Picks and Pans Review: Snobs

UPDATED 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

By Julian Fellowes

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"We've been jolly lucky with the weather." "Poor Charles had rather a dry time of it at dinner." "Awfully sorry to disturb you, but isn't that your knife in my back?" That last line isn't uttered in this takedown of the British upper classes, but it might as well be. Unctuous smiles reveal sharp teeth, and nearly everyone is trying to step up a class or step on the lower orders.

Fellowes's unnamed narrator, an actor with "a weakness for good-looking people," befriends a middle-class London beauty called Edith who isn't determined to marry a rich man exactly; "It's just that I cannot imagine I would be very happy married to a poor one." So when she meets a good-hearted country bore named Charles, the Earl Broughton, she hastily turns herself into Lady Broughton. Edith—the role is perfect for Keira Knightley—proves a wily match for the polite disdain of Charles's battle-ax mother, Lady Uckfield, but an even better match for a mane-tossing London actor (Jude Law, get on this).

All this would be satire if it weren't so much like a diary, and though those who know about such things generally don't tell, Fellowes, 55, a more genial Evelyn Waugh, seems to hide a notebook in his dinner jacket. Like his narrator, he's an actor (mainly on British TV) who glides among the gentry (his wife is lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent). Only recently did he turn to serious writing, winning an Oscar for his original screenplay of 2001's snobapalooza Gosford Park. Whether he ever gets to sup with the snobs again is his problem, not yours.

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