Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Barbara Hershey.
Splitting Heirs (1993)
Written by Eric Idle
Directed by Robert Young
Splitting Heirs tells the story of two irresponsible parents from the 60’s (the decade is treated as explanation enough) who leave their child, future Duke of Bournemouth, Butterfly Rainbow Peace, at a restaurant where he’s kidnapped. Reunited some time later time with a new name, Henry (Rick Moranis) is crowned Duke when his dad dies at the hands of the family curse.
Shortly before this, however, Henry is paired with a man on a business trip, who shares an uncanny resemblance with the ancestral paintings in his palace. Too exaggerated to be a coincidence, the two become close friends but Tommy Patel (Eric Idle) is about to go on an identity crisis of his own, starting with the startling discovery that he’s not a Patel but adopted.
In one of the film’s edgiest and most amusing running jokes, multiple nods are made to the very white Tommy’s Hindu upbringing. These nods are also, once Tommy has the means to give back to the family that raised him, inexplicably forgotten, taking a joke that was edgy and turning it back into another quick laugh at a culture’s expense.
With only a silver rattle and monogrammed blanket as proof that he’s the real Butterfly (evidence that doesn’t sound terrible on paper but his lawyer, Shadgrind (John Cleese), says otherwise) killing Henry is concluded to be the only way Tommy can take back the life that is rightfully his.
Henry never intentionally stole the throne, so beyond the extremeness of this course of action it’s also rather unfair. Still, the curse of the Bournemouth’s (and, as it turns out, the luck of Henry) lead to a string of murder attempts evaded in silly fashions.
As can be expected from past films made by members of Monty Python, there are disapproving cuts at the aristocracy, with the image of Henry rollerblading around a fountain in an oversized red cape and crown, like he’s the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, a particularly rich critique of excess.
Splitting Heirs deserves critique itself for presenting women as beautiful bodies first, comic talents second. All three of the main female cast members are given the chance to show how desirable Tommy is sexually. Duchess Lucinda’s (Hershey’s) primary function as a character is to try and sleep with men, including Tommy for your standard oedipal complex. While Hershey has the attitude to pull off her elaborate costumes they frequently wear the character, over the other way around. Angela (Sadie Frost) talks back and wears a suit, but is nonetheless posed as attracted to Tommy, and Kitty (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the cheating, gold digging trophy wife. These kind of women exist but as the sole examples of their gender and to such a degree of thinness, no.
Whether intentional or not there are some last minute attempts to fix the gender disparity, when everyone realizes who Tommy is. As the eccentric mom, cradling her adult child and losing her balance, you can see what Hershey could’ve brought to this role with even a little more substance to work with. The end credits start rolling quickly, so there’s not much time to dwell on these improvements, but the swiftness of the ending actually works in the film’s favor.
Verdict: Not sure
Splitting Heirs isn’t the kind of movie you would need to actively seek out but it’s not a terrible one, either, and a car gag towards the end is inspired.
Check back tomorrow for Barbara Hershey’s performance as a wife caught between two warring aluminum siding salesmen.