Can we all get along? That poignant plea is ever applicable, from L.A to all corners of the world, today or years past. And when it comes to families, which one doesn’t have its ups and downs? So, since the answer is obvious, might as well make comedies out of the situation.
Based on the play by Noel Coward, and lavishly adorned with his songs, credits to the Easy Virtue Orchestra, the film is otherwise re-written to appeal to a contemporary audience.
The story takes place some years after the First World War, in the 1920’s. The eldest son of an English aristocratic family, John Whittaker (Ben Barnes, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), comes home from abroad and brings back his new wife Larita, a race car driver (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist). What ensue are battles on the home front between the audacious new bride and the stuffy and snobby matriarch of the family, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long). The main spark of their explosive confrontations: Larita is American. And Larita does not disappoint. She is exactly what Mrs. Whittaler expects her to be, and some more: a gale of forbidden ideas and scandalous history. For her performance, Kristin Scott Thomas received two Best Actress nominations.
The most intriguing character is Mr. Whittaker, played by Colin Firth (When Did You Last See Your Father, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Pride and Prejudice). A veteran of the Great War, Mr. Whittaker is a disillusioned man, aloof, perceptive, and cynical all at the same time. He is the only one in the family extending a welcoming hand to Larita, and stands by his new found comrade in the domestic clash of cultures. The climax of the story comes near the end in an enthralling scene of the two tango dancing. Naturally, what follows is just anti-climatic.
The Whittakers live in a humongous mansion on acres of lush grounds for generations, reminiscence of Darcy’s Pemberley (yes, Colin Firth again), and for Mrs. Whittaker especially, no short supplies of pride or prejudice. Whether it’s intentional of the director or not, at one scene in the Whittakers ballroom, I see Darcy, poised and tall. But director Stephan Elliott and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins are no Jane Austen. This comedy of manners may appear to be a burlesque of the traditional upper-class English family, but it lacks the depth of characterization and cathartic effect of an Austen work.
And that’s alright.
Easy Virtue may be frothy, loud, and ephemeral, but it is effective in delivering some witty lines, great comedic timing, some cool cinematography, and fine performance not just from the main characters, but the supporting roles. I must mention the butler Furber (Kris Marshall), and the two Whittaker sisters Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) and Marion (Katherine Parkinson). They have added much delight to the film. A fun ride all the way.
I have not seen Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas together in a movie since The English Patient (1996). And truth be told, they are the reason for me to see this one.
Easy Virtue is currently released on limited screens across North America.
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