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Five spirited senior citizens who own and operate a bankrupt and decaying plantation museum are more than a match for a cynical historian and his sassy protege who scheme to force The Ladies to sell their museum to the state historical society.
IMAGINE "DRIVING MISS DAISY" WITH A DASH OF "ARSENIC AND OLD LACE" -- TIMES FIVE.
An historian and his young female protégé arrive in a sleepy Georgia town looking for old houses to include in the state Historical Society’s annual Pilgrimage.
The town has 2 such houses: Pinehill and The Magnolias. Pinehill is a modern museum run by professionals. Magnolia Grove is a decaying mansion run by THE LADIES OF THE SACRED SOUTH, five eccentric, lovable, old dears who this day are celebrating “Mortification Day”, an annual observance of Miss Rachel Hampton’s “Mortification at the hands of the Yankee invaders during the War for Southern Independence”
The central event in the history of The Magnolias involves Rachel Hampton, her daughter, Hominy Ann, and her fiancé Confederate Captain Roger Swain. On their wedding day Captain Swain was killed by a Yankee sharpshooter.
The Ladies are particularly anxious that The Magnolias be chosen for the Pilgrimage. The Building Inspector and Fire Marshall will close the museum if it is not renovated. The money from the Pilgrimage will save The Magnolias.
The historian and his protégé arrive unannounced, taking the tour with the oldest and most venerable member of THE LADIES OF THE SACRED SOUTH, who has a tendency to confuse furniture styles with cheeses. Please note the authentic Wensleydale sidechair. Don’t miss the Cheddar Chandelier. And the Camembert sofa. Her view of the “late unpleasantness” is highly colored and confused with D.W. Griffith’s and Cecil B. DeMille’s screen epics.
The President of The Ladies of the Sacred South, hoping to erase this rather cheesy impression of their museum, has no choice but to use the greatest weapon in the old ladies’ arsenal: their cooking. And so invite the historian and his protégé to return that evening for dinner.
The Magnolias, dingy and dilapidated by day, is mysterious and evocative by night. A threatening storm seems to call out the ghosts of the Past.
To ensure the success of the dinner, the Ladies prevail upon a transplanted California actor, and local little theater staple, to appear in the guise of Captain Swain. He performs his role in an over the top performance, even by little theater standards
The dinner, the thunderstorm, the candlelight, and the “appearance” of Captain Swain are not enough. The historian has chosen Pinehill for the Pilgrimage and reveals that his mission all along was to buy The Magnolias. He presents them with a generous check which The Ladies refuse.
But then much to the actor’s surprise, his performance continues. And this time he is really acting or something is happening. As it happens, something is happening.
Acting through the actor, The Spirit of Captain Swain has returned to the house of his fiancé to reveal the location of hidden jewels with which The Magnolias can be saved.
But The Ladies know the rightful owner of the jewels is Pinehill. If they keep this to themselves, they are saved. If not, they are lost. They sadly appoint a committee to form a delegation to return the jewels to Pinehill.
In the face of such devotion to their Past, the historian weakens. He proposes an accommodation with the State Society. Which The Ladies reject. Instead they propose --- Marriage. Between THE LADIES OF THE SACRED SOUTH and the historian.
Now it is clear to the protégé why The Ladies keep asking for glasses of Port.
Their dowry is the house, its contents, and them. The historian in return stays and runs the museum for them. Amused and deeply moved, the historian leaves but vows to find a way to save the house. The Ladies know that once he leaves he’ll never return. But he walks away.
The evening mist rolls in. Out of the mist returns the historian, suitcase in hand. What has he done? The place needs everything. It has nothing. What the historian needs is a glass of Port.
No. What he needs is a barrel of Port. . . .