Movie Reviews

DVD Review: “Easy Virtue”

(Sony. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, and smoking throughout. Directed by Stephan Elliott.) Jessica Biel (Larita Whittaker), Colin Firth (Mr. Whittaker), Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs. Whittaker), Ben Barnes (John Whittaker), Kimberley Nixon (Hilda Whittaker), Katherine Parkinson (Marion Whittaker), Kris Marshall (Furber). Music by Marius de Vries.

Sophisticated fun. Australian director Elliott is best known for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But that was 15 years ago, and except for a couple of projects that came and went, where has he been? Turns out in 2004 he had a serious skiing accident where he broke his back, pelvis and legs. Now recovered, he’s marking his return by taking on that most ironic of British playwrights, Noël Coward, with his adaptation of the 1924 Easy Virtue. (There was a previous silent film adaptation in 1928, directed by a young Alfred Hitchcock.) It’s not top-drawer Coward (Blithe Spirit, Design for Living, etc.) but this early effort still has the man’s wit and sense of fun. The plot, which is fairly unimportant, involves John, a young man returning to his ancestral home in the English countryside with his new wife Larita, an American (gasp!) race-car driver (shocking!) and divorcée (ooohhhhh). Mother is offended, while Father is, well, intrigued. Adding to the fun are John’s two sisters, Hilda and Marion, who have issues of their own.

Like all of Coward, the meat is in the witty lines and zingers flung amongst the participants. Here, not too surprisingly, the veterans (Scott Thomas and Firth) have the upper hand. Biel gives a good try but isn’t really of-the-period as Larita. (She does a nice job singing Coward’s “Mad About the Boy.”) Kris Marshall does nicely as Furber the long-suffering butler. The soundtrack is a mixed bag: period songs include a few classics by Coward himself (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “I’ll See You Again”) along with Cole Porter; original score by de Vries; and some adaptations of more-recent songs which don’t really work (the credits have us hearing Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough”). Still, it’s an enjoyable romp for those who appreciate good dialogue, performed by and for grownups. Those requiring CGI, quick cuts, jiggly cameras, or cars blowing up need not apply. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and commentary with the director and screenwriter Sheridan Robbins.