Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.