A bit of merriment and misdirection British style is the movie “She Stoops to Conquer”. The cultured language and sparkling characters make for an evening of just plain fun and wholesome entertainment. But you must be quick to listen, for the witty ripostes and verbal sparring will keep you on your toes. Not to mention the convoluted plot where a couple of lively deuces and an ace — one in love, one wanting to be in love, and one wanting nothing to do with love — gets all tangled up as they lead each other along the thorny garden path.
A practical joke gone awry sets the tone when the ne’er-do-well stepson of the upright Squire Hardcastle, Tony Lumpkin, leads two young gentlemen literally astray. From his usual position at the local pub, he realizes that the two lost and road-weary gallants are asking directions to his own home, which, according to a running joke in the area, looks like an inn. So he tells them they are far from their intended destination (the home of Squire Hardcastle), but there is a five-star inn just up the road, only the innkeeper (the squire) is a bit of a boor and a voluble old fellow and to just pay no attention to his natterings.
It had been previously arranged by Squire Hardcastle for his daughter Kate to meet one of the young gentlemen, Charles Marlow, son of an old friend, Sir Charles Marlow of London. It was the hope of both old gentlemen that a spark would ignite between their son and daughter. Young Charles is accompanied on the trip by his friend, George Hastings, an admirer of Miss Constance Neville, who is also residing at Hardcastle manor with her aunt, Mrs. Hardcastle.
Unfortunately for George, Mrs. Hardcastle sits on Constance’s jeweled nest egg of an inheritance like a mother hen. Mrs. Hardcastle’s plot is to force a union between her son and her niece so the jewels will stay in her own greedy little hands. But Tony and Constance can’t abide each other, so Tony is pleased as punch to dump his lovely cousin on the smitten George Hastings, even going so far as to scheme against his own mother.
Into this cauldron of plots steps young Charles, who, it turns out, is shy, tongue-tied and utterly unremarkable around women of class and good reputation. But like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he wears another face around women of the lower classes, like maids and barmaids. Since these women have no expectations of him other than the cad he is in their society, Charles allows his innate wit and personality a loose rein.
Thinking they are at an inn where money will make up for any of their misconduct, Charles and George proceed to treat the furniture like dirt and the people like furniture — in other words — to be used. Squire Hardcastle is appalled at the conduct of these young men of good family who treat him, their host, like a non-person, and is having grave second thoughts about an alliance between the Hardcastles and the Marlows.
When Constance reveals the joke to George, he decides not to share the knowledge with his friend Charles Marlow, thinking it might make him less uptight about meeting Kate. When Kate finally gets her moments with Charles – dressed in the lovely fashion of the times for ladies of good family – she finds the tongue-tied, witless bore about as attractive as a Sunday afternoon with a maiden aunt. Yet . . . his looks aren’t exactly repulsive. So, after learning from Constance about his double-lived personality, she decides to pretend to be the barmaid of the inn. She bases her plot on the fact that Charles never once really looked at her face under her large hat, and she could change her voice to fit that of a lower-class woman, therefore lowering herself (stoops) to conquer.
And that, my dear movie buff, is when the games begin. It is a delightful farce set down amidst the polite society of by-gone times (the play first aired in 1773 written by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith) and the entire scenario occurs in one very eventful night.