Sunday, June 5, 2011

Movie Review - Easy Virtue

The Movie: Easy Virtue
The Players: Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes
The Makers: Noel Coward (play), Stephan Elliott (director), Sheridan Jobbins & Stephan Elliott (writers)
Run time: 97 minutes

It's the 1920s and Larita (Biel), an outgoing, successful American race car driver meets John Whittaker (Barnes), a younger British man in Monaco. They fall in love, get married and he takes her home to meet the family at their family mansion in the rural English countryside. Larita receives a frosty reception from John's mother, Veronica (Scott Thomas) and is treated with curious indifference by John's sisters Hilda and Marion. John's father, Jim (Firth), is a war veteran who seemingly couldn't care less about the goings on of the house. 

Life at the mansion is difficult for Larita from the outset. While trying to forge a relationship with her new mother-in-law, she's constantly ignored, belittled and suffers horrific hayfever, much to Veronica's amusement. Her sisters-in-law become increasingly malicious toward her, particularly after a joke about not wearing underwear is misinterpreted (with hilarious results) and her new husband seems ignorant to her difficulties adjusting to life in the isolated countryside. Larita and John's plan was to move to London swiftly so Larita can establish a career in the UK, but it becomes apparent that John's desire to stay at the mansion is stronger than his desire to keep his new wife happy.

When Larita decides to stop bending over backwards to please her new family, the claws come out and she uses they brash, American-ness they dislike so much to her advantage. She finds an unlikely ally in her father-in-law, a bitterly unhappy man who uses wry barbs and unrepentant honestly to get under his wife's skin. As the honeymoon period comes to a fast end, a secret from Larita's past is revealed, making John's view of his new wife become tinted with doubt. Larita struggles to keep her marriage on track and the women in the house rejoice at the seemingly impending demise of the union, while having to face some harsh realities of their own.

I popped this movie into the DVD player as background noise while I was doing other stuff. I quickly abandoned the other stuff and let myself become engrossed in life at the mansion. The story moved along at a cracking pace, and Biel played her role perfectly. Glamorous and outspoken, she shines as Larita, completely endearing and amusingly stubborn, which makes for some great scenes between her and Kristin Scott Thomas. The interaction between Jim and Larita brings out her gentler, reflective nature, and gives the audience a fleeting insight into Jim's life during the war years. There's great supporting work from the sisters-in-law, particularly Marion, played by The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson, who is dim-witted and droll at the same time. The household butler, Furber, also provides excellent one-liners and some great comic relief (it's actually a shame he's not featured more heavily), but it's Firth's portrayal of Jim as an unexpected ally for Larita that provides much of the entertainment as the other members of the Whittaker family become more and more amusingly horrible.

This film is a nice piece of light entertainment, and while it's probably not the best period film ever made, there's no denying it's pretty to look at and has sparkling wit. Besides Biel's gorgeous wardrobe and the impressive mansion used for filming, the soundtrack has a delightfully modern twist, with The Easy Virtue Orchestra performing rousing renditions of Sexbomb, Let's Misbehave and When the Going Gets Tough the Tough Get Going, to name a few. The orchestra brings a fresh feel to the film, which could easily have been scored with slow, meandering instrumental songs. The end result is a fun romp through life in the 1920s in Britain, seen through the eyes of an American. It's definitely worth watching, perhaps with a nice cup of hot chocolate and some scones with jam and cream.

In a word: fun

Oh, here are some pics of Jessica Biel's wardrobe:

You know, because we can all use a little 1920s wardrobe porn every now and then.

The whole time I watched the film I wished I had an arse suited to high waisted pants. Alas, I do not.

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