Easy Virtue (2008) Poster

(2008)

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6/10
When was the last time a Noel Coward play was made into a movie, anyway?
KissEnglishPasto28 July 2016
............from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, Colombia and ORLANDO, FL

EASY VIRTUE is a clear example of the fact that making an outstanding film just isn't all that EASY! When was the last time a Noel Coward play was made into a movie, anyway? I could've looked it up, but I'll leave it to you, if you really think it's all that important! I'll wager the Producers, Director & Screenwriter didn't see most of the screen adaptations of his plays done in the 30's/40's on TV when they were kids, as I did. Seemed they were a bit out of their element...at times.

The end result: It's EASY to see the film was being pulled in several different directions, which was most apparent early on. In fact, EASY can be divided into 3 segments of roughly 30 minutes each.

Segment one really didn't seem to know where it was going. It suffered from poor pacing and a pervasive tension on the set that permeated several of the scenes. What had me close to quitting on EASY were the very awkwardly inserted bits of slapstick, obviously an attempt at comic relief, but which seemed utterly contrived and out of sync with most every other aspect of the film.

Segment two was a definite improvement. Toned down considerably were the scenes involving slapstick. Only a few brief moments, which were much better integrated into the work. The culture-clash, the true razon d'être of EASY, between Jessica Biel's(Cellular) character, Larita, an independent and free- spirited American race-car driver of sorts, and the lady of the manor, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas/The English Patient), who turns out to be one lady with an extremely controlling and manipulative manner, is handled much more smoothly in the second segment, and, as a consequence, these scenes are much more amusing, even occasionally funny!

The closing segment really had me in its grip. The ensemble cast really shone. Finally, we see evidence of why so many of Noel Coward's plays were made into movies. All the outstanding elements; costumes, sets and music among others, really contributed to a very fulfilling final ½ hour! Colin Firth deserves a mention, perhaps EASY's best performance. Had the entire film been at segment three's level, 8*--EASY! However, I feel 6* is a fair overall rating

.....ENJOY/DISFRUTELA!

Any comments, questions or observations, in English or Español, are most welcome!
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7/10
Mad Englishmen And Foxes
bkoganbing30 April 2010
Jessica Biel who is still probably best known for being the virtuous good girl preacher's kid Mary Camden from 7th Heaven gets to tackle a classic Noel Coward role in one of his early plays Easy Virtue. She's the American interloper in an English aristocratic family and she's unsettling to family matriarch Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Noel Coward who wrote about these upper classes and twitted their pretensions with such wit that they kept coming back for more and kind of adopted him in a way they never adopted Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw, was a kid who grew up in poverty and made his way out through his many talents to entertain. Those in the upper classes who took Coward to their hearts felt themselves to be modern, progressive, and generally with it in terms of social trends. The Whittakers in Easy Virtue are some other kind of aristocrats, not anybody like that hangs out at the parties we invite Noel to entertain at.

What Amelia Earhart is to aviation, Jessica Biel's character is to auto racing. She's a young widow from the Detroit area and of course being from that area has an interest in motor cars and auto racing. She's fresh from winning at Monte Carlo and she's also won young Ben Barnes the heir to the Whittaker name and estates. Which might not be all that much, there's a name and a lot of land and debts.

When Barnes brings Biel home to the family they are mortified by her classless American ways in the sense of not recognizing class distinctions. It was one of those things we got rid of after 1776, no titles of nobility. We had our aristocrats, but that's a whole other story.

Scott-Thomas dominates the family, trying desperately to keep the estate together. Her husband Colin Firth served in World War I and the horror of it did something to him. It probably not only has to do with the horror of that trench war slaughter, but the fact that class distinctions tend to melt in combat. He and Biel kind of like each other, but it's his wife who rules the Whittaker roost now.

A scandal from the past threatens to disrupt the Barnes/Biel marriage and that forms the crux on which the story turns. In fact at the end its really up to the viewer to figure out what will eventually happen with the two of them.

This is the second film adaption of Easy Virtue, the first was a silent film from 1928 and was directed by a young Alfred Hitchcock. Easy Virtue was actually premiered in America before London in 1924 and starred the great American stage actress Jane Cowl. I guess Coward figured with an American heroine it was best to get it before the American theatergoers before the British ones.

This version of Easy Virtue is directed flawlessly by Stephen Elliot who made a fine use of period music by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and others and in the end over the credits really mocked the upper classes in the Coward tradition by playing When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going. I believe Elliott was trying to say those classes, especially the ones we see here might not have the right stuff any more.

And of course there's the obligatory fox hunt which the upper classes indulged in, still do. As Oscar Wilde said, "the unspeakable after the uneatable."

Any chance for the younger generation to be exposed to Noel Coward is worth seeing.
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8/10
Light Frothy Fun and more
Brian B-224 February 2010
I enjoyed this movie a fair bit more than the average viewer, if ratings are to be believed.

This very British film is a nice switch from the typical Hollywood romantic comedy, and does not attempt to squeeze within the conventional mold which runs from Four weddings and a Funeral through Love Actually and beyond. The wry influence of the original Noel Coward play becomes fresh again decades later.

Colin Firth is especially adept underplaying the dissolute father in law. He is just there, being, not acting.Totally believable and convincing. When his character is illuminated in a brief soliloquy two thirds of the way through the movie, he is brilliant, and without the ham fisted exposition of so much modern writing, the entire family story is explained, and powerful social commentary on topics from hereditary lands to fox hunting to war to social decay to euthanasia are digested without chewing.

A great example of "Show, not tell".

Jessica Biel is beautiful, here as always, and is never requested to do more than she is capable of. I particularly liked how the film makers did not beat us over the head with her sexuality, going with a muted sensuality most of the movie, except in key scenes where her full power is unleashed to excellent effect.

Kristin Scott Thomas is well cast as the domineering disapproving mother in law, and the British supporting players are treats, though I thought Ben Barnes as the love interest lacked the presence to hold his own in this cast.

We could use more movies like this.
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8/10
Witty & Wonderful
corrosion-214 October 2008
Easy Virtue is a very liberal adaptation of Noel Coward's play. Director Stephan Elliot (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) has tried to make the film more contemporary and very distinct from the Merchant-Ivory school of film.

The story is set in the roaring twenties where John (Ben Barnes) from an aristocratic English family marries Larita (Jessica Biel), an American race driver, after a whirlwind romance in France. However his mother Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas) is none too pleased while John's father Jim (colin Firth) finds a soul mate in Larita. These relationships, including those with John's sisters, make for a very intriguing and entertaining hour and a half, The acting, as could be expected from such a cast is uniformly excellent with perhaps Jessica Biel standing out a little more.

One of Stephan Elliot's nice touches is an anachronistic use of such songs as Car Wash and Sex Bomb, done in a very twenties style. The addition of a hilarious "dog scene" is another nice touch. Fans of Noel Coward (and even Merchant-Ivory) won't be disappointed.
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8/10
Easy Virtue - easy on the eyes - a charming and crafted film
pedrothefish17 November 2008
It is not uncommon in a film to see British "stiff upper lip" challenged and outflanked by an outsider - normally an American. As a Brit you learn to put aside any feelings of protectiveness and sensitivity and try to give the film it's fair credit when such a story is presented to you.

In the case of this film - Easy Virtue - this is not difficult to do as it is a well acted gem of a period piece that overcomes any of the initial worries about stereotypes and charms and amuses all the way through.

Kirstin Scott Thomas is superb as the glacial matriarch, Colin Firth detached and louche as her distant husband, Jessica Biel believable as the breath of fresh air ( gust of cold wind ) introduced into the family by the eager but naive son.

Kris Marshall gives an amusing performance as the world weary - seen it all butler and as a whole this is a good enjoyable film.

Taken as it is from a Noel Coward play, I am not sufficiently qualifies to comment on how much , or little, the film has changed the spirit of the play - I suspect not a lot as Mr Coward delighted in ridiculing the sensibilities of the British gentry and if the stiff upper lip is going to be ridiculed by anyone better that it is a Brit !!
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Funny, heart-warming and delightfully engrossing.
Otoboke10 November 2008
2008 has been a mixed bag thus far as far as character dramas are concerned, with the majority either lacking in any interesting personas and the remainder usually lacking in anything remotely fun about the experience. Thankfully, Easy Virtue takes residence amongst the minority of this year's examples, blending a wonderful ensemble of characters and respective performers with plenty of humour, romance and palpable charm. As a musical per se, which one could place the movie given the role that music plays in its narrative, the music is catchy, but always played in the background to what is going on with characters. So while the numbers certainly don't ever take off, the harmony created between the film's immediate interests always take precedence over the aesthetics, no matter how inviting and well done those elements are implemented. Sure enough, there isn't much in the way of flaws present within Easy Virtue's two hour runtime outside of the fact that it can sometimes drag on in terms of plotting. Nevertheless, despite small pacing problems, Easy Virtue is a wonderfully breezy, and yet hard hitting portrayal of relationships, both temporal and unconditional.

Where each of these sources of love comes from it seems is where the writers seem most interested in exploring; rather than sticking to the genre's more conventional set of rules, the movie instead takes a familiar, albeit refreshing route. Telling the story of Larita (Jessica Biel), an American race-car driver newly wed to love of her life John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) as she moves into her husband's inherited estate for the holidays, Easy Virtue take the romantic comedy and heats things up a little. The centrepiece of the story revolves around the idea that John's English aristocratic family either immediately resents Larita's presence or soon adheres to this mind-frame. This conflict draws most firmly from John's mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) who takes an especially vindictive and callous attitude towards her big-eyed, fresh faced and glamorously intimidating daughter in law.

This relationship, although not falling far from the genre's tree of ideas and structure, nevertheless does well to keep things grounded and believable. Very rarely are theatrics employed to establish the characters' obvious confliction, and as such both grow as the movie wears on, allowing not just drama to unfold from the proceedings, but comedy also. To say that Easy Virtue is a funny movie would be somewhat of an exaggeration; this isn't a comedy by any means, but it's not a straight forward drama or romance either. Instead director Stephen Elliot manages to do what so little directors of the genre actually succeed in implementing; a fine blend of all three ingredients whilst at the same time keeping characterisation consistent and engaging. Again these ingredients are most fully realised in the triangle of mother/son and the new girl in his life, with each ingredient sharing enough screen time to warrant interest; Easy Virtue isn't a funny movie no… it's a funny, heart-warming and delightfully engrossing movie with plenty of intelligent drama and aesthetics.

Nevertheless, regardless of genre tagging, and the tricky balancing act involved in handling such a mix, the real potency of heart present that makes Easy Virtue such a joy to watch is simply through its characters and their relationships together. Mentioned above, the centrepiece of this endlessly amusing mix of character is the dynamic between Larita and her new mother in law. What's most interesting about this pairing however doesn't necessarily always reside in their obviously conflictive facades, but within the thematic subtext that each brings to the story regarding lover and son John. Dealing primarily with the complexities of human relationships, and specifically love, the writers explore the different kinds of love and how they are more often than not wrongly interpreted or received. What's most interesting about the central figures then is that each seems to have swapped their traditional roles for the others; ostensibly Larita is seen a gold-digging, naïve lover who is only out for a short jog, whilst Mrs. Whittaker is instead presented as John's unconditional love source, undeniably in it for the long term. This paper thin appearance however is what Easy Virtue sets out to look past, and the results are both rewarding and intriguing, giving ample substance to back up the laughs.

Of course all of this would go to waste if given to less than capable performers to get across not just their own dynamic personas, but the relations and unique chemistry that they share together. Featuring a huge ensemble of recognisable British talents, along with the impressive Jessica Biel, it would take far too long a paragraph to go through each individually and analyse their performances, so I will simply cut a farily large corner and say that the entirety of the cast here do a wonderful job with each of their respective roles. Of notable interest is the always compelling Colin Firth as a rather withdrawn and bored husband, Ben Barnes who plays youthful, energetic and distinctly naïve John to a fine point and Kristen Scott Thomas who often parallels her sombre role in recent French production I've Loved You So Long. All of these performances however are just the tip of what is a surprisingly effective little treat for anyone looking for good adult fun, with plenty of intelligent humour and romance to boot. Sure enough there are some problems with pacing and over-emphasis on theatrical drama at rare occasions that clash with the film's otherwise consistently grounded tone, but these elements are far and few between each of the much more successful moments. Fun, engaging and entirely memorable, Easy Virtue is a rarity these days, so I cannot recommend it enough.

  • A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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10/10
Smart, sexy and shrewd
john_faulkes1 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Noël Coward wrote "Easy Virtue", the same summer he wrote "Hay Fever". It was produced several years later in the wake of his other great melodrama, "The Vortex". In his autobiography, "Present Indicative", Coward says that his object in writing the play was to present a comedy in the structure of a tragedy "to compare the déclassée woman of to-day with the more flamboyant demi-mondaine of the 1890's," - one in which he deliberately attacked the "smug attitude of Larita's in-laws." In short, Noël Coward wrote "Meet the Parents" in 1924.

That clash of culture, set in a time of almost identical financial boom and bust, is at the heart of Stephan Elliott's excellent adaptation. There is nothing 'liberal' or 'cheap' about it. "Easy Virtue" is all the things a Noël Coward film should be - it's smart, sexy and shrewd.

This is the story of a young man, John Whittaker played by Ben Barnes, who brings home a thoroughly inappropriate wife, Larita (Jessica Biel). You can sympathize with him - she's gorgeous, but basically he's brought a giraffe to Cambridgshire. His mother, Mrs Whittaker (in a diamond cut performance by Kristin Scott-Thomas) is not amused. Underscoring it all is a deftly sardonic performance by Colin Firth as the emotionally absent head of the household, Mr Whittaker. What happens to them all is a tragedy of time and place, but, like the fate of the family pet, it's also hilarious and satisfying.

Stephan Elliott was a brilliant choice for this film. Coward was the consummate inside outsider - the son of a clerk who mingled with aristocracy. Stephan Elliott is an Australian living in London - moving in the rare circle of celebrity and wealth. They are both masters of comic subversion.

Elliott has been true to Coward's desire to present a thoroughly contemporary film. His soundtrack, score and the subtle use of special effects all show us that this is a film to be taken lightly, while the characters played by Colin Firth and Kristin Scott-Thomas give us the weight and emotional resonance to let us know that they are serious.

But the film belongs to Biel. She delivers all the spirit and energy of an American snowboarder, with all the elegant sophistication of an old time screen siren. She is the new world 'blowing in' to the old and is tremendously sympathetic with it.

Add to that Ben Barnes' growing strength as an actor, and immense appeal to younger audiences and you have a film that will introduce a whole new generation to the romance of period films, while satisfying older fans that there is still life in the genre yet.
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8/10
That sound and authentic British humour!
yris20024 April 2009
Brilliant, sparkling, joyful and sad, passionate and exciting, sweet and sour, elegant, refined and superbly ungraceful at the same time: contrasting adjectives are very fit for this captivating movie, which really hits the mark in a superb way. No flaw is to be found: the construction is solid and yet dynamic, highly-range acting is offered by the whole cast (but let me define Kristin Scott Thomas as sublime). The director creates a really enjoyable product, capable as it is of gaining the favour of the audience and to satisfy the viewer, both from an aesthetic and emotional point of view. The sound and authentic British humour stirring from the beginning to the end, makes one laugh but also think about the necessity to overcome a stuffy traditionalist attitude which make look back to a fossilized but no longer valid past,in order to let the new enter the scene, with all its dramatic potential of change. All certainties are questioned and prove to be dramatically frail. The conflict between the traditional English sobriety and self-control and the non-conformist American way of life gives rise to funny but also thoughtful moments of tension, subtly underlined by witty dialogues and emotionally engaging musical and dancing exchanges. A movie to be seen, heard, and enjoyed in every single part.
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8/10
A thoroughly enjoyable British comedy.
sweet_lady_genevieve8 April 2009
John Whittaker (Barnes) is travelling and falls in love with beautiful American divorcée, Larita (Biel). After spontaneously getting married, John brings her back to his stately home in England, where although many warm to her, she is largely frowned upon – especially by his formidable mother, Veronica (Scott Thomas), who makes her stay as uncomfortable as possible. Based on the original play by Noel Coward, 'Easy Virtue' encompasses sharp wit, romance and drama; and although it is set in 1920s England, it is far from the typical period drama that might be expected. The soundtrack is slightly risky in places with its rearrangement of contemporary songs to period-music; but this can be overlooked for everything else the film has to offer. Firth supplies brilliant one-liners as the war-weary husband of Veronica. Biel has a captivating presence, bringing sexiness and classic Hollywood glamour to the screen; whilst Thomas, in total opposition, plays the stiff-upper-lipped English mother-in-law to perfection. A thoroughly enjoyable British comedy.
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7/10
Biel is fantastic in first lead role
C-Younkin20 May 2009
Jessica Biel earns major respect here for taking on a very ambitious task. "Easy Virtue" marks the first time she headlines her own movie, acting alongside powerhouses like Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. It's based on a stage play by Noel Coward, which coincidentally was first produced in New York in 1925. Usually I hear the words "stage play from 1925" and I want to quickly build and jump into a time machine but the movie is not only painless but it's absolutely lovable at the same time.

Biel plays Larita, a young American widow in the 1920's making her living as a motorist. She's the first woman ever to win the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, a feminist long before her time, which attracts the attention of Brit John Whittaker (Ben Barnes). It isn't long before the two are married and he's taking her home to his family's country manor. The matriarch of the house is Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas), an icey, uppity, bitter woman who never lived much of a life of her own and sees Larita as a gold digger and a whore before she even gets to the house. Larita can tell that her mother-in-law doesn't like her and tries very hard to adapt but only alienates herself further in the process. John's father (Colin Firth), a Colonel in World War 1, is the only one who cuts her any slack. He can't stand his family's stuffiness either and sees Larita as a kindred spirit. A battle of one-ups-man-ship soon takes over the house as Veronica desperately tries to get rid of Larita, who refuses to back down.

The point of the play was a counteraction to British smugness and director Stephan Elliott, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sheridan Jobbins, keeps that basic principle intact. In Larita, summer has found its unlikely hero, a woman who goes by the beat of her own drum, has a strong sense of self, and a backbone. Biel is dazzling in the lead role, contributing a strong will, good comic timing, and an uninhibited playfulness that makes her even sexier. When Larita tangos in front of the family, you can feel the "F You" that she's laying down. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as her uptight and scheming foil and Colin Firth is a pro at delivering witty quips as well as digging deeper to communicate the things that haunt the character, whether they be World War 1 or his own family.

The one-liners come fast and frequent. There are also some very wicked bigger laughs, most of which involve Larita's un-candid sexual nature. A panty-less can-can during a war widows revue is a howler. Another big laugh involving a dog will make animal lovers cringe for sure. "Easy Virtue" is a comedy that works, one of the funniest I've seen all year long. The costume design is very good and the manor looks like a nice enough place to spend 2 hours of your time. It's only when Elliott turns on the musical soundtrack, with tunes old enough to make Frank Sinatra look and sound like Eminem, that the movie really starts to show its age. But no matter. If you're looking for a smart comedy with some really excellent performances, "Easy Virtue" is truly virtuous.
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10/10
Brilliant from start to finish
gerrystakes11 November 2008
From the flamboyant director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this sublime adaptation of Noel Coward's tragic-comic play zings with dazzling wit and impeccable timing delivered by acting of the highest order. Who knew Jessica Biel could be so delicious as the American interloping fallen woman? Among the British stars, Colin Firth provides the counterpoint gravitas as a WWI surviving member of the "lost generation" who turns the tables on his insufferable wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and besotted son. Easily one of the most entertaining movies of the past several years, it deserved the genuine spontaneous standing ovation at the world premiere screening I attended at the Toronto film festival. Scott Thomas is devastating in a totally different French-speaking role in "I've loved you for so long", for which she deserves an Oscar nomination. But see this for arch Brit humor at its finest.
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8/10
Biel and Firth steal the show
ga-bsi2 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This film was a wonderful surprise. I usually don't particularly enjoy Biel because I've only ever seen her in films like Stealth and Next, which were both quite terrible. To be perfectly honest I only rented the film because it was based on a play by Noel Coward, whose work I adore. I was ready to be mildly pleased and somewhat saved by Firth and Scott Thomas. I was absolutely delighted when Biel's portrayal of the American female race car driver who has a somewhat shady past was witty, strong and extremely likable. It would be silly to say that Biel does not normally look very attractive; but in this film she looked beautiful and graceful in her evening gowns and fitted trousers.

Firth is as dashing and gorgeous as ever as the laconic father who is silently suffering the harrowing memories of the First World War, and his repressive wife and malicious and empty headed daughters. He provides Biel with the perfect support system, making her performance stand out even more with his perfect comic and dramatic timing. Their chemistry is electric and makes Biel and Barnes' pairing looking rather dull and badly matched. The scene in which he and Biel dance passionately to Latin music during a rigid and contrived Christmas party at the family mausoleum, otherwise known as the family cottage, is definitely my favourite part and the best display of their chemistry.

Overall the film is witty, wonderful and surprisingly deep. Some may feel disappointed, but I feel that this is one of Noel Coward's best works. It seamlessly shows the unhappiness, secrets, suffering and hypocrisy of the outwardly wealthy but inwardly bankrupt upper class British aristocracy; the doomed pairing of two people who are well acquainted strangers who think they are in love; and the pairing of two people who should have been together all along and finally are.
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8/10
Beneath the brittle surface gaiety of the Twenties
JamesHitchcock26 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When I recently reviewed "Relative Values" I pointed out that it was the first English-language feature film to have been based on a Noel Coward play since the 1960s. That film was not, in my view, a great success, being little more than an examination of outdated social conventions that no-one cares about any more, and I came to the conclusion that Coward has largely been ignored by modern film-makers because he was very much a figure of his own age with little to offer the modern cinema-goer.

"Easy Virtue", however, has convinced me that I was wrong on this point, even though it is an even older play than "Relative Values", dating from the twenties rather than the fifties. The action takes place around 1928/1929. (References to the First World War having started "fourteen years ago" suggest the earlier date; references to the Valentine's Day Massacre, which occurred on 14th February 1929, suggest the latter). Like "Relative Values" the film is set in a stately home and concerns the romantic lives of the English upper classes. John, the son and heir of the aristocratic Whittaker family, has married a female American racing driver named Larita, whom he met while touring on the continent.

The film explores the differing reactions of John's family to his marriage. His mother, Veronica, is a formidable reactionary who believes passionately in keeping up the traditions of her class. She disapproves strongly of Larita, who has no intention of fitting in with the traditional country-house lifestyle. She is not keen on riding, for example, and objects to fox hunting on moral grounds. Her worst crime in Veronica's eyes, however, is to be poor. Although from the mid nineteenth century onwards it was by no means unknown for young American women to marry into the British nobility, most of these women were drawn from America's own aristocracy of the super-rich, and Larita is not a Rockefeller or Vanderbilt but the daughter of a Detroit car mechanic. The Whittakers are desperately in need of cash to maintain their stately home, and Veronica has long cherished the hope that John will marry Sarah, the daughter of their wealthy neighbour Lord Hurst. Even after his marriage, Veronica keeps hinting to John that it is his duty to divorce Larita and marry Sarah for the good of the family's wealth.

John's father Jim is very different in character, having been deeply scarred by his experiences in the First World War, when most of the men under his command were killed. Although the film is in form a comedy of manners it also has more serious undertones. The 1920s are sometimes thought of as a hedonistic interval between the war-torn 1910s and the economically depressed 1930s, but beneath the brittle surface gaiety of the Jazz Age was a deep sense of loss for the generation that had died on the battlefields and a deep sense of foreboding for the future. (Coward was not the only author to explore these feelings; they also appear in the novels of writers like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell). After the war Jim disappeared to Paris, where he led a life of debauchery. Although Veronica tracked him down and persuaded him to return home, he no longer relishes the life of a country gentleman. He dresses scruffily, is frequently unshaven and prefers working as a blacksmith or mechanic in his workshop to more traditional country pursuits. He welcomes his son's marriage to Larita, whom he sees as a kindred spirit.

Prior to this one I had never seen any of Jessica Biel's films; I only knew her as a Hollywood beauty from the gossip columns. She is very good here as Larita, a spirited heroine who defends herself valiantly against her monstrous mother-in-law and brings a refreshing breath of fresh air into the closed world of the aristocracy. I did, however, think she was perhaps too young for the role. The script implies that Larita, a widow whose first husband died mysteriously, is considerably older than John, but Ben Barnes (better here than he was in "Prince Caspian") is actually a year older than Biel. The best performances, however, come from Colin Firth and Kristin Scott-Thomas as the ill-matched couple Jim and Veronica. Although they are the same age (both were born in 1960), Firth looks much younger than Scott-Thomas in this film, perhaps emphasising that Veronica's ideas are those of the past whereas Jim represents the future.

Despite some underlying serious themes, "Easy Virtue" is still a comedy, and the script is brilliantly funny. Most of the humour derives from the exchanges between the acid-tongued Veronica and Larita, who can give as good as she gets, and their constant war of one-upmanship. Asked to ride to hounds, Larita does so on a motorbike rather than a horse; there is a running joke about Veronica's attempts to exploit Larita's allergies by using flowers to make her sneeze. Veronica's annoying little dog comes to an unfortunate end. (Chihuahua-lovers should avoid this film and watch "Legally Blonde" instead). There is also some hilariously inappropriate use of music, including more recent songs like "Sex Bomb" performed in best 1920s style. This must be one of the best comedies (indeed, one of the best films) of 2008. 8/10
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9/10
Greatly underrated
rsivan3 October 2009
Funny and witty dialog, hilarious (classical Noel Coward) plot, great casting, superb cinematography and music, not a single second of this movie is wasted without a breathtaking take, great dialog, funny wit or just a funny scene.

Jessica Biel's acting and her character are memorable. Colin Firth feels a bit young for the role but his acting is superb. Kristin Scott Thomas has always been one of my favorite actresses and she seems to be just made for the role (with a lot of make up to make her look older, she's too sexy for the role otherwise).

(I don't know why this movie gets a less than enthusiastic rating here.)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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10/10
A Star is Born
aharmas26 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Very few people out there can call themselves stars. Some have benefited from teaming with charismatic performers and surrounding themselves from a fantastic public relations team. It's fantastic to see when a relatively unknown performer bursts from the screen and dazzles us with her musical talent, her charisma, and most importantly is able to show us her acting chops.

Kirsten Scott-Thomas has proved herself a superb performer, and it's always a pleasure to see her films benefit from her exquisite looks, too. In "Easy Virtue". while playing the mother in law from hell, she meets her match, in Larits (Jessica Biel), giving us a dazzling display of fireworks, not seen since the classic 30's beauties graced the silver screen. It's like watching the ghosts of Leigh, Lombard, Stanwyck, and Harlow inspire Biel to don some amazing outfits to match her intense personality and dazzling charm, as she comes into an English manor and tries to conquer old traditions.

Noel Coward's play is the basis for a comedy of manners delightfully interpreted by a very talented group of performers, led by Scott and Thomas, a match made in heaven, as they try to outwit and outclass each other with their respective resources. Scott-Thomas allies herself with other members of her class and an acid wit. Biel proves herself that she can hold her own with her natural talents and plenty of charm. The difference between these two women is that one is able to see through the defensive layers of others, wasting no time in hiding herself under any pretense or fearing anyone's criticism.

Biel is a woman with a past, someone who deals with the good and bad life has to offer and tries to make the best of it. "Easy Virtue" is Biel's film, and she has plenty of showpieces to demonstrate how far she can go in the future. In particular, one is bound to agree that the piece of Poopy's demise ranks among the funniest scenes ever put on film, and it will take forever to come down from the high of watching Biel and Firth's musical number, and as if this is not enough, the opening number is flawlessly sung by her, too.

Prepare to have a grand time at the movies, with a film that has no dead time, plenty of gorgeous visuals, a terrific musical score, and a pair of classic flawless diamonds at its center: Thomas and Biel, proving to us that there is still hope in Hollywood, and talent always comes through.
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8/10
Enthralling opening up of neglected Coward play; not for the shallow or juvenile
eschetic-27 July 2009
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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8/10
A 1920's delight with a twist and a pinch of class
ellen-13710 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I went to the cinema expecting a cheesy one liner rich movie with a predictable plot and easy characters. However that is not what I got. I wanted to see this film because I needed something to cheer me up with this economic slump that we are in and that I wanted to see a costume drama that wasn't depressing (i.e the Duchess or Brideshead revisited). This film was just what I needed. It starts off with new bride Larita (Jessiac Biel) meeting the mother-in-law from hell (Kristen Scott Thomas) of her new husband (Ben Barnes - playing fresh faced, enthusiastic on life John Whittaker). The first words Mrs Whittaker says to her new daughter-in-law is "Oh, you're American" and you know that they are never going to get along. Jessica Biel did a good job as the lead as she also brought some depth to the character showing how hurt she was after her last marriage which made the character more interesting. Also the clothes she wore were fantastic and she looked stunning in every one! Kristen Scott Thomas was great as the bitter monster-in-law, and lets say this sour lemon will never sweeten. Ben Barnes gives a very good performance as John Whittaker who I think loves his wife but is terrified of his mother which makes him quite weak next to bold Larita. My favourite character was Jim Whittaker played by Colin Firth. He is so sarcastic and funny even when he is not trying to be. Also he is not at all obsessed with what others think about him unlike his wife, this again shows boldness and the only character strong enough to match Larita. However there is a darker side to him as he has obviously suffered as a result of fighting in world war 1. All in all Colin Firth gives a shining performance. I can not forget to mention Kris Marshall who plays Furber the butler who is hilarious as ever and steals the spotlight in every scene in appears in. Well done to director Stephan Elliot for not being afraid to take the mick out of Whittaker family who represent the stuffy English of the 1920's. The film would not be as funny if you didn't.The plot does get a bit flat in parts but just sit back and enjoy,as the comedy performances make up for it. The music was also amazing as songs like "Sexbomb" and "Car wash" a revamp to give them a 1920's twang which works tremendously well. The cast also sing which makes it even better (look out as Jessica Biel sings the opening tune). Hope you enjoy this as much as I have and look for the twist at the end!
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5/10
Curate's Egg
badajoz-114 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Rather a curate's egg - decidedly mixed. It's not really witty enough for Coward - the first fifteen minutes contain lots of aphorisms that you cannot hear because they are garbled too quickly - and it's not really dramatic enough - snooty twenties English aristos don't like pushy modern American girl. Big deal, but where's the drama in that that we haven't seen a dozen times before. You can't dip in and out of a play to suit attention deficit audiences of today and expect a coherent entity. Acting is best part - Jessica Biel triumphs and looks good - just like most blonde US stars, eg Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johanneson. Kristin Scott Thomas reprises her Gosford Park role, and Colin Firth waits around like a spare P**** until called upon to tango. Oh, and he throws in a bit of acting regarding his 'damaged' psyche over the Great War, just to prove he's worth his salary. The rest of the aristos do not cut the mustard, and Ben Barnes as a heart throb - give us a break! And a mention for Kris Marshall - freed from the BT adverts - to give yet another butler who drinks and sees everything for what it is. Come back John Gielgud all is forgiven! Just alright really.
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9/10
Easy Virtue: Easy to Like
victoriasimon8630 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This comedy set in a WWI backdrop also has an orchestra soundtrack highlighting era greats like Cole Porter. (Aptly named the "Easy Virtue" Orchestra) Jessica Biel in any movie is enough to draw an audience based on eye candy alone. Add platinum blonde, an excellent English supporting cast and outfits courtesy of the film's costume collaborators and you have yourself a witty, wild and all-consuming two hours of fun. When Laritta, a young American Grand Prix winner from Detroit meets an even younger English aristocrat, John Whitaker (Ben Barnes)sparks fly as fiercely as Laritta's driving. The two marry and when Laritta meets John's well to do family in the English countryside, the encounter is anything but pleasant. Little does Laritta know that Mrs. Whitaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her daughter sidekicks will do anything to have her disappear. What is this gold digging American harlot doing impersonating as a member of my family? She is everything that they are not: lively, seductive, brazen and they hate her for it. Laritta is a match for Mrs Whitaker as they both deftly plot the other's social demise. Laritta is the "siren" leading John to his death and Mrs. Whitaker is Medusa turning all that is beating flesh to stone. One man turned stone is her estranged husband played by Colin Firth. A war vet who has lost his direction and purpose after becoming a failure. He is the dark horse who provides an aside as Shakespeare's character's often do every now and then to put things into perspective. The film climaxes with an ending that you will not soon forget.
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8/10
Unusual but rewarding
neil-47614 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A bit of an odd one, this. Based on an obscure Noel Coward play (and previously filmed by Hitchcock in 1928 as a silent drama), young John Whittaker arrives back at the family's stately home with his new wife in tow. When Mother finds out that Larita is American she is appalled, and begins to systematically undermine this very capable young lady. John's two sisters are inclined towards their mother's position, while Father (who, following his war experiences, is pretty disengaged from the family), likes Larita. What follows is a comedy of manners which develops into something rather more serious.

Jessica Biel plays Larita, and rather well, too. Kristen Scott Thomas is a politely venomous, and very funny, Mother. Colin Firth's Father is sad and serious (but with some great one liners) seeing what goes on, and perhaps being somewhat more interested than the impression he gives, but with a drastically different sense of priorities to the rest of his relatives. Ben (Prince Caspian) Barnes plays John as written, a pretty but callow young man. Kris Marshall gets most of the funniest bits of business as a perpetually acidic (and very 21st century) butler.

This film plays off the British class system and the institutionalised snobbery it embodies (especially in 1928), and may therefore not translate well in other countries. It is very funny in places, particularly in the first half, but ultimately it isn't really a comedy. Many - most, perhaps - of the main characters simply aren't very nice people.

As events proceed you begin to get a feeling for what you would like to happen, but you are only too aware that your preferred resolution would be a very modern way to finish the story off. As a result, the conclusion came as a surprise to me. If this was the way Coward's original play finished, then it would have been profoundly subversive in 1928.

There are a number of anachronisms sprinkled throughout the movie - some are, I suspect, accidental (the occasional very contemporary turn of phrase jars a bit) while others (Car Wash on the soundtrack in a 1920s style arrangement) are nice touches.

This film is a little bit off the wall, but I liked it a lot.
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3/10
Coward served with a trowel
mukava99123 May 2009
There is very little to recommend this travesty of one of Noel Coward's less exciting plays. For one thing, it's another one of these period pieces that distorts the period in question with anachronistic music and dialogue and plot situations. 90% of Coward's brittle, subtle word play is excised and replaced wholesale by a mishmash of pseudo-Coward-ish repartee that falls flat more often than not; these substitutions are further embellished by bits of slapstick. The screenwriters even reach into Coward's offstage banter for lines like "If you had a neck, I'd wring it." EASY VIRTUE was one of those drawing room comedies in which stuffy old-fashioned people, remnants of the Victorian Age, were exposed by outsiders or upstarts in their midst as the vile hypocrites they were. This exposure took the form of verbal exchanges in spacious interiors, and in the case of EASY VIRTUE, of dramatically satisfying rants by the exasperated Larita, a middle-aged "woman with a past" who marries a callow youth from a traditional family. It was the age when old social mores (money and land marrying money and land, sexuality suppressed, etc.) were breaking under the pressure of that demon Progress, and hastened by that Leveller, War, and were being supplanted by a new morality, that of "easy virtue." In this film, these themes are shouted out at us, discussed in detail, dramatized with underscoring and exclamation, whereas in the original they were gurgling beneath the surface.

Here we get an American actress, Jessica Biel, as Larita, who in real life is YOUNGER than Ben Barnes, the actor who plays John Whittaker, the youth she marries! So the organic subtext of their relationship is thrown out from the start. And the pseudo-Cowardian dialogue turns to mush coming from her 21st century North American lips - it's like watching a high school performance. She is never convincing. Kristin Scott Thomas as the youth's calculating to- the-manor-born mother, Katherine Parkinson as the repressed elder daughter and Kimberley Nixon as the excitable younger one, and Ben Barnes serve their parts well enough. Colin Firth gives a strong performance as the father but the conception of his character seems weirdly out of synch with the 1920s, as crystallized in his dinner table remark that the American Thanksgiving holiday was like a commemoration of the genocide of the Native Americans - definitely not from Coward!

As if to compensate for the gutting of Coward's original dialogue, the filmmakers inject snippets of Coward's own songs either on the soundtrack, from Victrola records played by the characters or from the mouth of John Whittaker to his wife. It's a pathetic waste of time.
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6/10
Easy Virtue: more nasty than naughty
kevin-rennie21 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Easy Virtue did not live up to expectations. Jessica Biel is the best thing about this film. She plays Larita, the unwelcome addition to the English upper crust Whittaker family. Jessica hits just the right note in a version of Noel Coward's 1925 play that seems off key in many ways. She has the look required of a rally-driving femme fatale, with strong features and typically American teeth. As well she shows the talent to make a bigger splash in the Hollywood star pool in the near future.

Director and Co-writer Stephan Elliott has suggested that the screenplay was softened to make a comedy of manners out of Coward's very biting social satire. The play has been described as a "savage attack on the hypocrisy of the early 1920s — and the way in which it used Victorian standards, already outdated by war, to destroy the lives of those it could not control..." (Rediscovered 'Easy Virtue' Is a Revelation : Coward's Early Prime) To a large extent Elliott failed in his endeavour to tone it down.

In post Great War England the landed gentry are fading and failing. Easy Virtue presents them as a nasty, selfish, spiteful, indeed hateful breed. The only really sympathetic character in the dysfunctional Whittaker family is Colin Firth as the defeated and ineffectual lord of the manor.

They exemplify the decline of the British Empire after a generation of young men "took the King's shilling" in 1914. Neither Whittaker nor his rural lifestyle has recovered. The neighbours all limp their way through the story, both literally and figuratively. Nevertheless, it's business as usual with a foxhunt, and shooting and black-tie parties.

Ironically the easy virtue is a quality that applies to the English hosts not their notorious new family member. Their complete lack of any personal principles is only matched by their atrociously bad manners. Kristin Scott Thomas' totally unsympathetic character, Mrs. Whittaker, doesn't quite fit and I suspect Kristin has been more faithful to Coward's original. This is a disappointment after her brilliance in the French I've loved you for so long. Mrs. Whittaker takes no prisoners and is prepared to destroy her children's chance at happiness to achieve her own ends.

It's a decadent society, not in its easy virtue but in its social and financial decay. The children are pampered and dependent. By and large the cast does them justice. Katherine Parkinson, of Doc Martin fame, continues her penchant for eccentric roles as daughter Marion. Kimberley Nixon does not have as much success as her dim witted sister Hilda. Ben Barnes does a more than serviceable job as John Whittaker, Larita's dashing new husband. He also looks the part.

The film relies as much on visual humour as wit for its comic moments: a risqué can-can, the butt end of a chihuahua, a roll in the hay, a tango, a hovering man servant. As you should expect from a Coward adaptation, there is some very clever dialogue. However, the wit is often lost in the rushed delivery. Elliott seemed reluctant to let the audience savour the lines. Anyway, it's hardly 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. The audience were not exactly bubbling. Kris Marshall, as the clever young butler Furber, saves many of the scenes with a controlled comic performance.

Its look and the sound track help to make this an enjoyable sensual experience. There are even occasional ventures into musical comedy as Jessica, Ben and Colin sing a few old standards. These include Noel Coward's 'Mad About The Boy' and 'Room With A View'. The finale is Billy Ocean's 'When the Going Gets Tough'.

An anomaly is the spectacular BMW sports car. A German car was hardly the choice so soon after the war. It also seems an anachronism, probably about a decade too early. Maybe BMW were sponsors or paid for product placement. That badge just keeps appearing in close up. The motorcycle also looks a bit like a 1920s BMW.

The movie's tagline is 'Let's Misbehave'. Don't expect a romp or a farce. It is more nasty than naughty.

Update:

Thanks to my neighbour who is a MG TC devotee, I have found the answer to the BMW tiem travel riddle. He has a copy of The Automobile magazine that featured the sports car on its front cover in November 2004.

It's a BMW 328, manufactured between 1936 and 1940.

Larita Whittaker was clearly a woman ahead of her time.

Film review for "Cinema Takes" http://cinematakes.blogspot.com/
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Entertaining from start to finish
GusF1 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I really enjoyed this movie. If there's one thing that I want to see in every movie, it's witty dialogue and I was certainly not disappointed on that front. But with Noel Coward, how could I be? Stephen Elliot assembled the perfect cast, all of whom fit their roles perfectly. Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas have never turned in a bad performance. I was particularly (and pleasantly) surprised at Jessica Biel's acting. She was excellent and clearly doesn't get the recognition that she deserves as an actress. I don't think I've seen her act in anything since she was in "7th Heaven" 800 million years ago so I didn't know what to expect. There was never a false note in her performance and I can't praise her enough. The sole reason that the film misses out on a 10/10 rating is that I thought it'd be more comic and heart warming that it turned out to be. That was the only disappointment. One thing I did find distracting is that it's said several times that Larita, Jessica Biel's character, is quite a bit older than Ben Barnes' character John Whittaker whereas, in real life, he's actually older than her although not by much. I found it hard to suspend my disbelief at times because of this but it's a very minor thing really.
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3/10
Muddled adaptation of a dated play is neither funny nor dramatic, but fluffy treatment and Colin Firth occasionally allay boredom and claustrophobia.
BOUF7 March 2009
This old play, set in a lovely old 20s house in the country, pits a control-freak aristocrat mother (woefully miscast Kristin Scott-Thomas) against a willful American racing driver divorcée (monumentally miscast Jessica Biel) who has married aristocratic mother's young son (Ben Barnes). The son is sweet but weak. The mother is possessive, traditional and determined; the divorcée is equally determined, and is supposed to be exciting (at least), but is a lump of wood. The father (Colin Firth) provides a glimpse of what might be an interesting character with an interesting story, but the plot is mostly confined to a series of dull, unconvincing, repetitive power struggles between mummy and divorcée, inside the enormous house, which I, as a viewer was dying to get out of. There are occasional sorties, but nothing much happens. Most of the audience around me were enjoying themselves, so it must just be me who found it like a village hall production,on a big budget. If you like Noel Coward's oeuvre, or any well-paced drama and/or comedy, you'll probably find this sheer torture.
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10/10
Delightfully anachronistic,quietly smouldering English movie.....
ianlouisiana18 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Noel Coward gave lie to the maxim "Write what you know". A working - Class Londoner,he was at home writing about England's aristocracy,rich or impoverished,the Upper - Classes in love and at play.Due to his "Talent to amuse" and his fearsome social climbing he was accepted by those whose lives he chronicled so avidly and was not above dropping a royal name or two. In contrast,very few of his portraits of the Lower Orders rang true. Somehow,one felt,he was happier with a Turkish Sobranie between his lips than a Wills' Woodbine. One of his early plays,"Easy Virtue"is a "cuckoo in the nest" story about a rich American woman, in the manner of the times a daring adventuress,who marries into the English Gentry and proceeds to wake them from their centuries - old sleep.Unbeknownst to her,they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Not perhaps one of The Master's most - revived works,it is a sometimes uneasy mixture of comedy and pathos,a blend that he later perfected - indeed it became one of his trademarks - his style here is in it's relative infancy. However,this production rises above any inherent weakness by just slightly guying the original plot,and by the use of deliberate anachronisms of both dialogue and music that connect the rather creaky play with the 21st century. The wonderful Miss Cristin Scott - Thomas treads a very fine line between being hateful and adorable as the mother - in - law who leads the family's rejection of its newest member.She is a tightly wound bundle of hatred and resentment,but still a loving mother to her children.A superb performance. She is matched by Mr Colin Firth who plays her husband,still mentally crushed by losing his battalion in the Trenches.Forget his much lauded "The King's Speech" performance,aided as it was by that much - loved actors' crutch - a funny voice.Here he has little dialogue,but it's what he does with it that counts.The scene where he dances the tango with his new daughter - in - law after she has been seen to be in disgrace by his family is very moving. Finally,Miss Jessica Biehl,has the balls,figuratively,required to match the combined assault by her new husband's relatives and do things her way. At the end of this movie I stood up and applauded.I haven't done that since "Jules et Jim",and I was a helluva lot younger then.
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