Friday, 21 November 2008

Easy Virtue (14th November 2008)

For those waiting for Transporter 3, what better way to cope with the anticipation than a bit of Noel Coward.

Sadly Vin Diesel and Jason Statham were otherwise engaged, but American starlet Jessica Biel headlines a British production of Coward’s play, Easy Virtue. Set in the 1930’s, the story revolves around the Whittaker family.

They live in their ‘upstairs, downstairs’ mansion house which is falling into disrepair under the frosty gaze of matriarch, Mrs Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) to the indifference of her husband, a man traumatised by his losses in the First World War- played by Colin Firth who smoulders smoulderingly. For them and their household, including young daughters Marion and Hilda and comedy butler Furber (Kris Marshall), the cat is hurled among the pigeons when prodigal son John (Ben Barnes) tips up with his new, glamorous wife Larita (Biel).

When Mrs Whittaker first hears her daughter-in-law speak she curls her mouth into a formation, like she’s a banker on the phone to Gordon Brown, and with perfect delivery says: “Oh, you’re American” There is the rub. Larita is from the New World, headstrong, and hoping to take her husband on global adventures, while Mrs Whittaker is trying to hold on to British austerity, and keep the apple-of-her-eye at home to save their household. The two strong women joust with each other in a series of confrontations.

The first half of Easy Virtue is a delightful collection of one-liners and nicely played scenes. There are no weak links in the cast and if you were expecting a drab period film-you’d be dead wrong. Australian director, Stephan Elliot marshals proceedings with great style, pace and no little musicality: occasionally the cast break into song, but this is handled with a light touch, not in the Mamma Mia style. Also rather fun is the blatantly anachronistic soundtrack, with surprises I won’t ruin here.

Gradually the film darkens in tone, as Colin Firth’s character becomes more interested his son’s young wife and the thin carapace of Mrs Whittaker’s situation cracks. While it may not end as enjoyably as it begins, this is a sharp and lively adaptation, with strong work from Jessica Biel in a departure role for her.
Easy Virtue breathes life into the genre and has much to recommend it, even without Mr Statham.

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