Had Coriolanus been in wider release before New Year’s, it would likely have made my list of favorites for the year.
Stephan Elliott’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s breezy comedy of manners, Easy Virtue [which he co-wrote with Sheridan Jobbins], is a bit of pleasant counter-programming to give anyone who is tired of explosions and rude comedies something smart and light in which to indulge themselves.
The story is centered on a battle of wits, and quips, between two women – one a tightly wound Englishwoman of the gentry trying to preserve the family property as the family fortune has withered away; the other a brash young American who makes a living racing cars – when she can get past the prejudice against female drivers. Veronica Whittaker [Kristin Scott-Thomas] is the heroically stiff upper-lipped woman who has pinned all of her hopes for saving the family estate on her son’s marrying into a wealthy family. Jessica Biel, in her best work since The Illusionist, is Larita Huntington, the brash American woman who arrives as the new wife of John Whittaker [Ben Barnes] – and destroyer of Veronica’s hopes.
Colin Firth co-stars as Veronica’s burnt out husband, Colonel Jim Whittaker, who has not been the same since he led men to theirs deaths in World War One, and spends most of his time in the barn puttering about. Charlotte Riley has the thankless task of playing the Sarah Hurst, the woman Veronica expected John to marry. There are also a couple of conniving but not terribly bright Whittaker sisters [Kimberly Nixon and Katherine Parkinson] and a subversively perceptive [and funny] butler, Furber [Kris Marshall], who steals scenes in the manner of the best British butlers.
Being Coward, naturally there is a scandal and a turn in tone, but Elliott does a nice job of keeping everything flowing just smoothly enough to keep our attention and return us from the momentary emotional glitch to a spot on ending that works out for the best for everyone – even though they might not realize it at the time.
Because the soundtrack includes a number of beautifully placed songs –mostly by Coward, and Cole Porter – I was surprised to note, in the closing credits [you bet I watch them!], that there were a few contemporary tunes mixed in and given period arrangements. They work just fine, too. Another reason to stay for the credits is the introduction of the Easy Virtue Orchestra [an affectation that adds a Radio Age feel to the film in retrospect].
Easy Virtue is an adequate adaptation of Coward, which makes it an above average film filled with wit and humor and just the right tinge of appropriately placed melancholy.
Final Grade: B
Review by Sheldon Wiebe
Posted June 6, 2009