Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
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Between world wars, the Whittaker's estate is sinking; only the iron will of Mrs. Whittaker staves off bankruptcy while she awaits her son John's return from the continent. To her dismay, he brings a bride: an American widow who races cars. The bride, Larita, thinks she and John will visit and then go to London, where he'll work and she'll race. But John is to the manor born, and mother is nothing if not a master at plans and manipulation. Soon it's all-out war between mother and bride, with John's father, a burnt out veteran of the Great War, in the bride's corner ineffectually. Mother has a plan to join with the neighboring estate; only Larita is in her way. Can't we all get along? Written by
When Larita first sees John after the race in Monte Carlo the mechanic in the bottom right of the shot takes his hat off and waves it in the air. A second or so later when she looks back at John, the same mechanic takes his hat off and waves it again indicating the shot was duplicated. See more »
Enthralling opening up of neglected Coward play; not for the shallow or juvenile
While I normally prefer film versions of famous plays to be as faithful as possible to the original works, this lovingly opened up, perfectly cast and filmed elaboration of Noel Coward's very edgy "comedy" - a treatise on post-WWI morality and the culture shock Britain went through - would almost certainly have made the Master enormously proud. It certainly provides more quality entertainment than any intelligent audience has been served up in many an intellectually sterile, bombastically overcharged year at the cineplex.
Usually when a film leaves you feeling that you've experienced a full evening in only just over an hour and a half, it's an indictment of the plodding pace and dragged out text - but not in the case of this fast paced, lavishly set piece fairly packed with ideas and events. The period references (perfectly chosen Coward, Porter and other period and period style music, news clippings of "current" events like Houdini's death, the "latest" 1920's farm equipment, "advanced" books, etc.) used to enhance our trip back in time come thick and fast in the first minutes only to be followed in just as quick order by the elements of culture shock Ben Barnes' John Whittaker brings back to his BRIDESHEAD REVISITED-style household along with his new American wife, played by the film's impressive technical lead, Jessica Biel.
So "opened up" is the piece in fact (on second viewing, the period references and extra "bits" like the inappropriate, MAME-like, fox hunt joke and questionable dog bit - while both undeniably funny - almost seem TOO thickly layered on), that the "secret" around which Coward's original play turned is unnecessarily "ratcheted up" and left for rather late in the evening - somewhat as Coward himself did with many of his plot points in his other comedy of ill manners revolving around ill scheduled visits to another country home of the same original year, HAY FEVER.
In truth however, this is an ensemble piece with everyone carrying their own bountiful load of surprises and moments to shine, although Colin Firth's quiet voice of understanding and reason and Kristin Scott Thomas's gorgon protector of family tradition and propriety very nearly walk away with the film. ALL those elements which drew lavish praise in earlier English country home films are here in abundance and with far more affection and honesty than, say, Robert Altman's over praised (and over long) 2001 GOSFORD PARK in which Ms. Thomas also shone - if then with far less substance to work with.
Since this examination of adult values and culture shock is clearly not for the "TRANSFORMERS" set with little or no frame of reference, one can only admire the film's considered management by its producers, slowly exposing it in welcoming festivals garnering awards and nominations from the *right* audiences and building momentum for general release. With Pixar's early summer success with an *adult* mentality based animated film, UP, the time may be perfect for this new (Alfred Hitchcock first filmed the play in 1927, in an interesting departure from his normal oeuvre, akin to his excellent 1930 version of O'Casey's JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK) and very welcome EASY VIRTUE. I just hope they aren't working too hard refining it enroute to general release - the distinctive last line mentioned in several early reviews was no longer in the print I saw - replaced by a bit of a cliché quote tied to a new song over the final credits.
If the plot resolution at the final curtain is a bit of an unexpected let down, it always was - even in Coward's original - and in this case, the journey is well worth the ride. Almost wonderful almost all the way through: a "don't miss" for any fan of Coward or intelligent film making. I haven't sat through another film twice in a row - and enjoyed it as much both times - since the film version of 1776 opened back in 1972! Well worth the ride.
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