Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

This 1920s play by Noel Coward still dances along like a sprightly flapper, defying the passage of the years, thanks to Stephen Elliott’s energetic direction. Coward knew how to write a one-liner about culture clash and his wit has lost none of its sting.

The plot is simplicity itself, take one fresh-faced, naïve young English buck (Ben “Prince Caspian” Barnes) and hook him up with a feisty, older Yank (Jessica Biel) and plonk them both in his parents’ country pile before letting the cross-cultural/cross-generational fireworks begin.

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And its not just American incomer Larita’s inability to contain her horror about hunting or her new husband John’s tortuous tanglings with his “first love”, there’s also plenty of homegrown trouble brewing. Colin Firth’s crumpled papa has never really got over the war, while his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) has never got over the fact that, initially, he didn’t bother coming back. As financial storm clouds gather on the horizon and secrets from Larita’s past begin to float to the surface, it’s only a matter of time before the family is at war.

Elliott, who has struggled to replicate the impact he made with 1994’s The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, demonstrates an impressive ability to broaden the scope of Coward’s play into a truly cinematic experience. He makes good use of the rural setting as well as the halls of John’s home and utilises lots of nice reflective shots, through odd-shaped mirrors and windows, to show how our perspective – like that of the central protagonists – can easily be bent and contorted.

The production values are a match for any costume drama this year and the scoring is inventive. As well as incorporating snatches of several Coward songs deftly into the action, there are also a couple of more modern hits arranged in 1920s style, which add a layer of humour all of their own.

The cast are as sparkling as the silverware. Colin Firth is at his best for many a long year, somehow given freedom in his dishevelment from the usual ‘crumpet’ requirements, although he may be a little young to really pass as John’s dad. Scott Thomas is, as always, wonderful, but it is Biel who really surprises, showing a knack for comic timing. Although the acidic, barbed dialogue may play best with adults, there is also quite a lot in the way of visual comedy, which means this is a film that could easily appeal to younger members of the family as well. As the Noel Coward song says: “There’s life in the old girl yet.”

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2008
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When a young Englishman takes his American bride to meet his family sparks soon fly.
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Director: Stephan Elliott

Writer: Stephan Elliott, Sheridan Jobbins, based on the play by Noel Coward

Starring: Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Kimberley Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Christian Brassington, Charlotte Riley, Jim McManus, Pip Torrens

Year: 2008

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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