Pennyweather is a dutiful Theology student at university in Oxford when one fateful night, on his way back to his dorm, he encounters a group of drunken wealthy students out to make mischief. They mistake him for one of their own, strip him naked as a prank, and send him running for his life, or at least his dignity, through the school's quad. The university officials see fit to expel him from school, since he is on scholarship and is too poor to pay the exorbitant fees they giddily rack up after a night of debauchery such as this, so Paul has little choice but to accept a position as a schoolmaster, as is what typically happens in this situation.
He receives a post at Llanabba, a rather undesirable boarding school run by Dr. Fagan (David Suchet, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot), who resides there with his two odd daughters, Diana AKA "Dingy" (Jemma Whalen, Game of Thrones) and Florence (Katy Wix, Agatha Raisin), enigmatic butler Philbrick (Stephen Graham, The Secret Agent, Boardwalk Empire), and fellow teachers, Col. Grimes (Douglas Hodge, The Night Manager, Penny Dreadful) and Prendergast AKA "Prendy" (Vincent Franklin, Doc Martin). Pennyfeather is immediately assigned to tutor Peter Beste-Chetwynde (Oscar Kennedy), a bright, wealthy young man with an alluring American mother named Margot (Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives) who instantly places Paul under her spell. She invites him to their sprawling manor for the holidays to stay on and tutor Peter, which he gleefully accepts, hoping to have a chance with the raven-haired beauty. But Margot is a bit of a player and has an ADD-love life, flitting to the man who catches her interest at the moment. Earlier it was a Jazz musician, currently it's the ridiculous German architect that has revamped her manor, and soon, it'll be Paul himself. Which brings us to, essentially, Act 3 of Pennyfeather's story.
The bliss of possible marriage to Margot is tainted a bit when he helps her with some of her business affairs, at her request of course, unwittingly implicating himself in crimes, as Margot supplies female "entertainment" all over the world. At least he's bound to see some familiar faces in his not-so-magical journey of what follows. When everything is said and done, Pennyfeather will definitely have learned a thing or to about the human condition, and so will the viewer, all with a hefty handful of laughs.
When I said earlier in the review that Decline and Fall was absurd, I meant it, but in a complementary way. The things that happen in this mini-series and the characters that poor, unassuming Paul Pennyfeather encounters are ridiculous to the extreme, but lovable because of it. David Suchet is a delight, as always, but it's rare to see him in a comedic role, so that's an extra treat. My favorites are the motley crew that consist of Douglas Hodge as Grimes, Stephen Graham as Philbrick, and Vincent Franklin as Prendy. These three keep popping back into Pennyfeather's life and, every time, there's a new and ridiculous story behind it. I felt like Eva Longoria's portrayal of Margot was a bit over the top, but then, so was the character of Margot, so I was perfectly fine with it.
As far as special features go, there's a photo gallery, plus featurettes discussing the dark satire tackled in the story, the adaptation from Waugh's novel to the screen, and on-set antics, as well. If you enjoy British comedy, you'll like Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh pokes fun at everything from money-grubbing universities, to pathetic teachers, prison management that can't do their jobs, government employees who take themselves too seriously, wealthy Americans, and plenty in-between. If you are looking for a laugh and a quirky story that somehow manages to make even a pervert an endearing character (I am looking at you, Col. Grimes!), then check out Decline and Fall.