Starring: Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Katherine Parkinson, Kimberley Nixon, Kris Marshall
Director: Stephan Elliott
Tally-ho! Biel and Scott Thomas go head to head. Biel misbehaves. Spot on!
Coward's Easy Virtue first hit the big screen as a 1928 silent film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
James McAvoy and Keira Knightley sizzle in the best film of 2007. Yeah, I said it.
Meet The Parents (2000)
Beloved offspring brings home unwelcome spouse. It's virtually the same movie.
The Illusionist (2006)
Jessica Biel does the trick, but Ed Norton cheats with CGI.
Easy Virtue - 07/10
I foolishly asked a friend if there was a particular film he wanted me to review on this esteemed site. Easy Virtue, texteth he. The smug grin vanished from my face immediately. A period Noel Coward adaptation starring Stealth's Jessica Biel? Um...OK. Still, I thought, it's only 97 minutes long and, let's face it, Biel is a stone fox. I'll suffer it in the name of art.
How wrong can one be? I had a whale of a time.
Prodigal son John Whitaker (Ben Barnes - Prince Caspian himself), returns from France to his family home with a wild, motor-racing, ohmygod American wife in the shape of the alluring Larita (Biel). The button-down country family, especially chilly matriarch Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas) are by turns stunned and horrified by this brassy dame invading their lives.
Initially John's siblings, cute-as-a-button Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) and introverted Marion (The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson) fall for Larita's charm and joie de vivre, but a series of calamitous events serve to drive them towards their mother's side of the fence. All the while a sardonic, dishevelled Colin Firth, as the clan's weary father, snaffles all the best lines from the fringes.
Yes, that is TV phone-hawker Kris Marshall (I do so hope he gets back together with Jane. Think of the kids!) answering the bell-pull. He makes the most out of his snarky butler role, but doesn't quite escape his small screen shackles.
What we are treated to here are two superb female performances. National treasure Scott Thomas skilfully infuses her disapproving mother-in-law part with vulnerability and poise, neatly side-stepping what could have been a two-dimensional villainess. Seemingly working more than ever, she garners rave reviews for everything she does. A fluent french speaker, she gave a sparky turn in the wonderful Tell No One two years ago and can soon be seen in the acclaimed I've Loved You So Long.
Although, known by most only as the melancholy Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral, it's arguable that Scott Thomas is the greatest British actress currently working.
Biel is a real revelation. Her committed turn in 2006's The Illusionist seemed to be an anomaly when measured against her appearance in such barrel-scraping fare as the aforementioned Stealth, Next, Blade Trinity etc. She more than holds her own against Scott Thomas and resists the temptation to overplay the fish-out-of-water aspects of the role, preferring to inject Larita with sympathy and a ballsy optimism, while oozing sexuality. She lights up the screen.
Much credit must go also to director Stephan Elliott who is clearly having plenty of fun. Elliot, who followed cult Aussie road movie Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, with Ewan McGregor dud Eye Of The Beholder, returns rejuvenated after a nine-year hiatus. He plays gamely with the conventions of the time - at one point even cutting to a roaring fire during a sex scene - while using technology to have a sly wink at the audience (such as Veronica's self-satisfied smirk caught in the reflection of a billiard ball). A ploy that could have turned out smug, instead plays effectively with the quirkiness of a script infused with moments of dark comedy and mischief.
This subversion extends to the cheerfully anachronistic soundtrack incorporating 20's reworkings of Car Wash and Tom Jones' finest hour, Sex Bomb, among others.
If there has to be a weak link it is Barnes. Engaging and dashing in the film's lighter moments, he's found wanting when gravity is required, brooding like a stroppy teenager. Essentially the point of a triangle between the feuding women, he often seems bypassed completely. A shame, as stronger work here would have given the film emotional depth to go with the farce.
Unfortunately your humble reviewer must confess to having too little knowledge of the work of Noel Coward (He was great in The Italian Job) to say whether Easy Virtue is a worthy adaptation. I will say that it is a highly entertaining diversion, and one that I strongly recommend for viewers wanting an alternative to gross-out comedies.
In Biel, are we witnessing a young actress breaking free from her sexpot bonds to something all the more substantial? Perhaps not - and why should she right now? - but at least she displays a willingness to stretch herself, something many of her contemporaries fear (I'm looking at you, Alba). It would be interesting, however, to see if Biel could turn in such a tenacious performance in a role that would deny her the luxury of falling back on her considerable beauty.