.

The paradise the group has constructed around Crichton's pragmatic leadership only has one flaw: the four men and four women can only become couples if Crichton turns his affections only to Mary so that Lord Loam can likewise turn his affections on Tweeny, the only female who is not his daughter. Crichton is torn between the two aforementioned ladies and finally comes to the only logical solution when a rescue boat finally appears and then the whole group agonizes over whether they even want to be rescued, so happy they've become on their island in the sun.

Director Lewis Gilbert made The Admirable Crichton from the Vernon Harris screenplay based on the J.M. Barrie play from 1902, and he skillfully shows us the upside-down world of the island is more than just a mirror of the English Estate where the film started, but is a weird achievement of Lord Loam's original dream to add Liberte, egalite, and fraternite to his home. In the early stages of the story is the disaster of Lord Loam's mandatory tea-party where embarrassed servants are made to be served by the Lord's family. Crichton is visibly repulsed by the whole exercise because as the Ultimate English Butler, he admires and appreciates a world where "everyone is kept in their place," especially since he likes his place a great deal.

On the surface of the island paradise it looks like this has all been shaken up, but that's not really the case. Instead, it shows us that only a dedicated servant/lord like Crichton could have pulled this off, and in this way the film isn't just a homage to a genius butler, but is really a celebration of the indispensable Englishman.

Original Page September 2020

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