Let Them Eat Cake (1999 UK)

dawn fIt’s 1782 and welcome to the fabulous Palace of Versailles, France. Outside the gates, the peasants are on the verge of revolting (already well past vile), whilst inside lives one of the most hated, despised and loathed women in all of France – no, not Marie Antoinette – but Columbine, the Comtesse De Vache. Aided by her slutty maid Lisette, Columbine skulks around the palace uncovering the dark secrets of her fellow nobles.

Armed with this scandalous knowledge, she is always well prepared to out-do jealous rival Madame De Plonge. Cruelly under-rated, this is easily as good as anything produce by French & Saunders, either collectively or individually. The basic premise is similar to that of Blackadder 3. But instead of Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder braving the idiocy of Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent, here we have Dawn French as the bored but wily servant who has to suffer fat, rich and stupid member of the French aristocracy Colombine, Comtesse de Vache (Jennifer Saunders). In supporting roles are Adrian Scarborough as Bouffant, Colombine’s dress-maker, Alison Steadman – putting her trademark hysteria and earthiness to great effect as Colombine’s nemesis Madame de Plonge. Her daughter Eveline, played by Lucy Punch is a potty mouthed sex maniac but she is supposed to be a demure virgin.

Appearing in individual episodes are Richard E. Grant as the Marquis de Sade, Julian Rhind-Tutt as Madame de Plonge’s camp acid-tongued advisor, Cathy Burke as Colombine’s poor and duplicitous sister and Maggie Steed stealing every scene she’s in as Madame Vigee-Lebrun, artist to the aristocracy. With everyone involved playing to the gallery, the humour comes fast and funny helped along by an abundance of silly costumes, wigs and situations. The performers are encouraged to adopt several ridiculous (and historically inappropriate) accents, ranging from Dawn French’s distinct west country twang and Adrian Scarborough’s broad Yorkshire to a quite ridiculously over-the-top Bavarian accent afforded to Marie Antoinette (Elizabeth Berrington).

Stand-out situations include Colombine’s absolute refusal to open doors for herself, Lisette’s regular references to the “the old Comte” and the superb moment when Bouffant staggers in with hair and make-up everywhere having been subjected to the amorous attentions of Eveline declaring angrily “do I look like I’m heterosexual?” TV comedy is littered with shows that were unappreciated during first runs and only became favourites upon being repeated extensively and maybe ‘Let Them East Cake’ would have benefited from such repetition on TV. Or perhaps Dawn and Jennifer were less committed to the show as it was a rare example of them performing in something they did not write (Peter Learmouth gets the credit here). Whatever the reasons, the show was not a huge success and was not re-commissioned so, alas, we only have these 6 episodes to ponder what could have been.

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