Easy Virtue
dir Stephan Elliott
scr Stephan Elliott, Sheridan Jobbins
with Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Kimberley Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Charlotte Riley, Christian Brassington, Pip Torrens, Jim McManus, Maggie Hickey
release UK 7.Nov.08
08/UK Ealing 1h33
Easy Virtue
Not-so-stiff uper lips: Nixon, Scott Thomas and Parkinson

biel barnes firth

28th Shadows Awards
Kristin Scott Thomas

london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Easy Virtue Snappy and enjoyable, this British class comedy has enough spark to keep us entertained, even though the plot never quite shifts up to full speed. But a few terrific performances make it well worth seeing.

In the late 1920s, John Whittaker (Barnes) announces he's coming home with his new bride Larita (Biel). His imperious mother (Scott Thomas) is shocked by this sudden marriage, especially since Larita is a race-car driving American. John's sisters (Nixon and Parkinson) are both fascinated and repulsed by this strange woman, while their father (Firth) sees a kindred spirit in Larita's willingness to flout English society rules. Meanwhile, John and Larita have their own conflict: to fulfil John's familial responsibility in the country or move to the much more exciting city.

Based on Noel Coward's play (originally filmed in 1928 by Alfred Hitchcock), the film retains a superbly playful sense of language, with dialog that floats lightly and then suddenly stabs astutely. In addition to the colourful production design, filmmaker Elliott stirs in a strong musicality, with hits of the day (some sung on screen by Barnes) as well as newer songs performed in period style. And the characters are all bundles of nerves and expectations as they struggle to accept each other--and themselves.

The cast is great fun, with Barnes and Biel exuding youthful passion, although neither actor is quite strong enough to make their character feel very complicated, beyond some furrowed brows as Larita's skeletons creep out of the closet. On the other hand, Scott Thomas and Firth find all sorts of intriguing depth in their characters, playing wonderfully with the sassy dialog and uneasy chemistry. Firth's sardonic delivery beautifully balances Scott Thomas' brittle sarcasm.

So it's great fun even if it never quite kicks into gear. We keep waiting for all of the bitterness and passion to erupt, but the various battles never turn into a full-on war. And what emerges instead is a gentle observation about how people who truly get out of their safety zones find their worlds irreversibly expanded; experiencing different cultures and real tragedy makes it impossible to go back to your straightforward, ordered life. And it makes everyone else suspicious about you.

cert pg themes, innuendo 26.Aug.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall